Updated: Apr 17, 2019
If I took someone with limited amount of deck experience or a home inspector and I asked them to inspect a deck I would guess that 90% of the individuals would go straight to the ledger and look for problems. Why? Because it is the most documented point of failure on a deck and it is the point in which the deck is attached to the house or structure. Ledgers are load bearing and they are often installed wrong. So? So what…. Here is what, it is also the most misdiagnosed problem on a deck. To identify if the ledger has been properly installed the inspector will consider where the ledger is being fastened, what it is fastened to, the bolts or screws that are used for the structural positive connection and the number of fasteners. So, the only way I can prove that a ledger is improperly secured is by removing a bolt and understanding how long the bolt is, its size and what it has been positively connected to. Hey deck builders! I know you are all coming up with several arguments to prove me wrong right now, like counting how many bolts there are in the ledger and are they evenly spaced. I get it, and in many cases, you are right too. But let’s focus here. Are the bolts rusted? Are they short? Are they positively connected to only plywood? We don’t know. I could never ever tell a homeowner with 100% accuracy that their deck is safe. I can only look at what I can see, or I can do a destructive analysis.
Now we have not even considered the condition of the ledger itself. Is it rotted? Does it have a flashing? All valid questions. One thing is for certain, if the ledger fails the deck will collapse, at least partial if not all the way to the ground. If it fails everyone and everything on the deck will be thrown back towards the point of failure, most likely the house, and get pinned there often injuring people and if the deck is elevated could easily cause a fatality. Short story, have a qualified individual that understands deck structures evaluate your deck if you suspect the ledger is failing.
When it comes to a deck safety do not hesitate to ask OnDeck professionals questions by calling 866.278.2841