PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Over the past 10 years, more than a thousand people have been hurt and 20 people have been killed in deck collapses.

Jenn Tallmadge was almost killed when the deck of a vacation home ripped away from the house. She fell 40 feet along with a hot tub and a hot barbeque grill.

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“It was just a mess; lumber everywhere, dust coming up,” said Bryan Tallmadge, Jenn’s husband. “In my mind, I’m thinking there’s no way she made it through that.”

Experts say 50 percent of all decks – roughly 20 million in the United States – are in need of repair or replacement.

KDKA’s Susan Koeppen tagged along with Brendan Ryan, a Pittsburgh home inspector, as he checked out a backyard deck in the North Hills.

“Bad decks, that are very bad, we seem them a few times a month,” said Ryan.

During the deck inspection, Ryan points out a railing that is too wobbly, a crack near the stairs and rusty bolts.

“Couple things that are wrong that need to be addressed,” Ryan said. “The issues that are here are not that difficult to take care of.”

The most important part of your deck is what you see underneath. Structural engineer Ricardo Arevelo walks through the warning signs of a dangerous deck.

“The most critical connection of a deck is how it is attached to the house. This piece of board is called a ledger board, and you can see how it’s secured with screws to the structure of the house,” says Arevelo says of a structurally-sound deck.

The deck had metal connectors – slats less than four inches apart – and was held together with screws and bolts.

But while a deck may seem fine at first look, an up-close inspection tells a different story.

“There are a lot of problems with this deck,” says Arevelo. “You don’t see any metal underneath, and metal is what ties the pieces of wood together. Another problem with this deck is cracked wood.”

But the most crucial flaw was with the ledger board – where the deck attaches to the house.

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“If we look up here, the attachment was made with only nails and that’s very unsafe,” Arevelo adds.

In a demonstration, nails can pull out and a deck can come crashing down.

“Sometimes people don’t take decks seriously, but it’s important that decks are properly built and maintained,” says Arevelo.

Meanwhile, Jenn Tallmadge says she never thought to inspect the deck while on vacation. The couple says they now check every deck before stepping foot onto it.

Koeppen: “So, the deck with a hot tub was being held on…”

Jenn Tallmadge: “[A] two-story deck, too.”

Koeppen: “With nails?”

Jenn Tallmadge: “Just nails.”

Bryan Tallmadge: “That’s why it fell like it did.”

“The biggest thing I would say is, don’t take it for granted that your deck is safe,” Jenn said. “Check and make sure it’s safe.”

The average life expectancy of a wood deck is about 15 years.

It’s a good idea to check your deck every year, but you may want to check the deck if you rent a vacation home or if you’re at a friend’s house.

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More Information: SafeStrongHome.com/Deck
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