Massachusetts Real Estate- Merrimack Valley

9 Common Mistakes When Building A Deck

9 Common deck building mistakesMany homeowners love to tackle their own home improvement projects. The potential of saving money and the pride of accomplishment are two of the driving forces for a homeowner to take on a home improvement project themselves.  One common project a homeowner may be tempted to tackle is a deck. 

Before tackling any home improvement project it is important to do your research. 

  • Do you need a building permit? 
  • What are the proper building techniques
  • Do you know how to build a deck? Do you have the skills and abilities to complete building your deck properly?

A deck can greatly enhance your home’s outdoor living space.  A beautiful deck certainly adds value to the home as well.

As a real estate agent, I certainly see many of the common mistakes a homeowner and sometimes a professional will make when building a deck.

Common Mistakes When Building A Deck

Decks have a high cost in building materials. When it comes time to sell there is nothing worse than a home inspector pointing out all the issues with shoddy workmanship.  You have spent all the money on materials but if your deck is improperly constructed many buyers will be concerned with the safety of the home’s deck.  They may not want to take on the cost of repairing or replacing an expensive deck.

Many issues revolve around the proper sizing of the lumber and the deck framing techniques you use.  A beautiful deck is worthless if the deck framing is inadequate.

Don’t make these common mistakes when building a deck.

Not Pulling A Building Permit

I know in my neck of the woods every community requires you to pull a building permit when building a deck.  A building permit and subsequent inspections will ensure your deck was built to code and there are no safety concerns in the construction of your deck. 

  • Building codes for you area will cover:
  • Framing techniques for your deck
  • Footing depth and size
  • Size of the framing including deck joists,  deck post size and spacing, etc…
  • Joist spacing
  • How the deck is to be attached to the house
  • and more….

If a home buyer makes an offer a savvy buyer’s agent will check for permits.  No buyer wants to pay for a deck that needs immediate repairs or a rebuild because of safety concerns and shoddy workmanship, even if it is brand new.  By pulling a building permit it shows certain standards were adhered to when building the deck.

Not Installing Proper Footings and Piers

Different parts of the country will have different requirements.  Here in New England deck footings are supposed to go down at least 4 feet.  This ensures the footing is below the frost line and will prevent any significant heaving of the deck structure.

Installing deck posts directly on the ground, cement pad, or cinder block does not create a stable base for your deck. A proper footing and pier would be a 12″ concrete pad on top of a pier with the concrete mushroomed out at the bottom and the pier extending above ground level.

A deck with improper footings can quickly lean, sag or your new deck could fall over.

Also, consider your deck support post and the spacing in between.  The space in between depends on the sizing of your support posts and rim joists as well as the hight of the deck.  Leaving to much space will lead to sagging and potential failure.

Improperly Attaching The Deck To The House

The ledger board is the point where the deck is attached to the house.  It is one of the main structural components of your deck.  It affixes the joist on one end and offers much of your deck’s stability. 

Improperly affixing the ledger board to your house can significantly impact the safety of the structure.

Often an inexperienced weekend warrior will nail the ledger to the home when it should be lag bolted.  Worse yet some homeowners will attach right over the siding. The lag bolts will ensure the deck ledger will not pull away from the house.

Massachusetts building code for decks requires a strong tie to attach the deck to inside joists of a house as well as being properly lag bolted to the house.

Not Flashing The Ledger Board

If flashing is not installed under the last course of siding and then over the ledger board, water can penetrate behind the ledger board.

Long term water penetration will attract insects like carpenter ants as well as rot the sheathing rim joist and potentially the sill of your home. 

Not flashing the ledger board is probably one of the most common mistakes when building a deck.  While one of the more common mistakes, it can also lead to a real headache down the road.

Using The Wrong Materials

There are many decking materials to choose from…. natural hardwoods, composites, vinyl railings, etc…. Whatever you choose make sure you are choosing the proper materials.  Decks take a beating from the sun and element and can deteriorate quickly. 

Typically the framing used for most decks is pressure-treated lumber.  It is treated to be rot resistant and last many years.  Decking and railings should be pressure treated or a hardwood that is know to be rot and insect resistant.  Some softwoods like cedar or redwood can be used as decking as well. 

Manmade composite materials have become very popular for decking and railing systems.  If you are looking for less maintenance over the years consider using composite deck materials.

Untreated pine is one of the cheapest materials a homeowner can find, but has no place on any of your deck’s structural components.  It rots way to quickly to be used for the framing, railings or decking.

9 Common deck building mistakes

Improperly Sized Materials

Improperly sized framing and joist spans are common mistake when building a deck.  The proper sizing ensures a safe and stable deck.  Framing joists need to be a certain width based on the span and when undersized cause the deck to sag. 

The spacing of the joists can also be dependent on the decking used.  Some decking requires only a 12 inch spacing of the joists versus the typical 16 inch spacing.

Improperly spaced spindles could lead to a child falling through.  Improper railing height will increase the chances of someone falling over the railing.

Your local building codes will specify minimum requirements for a safe structure.

Not Using Joist Hangers

Joist hangers are a must to attach your joists to the ledger board and rim joist.  They securely attach the joist and prevent them from dropping over time.  Nailing from the end does not provide the same support a joist hanger does.  When using joist hangers also make sure you are using the proper hangers for the type of materials used as well as the proper nails.

Also when using joist hangers make sure they are properly nailed in place per the manufacturer’s instructions.  Often nailing is not completed properly on the joist hangers.

Not Resting The Rim Joist On The Deck Posts

Often a novice will lag the rim joist to the deck posts on the outside of the posts.  Maximum stability is achieved by resting the rim joist on top of the deck posts and using the proper brackets to affix the joist to the posts.

Not Realizing Your In Over Your Head

Like many things in life, you don’t know what you don’t know.  And, the same goes for a homeowner building their own deck.  If much of what I laid out here is foreign to you, it may be time to hire a professional to build your deck.

Of any structure in the home, the deck causes the most injuries and death.  It is important to build a safe structure and know when it is beyond your abilities.

Final Thoughts

We have covered some of the common deck building mistakes a home owner can make.  There are certainly others.  Consider your deck railings and stairs as well to ensure your deck is safe.

Adding a deck or replacing the decking and railings of a deck will certainly add value to your home…. if done properly. 

With any renovation or rehab on your home if done improperly it becomes a liability rather than an enhancement to the value of your home. 

If you decide to build your own deck with some friends take the time to understand the proper building codes and construction techniques that are involved.

A properly built and maintained deck will provide you with enjoyment for many years to come.

Other Remodel and Renovation Resources:

9 Common Mistakes When Building A Deck was provided by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate of Tewksbury MA.

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1 comment

  • Alice Carroll
    December 22, 2020

    You made a good point that proper sizes are important to observe when it comes to building a deck. I might try to look for a deck building company in the spring in order to finally get to the the home improvement project that I’ve been wanting to do for almost a year now. Having a deck will surely improve the curb appeal of my house.

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