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 go 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 two weeks ago, 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 strong winds we’ve been experiencing are often taken for granted, but a deck is like any other kind of building structure, vulnerable to weather and wind forces.
In the past, decks were something that a group of friends got together with some cold beers over the weekend and started in one spot, nailed a board to the house and then began nailing the frame together to posts sitting on the old patio. In some states, where severe weather is more frequent, decks ripped away and landed in roadways or living rooms and splintered into pointed boards that were photographed as novelties, impaling tree trunks. A different kind of group then got together, the kind that has to solve emergency problems — insurance company representatives and building officials. Suddenly there were rules and regulations, laws about how to build for greater safety.
Architects and engineers were designated the gatherers of information, and tapped to be the calculators of how materials would perform, and how joining materials would be done to resist potential destruction. Once the details were worked out by engineering companies that developed connectors and safe methods, the information spread far and wide.
I remember when there were no pre-manufactured steel connectors for decks, when permits were required only if you got caught, and only for big buildings. I also remember living in Ohio’s Tornado Alley and losing the entire side of our family’s home when I was 11. Once I took structural analysis classes and made the mental connection between living and using a building and how to make it perform and protect us, I had a new respect for structures’ design.
Decks need to be envisioned as ripping apart in order to make them stay together. Being attached to your home incorrectly will cause the two structures to pull at each other. Water flow into joints, wind resistance and uplift will be covered next.
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