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Home > Lowe's for Pros > Keeping Decks Up to Code

Keeping Decks Up to Code

By Laura Schlereth

Professionals in the construction and remodeling industries spend their working lives adhering to codes. That fact creates a challenge for property managers who are hiring contractors because codes are constantly changing, and they vary among provinces and cities.

So as a property manager, when you are looking to hire a contractor for a specific task, such as building or remodeling a deck structure on a multifamily residential building, you have to make sure the contractor is up to speed on relevant codes in his area so the structure is safe and secure.

"The deck is an area in a home that is used frequently and can represent significant liability," says Richard Bergman, president of Ottawa-based Titan Building Products and editor of "Deck codes are not the kind of thing you want to skimp on."

If you're looking to repair an existing deck or install a new one on your property, here are some of the questions you need to ask and the main issues you should consider:

Codes vary by province

The National Building Code of Canada sets basic parameters on decks, according to Bergman, but provinces each have their own modifications based on climate.

"For example, in northern areas that experience harsher winters, frost level matters more [on the depth]," he says. "You have to make sure the bottom of footings is deeper in soil than frost level because if the moisture from the frost gets on the underside of footings, it will expand and cause too much pressure, and eventually movement."

Codes vary by building type

May Nazar, senior media relations coordinator with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, says the Ontario Building Code varies according to the size, type and occupancy of a building.

"Typically, larger and more complex buildings, such as hospitals, office towers and high-rise condominiums, have enhanced construction standards for matters such as fire safety, structural stability and accessibility," she says.

It's important to know there are key differences between commercial and residential decks. According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), some of those changes include:

  • The 42-inch railing height is higher than with residential properties.
  • Commercial deck stairs are of a standard size, while residential deck stairs can be steeper.
  • There is a larger live load-weight requirement with commercial decks—100 pounds per square foot

Use codes to assess deck viability

While codes do vary by province and building type, they are comprehensive in nature and typically cover the following elements: ledger connection; posts and footing; post-to-beam connections; joists and joist connections; stairs; deck boards and handrails.

The codes can offer insight into what property managers can look for in determining whether a deck needs to be repaired or replaced. For example, NADRA offers the following deck-evaluation checklist:

  • Evaluate the condition of rails, guards and stairs.
  • Review screws and board connections to ensure they're not rusted or broken.
  • Look for debris in cracks, water stains, corrosion or rotting.
  • Is the flashing—the metal barrier material that prevents moisture from entering the building—keeping water out?
  • Does the deck sway?
  • Is the deck sinking or heaving?
  • Do the stairs feel sound and solid?

Codes changing more frequently

One of the more significant changes related to deck codes is simply that they change more often, says David Defeo, deck and fence manager with Toronto-based Aden Earthworks Inc.

"In the past, they haven't changed much," Defeo says. "They were usually kept the same for a couple years, but now there's much more awareness. [Cities] look more into it."

To make sure you're staying on top of all the changes, check in with your municipality at least once a year. Another way to ensure you're meeting all codes is to hire contractors who specialize in deck building, Defeo says, as opposed to a general builder with minimal experience with decks. Professional deck builders often will look ahead to changing codes that could become more stringent.

"We protect ourselves all the time," Defeo says. "For example, sometimes when we upgrade the joists, if the code requires 2x8s, then we'll go for 2x10s."

Going one step beyond the current code requirements might cost a bit more upfront, but it can provide peace of mind for a property manager considering the safety of building occupants and the fact codes could change in the near future.

Note: This content is for informational purposes only. Lowe's makes no warranties and bears no liability for use of this information. The information is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal, tax or investment advice, or a legal opinion. Always contact your legal, tax and/or financial advisors to help answer questions about your business's specific situation or needs prior to taking any action based upon this information.

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