Simpson Strong-Tie engineer talks deck safety
May is Deck Safety Month and the perfect time to increase safety awareness.
Decks don’t last forever. While modern pro deck builders have transformed a construction niche by vastly improving structural engineering and deck safety, more can be done to educate consumers, DIYers and even general remodelers on the need to inspect and repair/replace failing decks and deck components.
Simpson Strong-Tie branch engineer David Finkenbinder, P.E., has spent large portions of his decade-plus-long career dedicated to deck structural engineering and deck safety.
A graduate student of the nationally renowned Wood-Based Composites Center at Virginia Tech, Finkenbinder sits on the committee overseeing the DCA-6 Prescriptive Residential Wood Deck Construction Guide and also holds degrees in applied physics (B.S. from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania) and agricultural and biological engineering of wood structures (B.S. from Penn State).
Finkenbinder says the month of May, which is also Deck Safety Month, is the perfect time to increase homeowner awareness and inspection of decks. With remodeling expenditures on the rise, deck inspection, repair and replacement is a premium value-add opportunity for remodelers, contractors and building material dealers alike. Finkenbinder can discuss the top trends in deck construction, key safety and structural engineering issues and the research and development that continues to take place to address corrosion of metal fasteners in exterior environments.
What follows is a Q&A with Finkenbinder in which he answers questions concerning the evolution of deck safety, the average deck’s life expectancy and common causes of deck accidents:
What are the common causes of deck accidents?
The most common causes of accidents are connection issues or degradation of the deck structure and connections. Connection problems can be the result of improper construction when the deck was initially built, like using nails to fasten a ledger board to the house. On the degradation side, decks can experience corrosion of metal connectors and fasteners, or decay of the wood deck framing. Often, corrosion is the result of not using the proper connector or fastener material for the type of preservative wood treatment used on the deck framing, or simply an unsuitable fastener to deal with regional weather and environmental conditions. Wood decay can result from improper flashing behind the ledger, or the use of other detailing and finishes that trap moisture.
What is the age of the average deck and how often should a deck be inspected?
It’s commonly estimated that there are approximately 40 million existing decks in the United States, which run from recently-built decks to ones that are at or past their service life. Most experts estimate the average life expectancy for a deck to be 10 to 15 years, a loose number that can vary widely depending on exposure conditions and materials used. The main point is for consumers to realize that their deck has a lifespan. We recommend homeowners take a good look at their deck once a year — just like checking your fire alarms annually on a certain date.
The beginning of spring is a great time for that inspection, when the homeowner is cleaning off their deck from winter and getting outdoor spaces prepared for months of backyard barbecues. We recommend homeowners review The 5 Warning Signs of an Unsafe Deck online and contact a professional to determine if a repair, retrofit or rebuild is necessary when a warning sign is noticed.
What can be done to better protect the integrity of a deck?
A good starting point is to work with a professional deck builder in the beginning, to ensure that your deck is built to or above the building code and that it is built with the proper materials. If your deck was built previously, the annual inspection helps keep you aware of the condition of your deck and address any issues that may be unsafe.
How has the construction and safety elements of decks changed in recent years?
The main thing that has changed recently is that the building code is starting to catch up in terms of having information for decks, where it did not have much before. Deck safety is a priority for building officials, and the code needs to provide information on what the minimum requirements are for a deck. The code now includes important information for joist and beam spans, posts and ledger connections, but it still has a way to go. Important topics such as guards and stairs are sparsely covered.
While the building code itself is developing, a wide cross section of the industry (including the National Association of Home Builders, the North American Deck and Railing Association, university researchers and building product manufacturers) has teamed up with the American Wood Council to produce a comprehensive guide for designing and building a single-level deck. This guide, the DCA6, is a free download on their website, and a version is available for the 2009, 2012 and 2015 editions of the International Residential Code.
Do you expect the importance of deck safety and structural integrity to elevate in the coming years?
I do expect these topics to continue to be an important concern in the coming years. The industry itself has come a long way but is still engaged in an ongoing effort to educate the public so that their deck is not an afterthought. I also mentioned professional deck builders, but a good portion of decks are either built by do-it-yourselfers or contractors that may not specialize in decks. The goal of having more information for safe deck building will be helpful for these types of builders as well.
