Last month, Washington deck builder and PDB contributing editor Kim Katwijk sent me an impassioned email wondering why every news story about a deck collapse seemed to include a statement from NADRA about the increasing number of deck collapses, and a link to “alarming” statistics. His point was that NADRA was sending the wrong message—that homeowners should be afraid their decks might fall down—by exaggerating the risk. Katwijk’s email (see Letters, page 14) was also addressed to several other deck builders, and it sparked a flurry of responses. Most agreed that there are thousands of improperly built (and probably unsafe) decks, but that the industry would be better served if it was delivering a more positive message.
But the fact is, deck failures aren’t going away. And when a deck fails, it’s news, especially if there are injuries or fatalities involved. Here’s a sampler of some headlines, and these are just from the past month or so: “Deck Collapse While Showing a House Ruins Realtor’s Day”; “Workers Rescued After Deck Collapse in Fayette”; “Three Injured in Deck Collapse”; “More People Sue After Isla Vista Balcony Collapse.” Are deck collapses increasing at an alarming rate? I don’t know, but headlines like these are evidence that deck failures aren’t all that unusual.
In his letter, Katwijk argues that fewer than 40 documented deck collapses occur every year. On the other hand, the 2010 Legacy Services report that’s often cited by NADRA estimates that more than 6,700 injuries occur every year as a result of a structural failure or collapse of a deck or porch. Even accounting for a large margin of error, there’s still a wide gulf between Katwijk’s and NADRA’s estimates of the scope of the problem.
Does it matter? I say no. Whether 40 or 4,000 decks collapse every year, each failure is a black eye for the deck-building industry—and that includes both active NADRA members and Chucks-in-a-truck, since most homeowners don’t know the difference. News reporters don’t either.
Most news stories about deck failures also don’t get the details right. When there are photos, it’s easy to guess what happened, but without a forensic examination of each deck incident, there’s no way of telling for certain how old the decks are that are starting to fail, or even what the most common causes of failure are.
That’s why the industry should be looking at the decks that are still standing. It doesn’t take long for an experienced deck builder to examine a deck and determine whether it is likely to fail, and to figure out how to fix it. NADRA is taking steps in the right direction to educate homeowners about the need to inspect decks. But what I don’t see are deck builders actively promoting themselves as deck inspectors who can quickly and economically make an at-risk deck into a safe structure. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but helping homeowners make their decks safe will help your business too, by getting your name out in the community as an expert who is doing something to fix the problem.