Ask the Architect

The problems we see

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Q. I’ve worked in the residential construction industry for decades, and I’m formerly a licensed general contractor in a third-generation business. During this time I have learned proper construction practices through experience and education, and have adhered to a standard that no longer seems to be common in the trades at the present time. At the minimum, we’ve always made the effort to follow the building codes, and where practical, exceeded them.

As I watch the reconstruction now years after Hurricane Sandy, I’m dismayed at the means, methods and workmanship at many construction sites — and in particular, deck construction. A partial list of violations to state code I have observed while walking up and down the blocks of (one area) includes but is not limited to: improper depth and size of footings and connections, steel posts below grade, raw steel erected and often enclosed without even shop coat prime (paint), pressure-treated lumber set directly on steel I beams (which will cause immediate rusting), improper post-to-girder connections, improper ledger connections and weather flashing, missing tension ties, missing stair connection hangers, improperly modified metal lumber connectors, improper railing post connections (blocking and bolting), missing rim joist-to-joist connectors (end nails or toe nailed not reinforced with connectors), and railings without sufficient lateral strength. Some of the plastic rails may pass code, but I believe that in time, they will fail due to the plastic becoming brittle from UV rays.

Also: raw steel nails in pressure-treated lumber; galvanized nails allowed by code (I have experienced failure in less than 10 years due to corrosion and imported manufacturers who, in my opinion, falsify their specifications to comply); screws when nails are required; galvanized joist-type hangers on the oceanfront, where stainless steel is required due to salt exposure; under-sized joist depths for spans and spacing; cantilevered deck joists without structural reinforcement, far exceeding the allowable; missing cross blocking; missing joist over girder blocking; improper stair rise calculations and landings; improper railing terminations.

I could continue with my findings, but I think this is enough to ask you three questions: Where are the building inspectors? How are these decks passing inspections? How can building departments issue completion certificates for these structures? Do they not have an obligation and liability for the eventual failures that will occur over time? I’m aware that professional engineers and architects are required to comply with state code, and if not retained for supervision, have no control of compliance.

A. I know your list is much longer, and I appreciate your observations. The particular jurisdiction you wrote about, which you named but I can’t, asks for a letter at the end of the project from the licensed professional in order to sign off. I, too, have seen these problems. Imagine if you knocked on someone’s door to point out their problem, or asked the official the same questions you posed to me. It has been an uphill battle.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.