The peak season for deck use and reported deck collapses has passed (June-August), but in the last couple of weeks there have been a few more deck collapse stories to hit the media with a too-familiar story of people gathered on a balcony or deck for what was meant to be a fun occasion and instead find themselves suddenly plummeting to the ground amidst the debris of the failed deck.
Dekalb County, GA has had two recent incidents. A deck collapse in Ellenwood, GA on August 30th sent multiple people to the hospital after a residential deck pulled away from the home. On August 17th, there was a collapse at a Brookhaven apartment complex had a balcony collapse which injured 3 adults and 2 children. One of the children, an 11-year-old boy, was pinned under the rubble until DeKalb County Fire and Rescue arrived.
In Towson, MD, another deck collapse injured 7 people when a second-floor balcony of an apartment suddenly gave away. 6 people were treated and released from hospital right away, however, one seriously injured person remains in hospital with life-threatening injuries. While witnesses claim to have seen between 4 and 10 people on the balcony, it was substantiated as a total of 6 people on the balcony at the time of the collapse. The most critically injured person was standing below the deck and was pinned beneath the debris until emergency responders arrived on the scene.
One resident of the apartment complex stated that she was not surprised and had her own concerns about the safety of the balconies as she had experience water infiltration into her suite through light sockets, which she felt was a safety hazard.
None of these incidents seem to indicate that overloading the decks was the issue.
So What Then Caused the Decks to Collapse?
Initial responses for inquiries on what causes a deck collapse are commonly quick to question if the deck was built to code with proper permits and inspections but it appears that most times there is no negligence in that area. While there are several possible reasons for the deck failure, more often than not, the failure is attributed in some way to the ledger board that connects the deck to the building structure.
The connecting hardware securing the deck to the house is often the first item to be checked. While inexperienced deck builders may use inadequate nails to secure the deck ledger board to the rim joists of the house, more often than not the correct anchoring fasteners were used. What then causes the fasteners to pull away from the house? Often the culprit is wood rot. When water invasion has weakened the wood to the point of softening or rot, no fastener is able to perform securely.
Waterproofing for Safety
When some homeowners (and inexperienced deck builders, for that matter) think about deck waterproofing, the focus of the consideration is often the deck surface or the railings and the esthetic value waterproofing brings to outdoor living space. Sadly, it is the critical inside perimeter waterproofing details that are neglected that can allow water to infiltrate the deck components and the building envelope which can compromise the structural security.
Many times, water intrusion and wood rot is discovered before weakening to the point of collapse and the deck can be salvaged, but sometimes the water damage goes unnoticed. When this happens for too long, eventually the rot will deteriorate the wood until the deck becomes unsafe (This seems to be more common in circumstances where the owner or manager of the property is not the primary resident, such as in the vacation beach home deck collapse in Ocean Isle Beach, NC in July last year).
For example, see Duradek Case History #151 where the inside perimeter waterproofing details were previously neglected and threatened the structural integrity of the deck. Luckily it was noticed and repaired in time to salvage some of the deck, and most importantly, avoided deck collapse and injury.
After looking at these recent deck collapse incidents, and considering the possible causes of these dangerous incidents, you may want to have your own deck inspected. If you find that it is time for a deck renovation and would like to have a Duradek waterproofing professional provide a free estimate on renovating your deck, contact a Duradek dealer in your area.
For full deck collapse stories, see: