Friday, June 7, 2024

Me and My Big Mouth

After that post on my upcoming deck project, I've been reading up on the building code for said deck. 

And I've found a few problems.

You know how I mentioned that I had no idea how the deck passed inspection because of the slope of the stairs? Yeah, I found that if there's three or more steps in place then a rail has to be there. That 3 steps is kind of critical, because the north steps have only one step, and a very steep one at that, so I guessed right and that they avoided needing stair rails there because of the lack of steps and barely making the minimum slope for the steps. Still, it's not optimal.

However, I did find out that the gap in the balusters around the deck was required so that a 4 inch sphere could not pass through the gap. Not because they don't want a ball falling off of the deck, but a toddler being able to stick their head through the gap.

And the gap in our balusters is 5 inches. 


While I was measuring, I also found out that our railings were 35 inches high, while the code minimum for the railings is... 36 inches. That may sound bad, but I can actually make 36 inches by changing a few things on the rails. I was going to rebuild them anyway, but it is annoying.

I mean, really? REALLY? How close
can you get and still mess this up?
But yeah, putting a 2x4 or 2x6 on top
will push me over 36 inches.

For a few anxious moments I thought the length of the deck railing wasn't up to code either, as the "how to" deck books I was reading mentioned a 6 foot maximum length between railing posts, and ours were a maximum of 6.5 feet. It turns out that the building code for the county states a maximum length of 8 feet, so I don't have to do major surgery on said deck. 

And at least the spacing on joists is 14 inches, not wider than the absolute minimum of 16 inches.

Rebuilding the rails isn't that big of a deal, and I'd been considering it anyway as the railings had been out there, exposed to the elements, for 35 years. However, if I'd have needed an extra 5 or so rail posts, that might have been enough to require a rebuild.

And a reinspection.


What I've decided to do is do what I can right now that is most important, and that is to redo the deck boards themselves. After that, if I've the time and money, I'll fix the north steps, the skirting, and the west steps in that order. Last on the list will be the deck railing, because a) it's been like that for years so an extra year won't hurt, and b) I don't have little kids who could stick their head through the railing. (Any more, anyway.)


  1. That was an interesting read. The "Code" comes up quite often in US fiction, written and on screen, usually in the expression "Not up to code", so I was aware of how it worked. We have a very similar system in the UK although I think you hear a lot less about it. We tend to make a much bigger deal of "Planning Permission", which is macro version of the same thing (The Code equivalent being the Building Regulations you need to follow after you acquire said permission.)

    I didn't think any of that would apply here to the specific situation you're facing, though, so I asked Copilot to tell me the differences and it gave me a link to detailed breakdown in which it specifically says that "peripheral things such as small porches, conservatories or detached garages " are exempted from the regs. It also gave me another link in which it confirmed that decking also doesn't fall within the scope of the regulation, so if I put up a deck in my back garden, no-one could tell me the railings were too low or the balusters too far apart.

    Decking has gone severely out of fashion over here, though, following a period when everyone had to have it, thank god. It's an abomination in most suburban gardens although it's fine if you have some great big ranch style cabin in its own grounds. We had a verandah in the house where I grew up - I wouldn't mind one of those again!

    1. The rules in the US building code are there due to accidents forcing the change; or as an electrical contractor acquaintance once put it, the code is written in blood.

      However, knowing what I do know about the porch and deck --and the house itself after we moved in-- I guess I shouldn't be surprised at all. I mean, the covered porch is about 4 feet off the ground, and when we moved in there weren't any railings at all in place, just a full length screen. The first thing I did when we moved into the place was rip out the screens and put in railings, because with two little kids and one more on the way there was no way I was going to risk having a kid fall off the porch because they were leaning against the screen and it gave way.

      In a weird sort of way, I might be exempt from some regulations because the deck is 30 inches off the ground in all save one corner, where it's 37 inches off the ground. That might not sound like a lot, but if your deck is 30 inches or less off the ground, a lot of regs don't apply. Still, I want to do it right so I don't have to fix it again in a few years.

      Decks, when done right, are very nice. A lot of houses here in the US are built with decks in mind, and even though newer house designs may not need decks, a lot of homes built in the 1970s through the 2010s were built with what is colloquially known as an 'el cheapo' or 'contractor special' basic deck attached for external living space, particularly the bi-level designs of the 1970s and 1980s.