RISI Crow’s Market Recap for April 27
A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for April 27, 2018.
Western: regional species perimeter foundation
Southern: regional species slab construction
Crow’s Market Recap: A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.
SPF sales remained active, continuing to place upward pressure on most key prices. Lead times at western mills extended into mid-May, which often equated to June railcar shipments and July deliveries.
- Throughout the distribution pipeline Southern Pine sold at a strong rate. It did not flow unencumbered, however, as severely restricted truck availability generated a market in which late shipments were the norm. Retailers turned to distributors for fill in volumes while waiting on late deliveries from mills.
- Coastal species pricing overall was on firmer footing as green Doug Fir managed to establish trading levels but at lower prices than the prior week. Most dry prices continued to hold steady or edge moderately higher.
- Activity levels appreciated in Inland lumber, nearly bottoming Fir-Larch and increasing the price levels of most Hem-Fir items. Hem-Fir was clearly the leader of the region again, gaining further strength, while Fir-Larch searched for firm footing.
- A combination of solid demand and limited availability produced upward pressure in stud prices. SPF mill offerings often sold out early at higher levels and then were spooned out sparingly late.
- Radiata Pine lumber prices were reported in some fairly wide ranges. Numbers up to $50 below listed Shop prices showed on some reports, but key exporters and most New Zealand prices were unchanged.
- Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr and Shop remained flat-lined with regard to prices. Demand for Shop was sufficient to keep the numbers unchanged, but not enough to give the market any new energy. Ponderosa Pine Selects and Commons were still suffering some of the effects of a late breakup. Inquiries for Commons were “pretty strong,” given the condition of most inventories.
- Most Western Red Cedar traders reported a steady market, void of any significant changes. Traders, however, did expect the market to give them a better indication of how the busy season in 2018 will pan out over the next few weeks to a month.
OSB activity remained quiet this week, even though spring weather motivated jobsite activity. Buyers waited for prices to drop, uncomfortable with current levels and smelling downside. A few buyers reported scattered quiet discounts from producers.
- Southern Pine plywood producers reported strong sales activity, generating longer lead times and higher rated sheathing prices. Order files at mills extended out as far as May 21, with light volumes available for May 7. The pace picked up Wednesday and continued through Friday morning.
- Mills in the Western Fir plywood market continued to sell enough volumes to maintain sheathing price levels. A slightly improved market over the past couple of weeks managed to give producers a few more days of order file, but any upward lift in CDX pricing has been minimal.
- Canadian plywood activity was mundane this week. There was a feeling among sources that the market is late to kick in, and very little buying occurred at most mills.
- Sales of particleboard and MDF were steady to modestly better, with producers frequently describing markets that changed little from the prior week. Most producers seemed content with order files. Some extra volumes of particleboard remained available.
For more on RISI, click here.
84 Lumber digs in for Habitat
Eighty Four, Pa.-based 84 Lumber announced a donation of $250,000 to support a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh effort to build four new homes for first-time homebuyers in Homewood.
According to the company, the decision to lend a hand was a no brainer.
“Home ownership is the biggest door-opener,” said 84 Lumber’s president and owner Maggie Hardy Magerko, who took up a shovel to help in the ceremonial ground breaking for the project. “Once someone owns their own home, they have the stability to do so much more with their lives – pursue a career, go to school, care for their family. By providing home ownership for more families, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh is opening a door for more people to realize their full potential. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing the look when a first-time homeowner walks through the door for the very first time. That’s why we do what we do.”
The lumberyard company’s donation will unfold over the coming year. 84 Lumber is also providing oversight of the project, lumber and building materials, will frame each home and lead all bricklaying efforts.
This partnership creates new opportunities for deserving families that have completed Habitat for Humanity’s Homeownership program. These efforts will ultimately result in equipping families with a 30-year, 0% interest mortgages made available by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh. The development concept in Homewood began several months ago and was officially kicked off Tuesday, April 24, during a press conference and groundbreaking ceremony.
“The partnership with 84 Lumber will add immeasurably to the sustainability of urban communities, such as Homewood,” said Dr. Howard B. Slaughter, Jr., president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh.