Outdoor wood decks are wonderful features that enhance day-to-day life in just about any house. But they need attention, too. Because they are outdoors and because they support people, they need constant attention, especially in our area.
Next to the roof, a deck is probably the element of a house that is most exposed to extremes of weather. Every climate has its own way of introducing decay into outdoor wood construction. Most owners routinely sweep or wash decks and occasionally treat the walking surface, rails and steps with colored stains to preserve their appearance. This is fine as far as it goes; it’s just not enough. The underside of the deck and the framing members that support it go ignored for long periods, probably because it’s hard to get into position to do it. Unfortunately, this is what can lead to significant deterioration making the deck structure dangerous.
Decks collapse and people step through rotten deck boards more often than they should. A deck collapse after a wedding ceremony in a house in Northern California sent 16 people to the hospital with major injuries. Decks are subject to collapse in earthquakes and heavy winds as well. In an effort to counter the poorest maintenance practices with respect to wood decks, the 2010 California Building Code has introduced some significant deck construction requirements. These requirements address the foundation for the posts supporting decks, the connection between the deck framing and the house and drainage of rain water from the walking surface. None of these details are new science, but now they have the force of building law behind them to make them enforceable. Sometimes it takes this force to provide for life safety.
A deck attached to your house is a wonderful place to entertain and to work and to meditate. Adding one to your house shouldn’t be hard. If you already have one, enjoy it! But in either case, please take good care of it…all of it!
Bob George, FAIA, is a San Bruno-based architect who owns his own firm. "Business Corner" is a partnership between San Bruno Patch and the San Bruno Chamber of Commerce that features blogs guest-written by chamber members.