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Ask the Architect

Second-floor deck, Part 3

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Q. We’re planning a deck for our second floor so we have a better view of the water from our house. Part of the deck will be over our roof, and part will extend into our backyard and give shade to our patio. A contractor we called said we need plans first, and that he would make the deck attach to the back of the house with something he called a “ledger.” We looked it up, and were wondering if there was another way, since we would have to remove the gutters we just paid a lot of money to install. We wanted the deck to be above the gutter so we could use the gutter for our roof to drain into; otherwise the water will just pour onto our patio from underneath. What do you suggest?

A. As I wrote previously, you have the design issues with water and movement prevention, considering wind, rain, sun and fire. You have zoning and building code issues to resolve, and you have the cost issue, which is tied to everything else. The reason for the background answers in those two columns is that you need to know that the attached deck — any attached deck — can cause damage to the house if not done in such a way that it’s strong, and yet can still break away, if necessary, to avoid pulling the house wall with it.

If I hadn’t seen demonstrations of storms in which people left their security cameras running, I also wouldn’t imagine, but you can clearly see, the deck twisting in strong winds, wrenching loose and pulling the side wall of the home outward. I watched in near disbelief as the home, minus the wall, with the interior exposed, begin to lose the roof, which waffled up and down for few seconds before pealing off like the lid of a soup can and flying away like a kite. Coupled with my own experience of living through a Fourth of July tornado that killed 40 people and ripped off the side of our brick home, I know this is very real and can happen in an instant. That experience inspired me to tell others of the dangers.

When footage of the recent storms in Alabama was broadcast, I’m sure most people were focused on the belongings and cars strewn all over. I was looking for metal connectors at the roof and wall connections. I didn’t see a single one in any of those videos. The connectors don’t prevent pull-apart, but they do resist it, and allow people time to shelter and possibly hold enough of the home together to make the difference between life and death.

Deck attachment should consist of the right kind of hardware, correctly attached to the (ledger) board and, if possible, attached under the roof edge, below the gutter, where the connection is secured and weather-protected. Good luck!

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.