As leading Colorado custom deck builders, we take pride in our quality craftsmanship. We have the expertise to get the job done right so that your deck is durable and safe for you and your family for years to come.

Unfortunately, we have seen some decking jobs done either by DIYers or builders who were not up to speed on building codes. Not only were they not built to last, but some were downright dangerous.


(annawaldl / pixabay)

Developing technologies, new products, and revised industry codes impact best practices in our industry and should be kept in mind with any building project. Even the type of lumber used and the exterior building walls determine your materials needs, from fasteners to flashing. Here are some deck-building blunders that even experts are sometimes guilty of. Avoid these common mistakes.

Failure to Obtain the Proper Permits and Follow the Local Codes

Deck-building permits are required in most cities and towns, and for good reason. Failure to obtain a permit and follow the local building codes could result in a dangerous situation or waste time and money. If you put the effort and resources into such a big project, make sure it’s done correctly from the start so that you won’t have to tear it down or reduce its size due to something like a zoning ordinance that you didn’t know about.

Unsafe Posts and Footers

Posts are the legs of your deck, and footers are what those posts sit in. Your safest bet is to assume that some deep digging will be required so that yours are protected from frost heave (the physical lifting of a deck caused by expanding ice in the ground), moisture, and bugs. Posts should not be resting on the ground, even if encased in precast foundation blocks.

Foundation systems must extend at least 12 inches into undisturbed soil and even further down past the frost line in colder climates where winter temperatures can freeze the top ground layers. The depth at which posts should be buried depends on certain variables like frost line level, the hardness of your soil, and whether or not it has been seeded, tilled, or backfilled. You may need to dig as deep as 10 feet down in some instances!

Incorrect Hardware

Always check with the manufacturer of your decking material first to determine the appropriate hardware needed. Very often, the manufacturer will list a specific type of nail or screw to use to include its length and diameter. These product-specific guidelines not only help you narrow your search at the hardware store but also help you remain code-compliant. Failure to follow them can lead to a finished product that is unsafe, short-lived, and no longer covered under warranty.

In addition to manufacturer guidelines, always choose stainless steel hardware components when you can. A second best-practices option would be double-dipped hot-dipped galvanized steel.
Other types of galvanized coatings can rust and easily break or can have a reaction to materials in your composite wood that could cause both products to corrode quickly.

Screws are typically preferred to nails as nails tend to pull out more easily with one caveat to that rule: Common deck screws are insufficient for joist hangers. Again, consult the manufacturer guidelines for your particular decking boards.

Too Little Research Into Deck Ledgers

Deck ledgers safely connect the deck to the building structures (usually your home). Thousands of pounds might be resting on this one board, so it is critical to ensure that it is safely secured to both deck and building, not just the outside covering of a house, such as the siding. If done incorrectly, the deck can collapse.

With so many different decking and building materials factoring into the best practices for a ledger, it would be impossible to expand on all considerations and combinations to suit your particular needs. We’ll just caution you to research requirements for your building type, lining material, and site conditions.

Beams Incorrectly Attached to Posts

Connecting support beams to posts may seem to be the smart thing to do, but most backyard decks have too few posts to make this safe. Each post would be bearing too great a load resulting in crushed wood, failed connections, and collapse. There are two choices to remedy this.

  1. One, cut an L-shaped notch in a 6×6 post on which the beam can rest while being supported by the vertical portion of the L-shape.
  2. Use intermediate support posts with the correct direct-bearing hardware to match the size of the beam or post.

Overlooking Clearance and Access Points

Some clearances are required by code, such as providing a 36 inch-tall escape route from a basement egress window. Others are more common sense, like maintaining access to exterior spigots. If stairs are within a certain distance of windows, the window should be replaced with tempered glass. The structure should not be built within a certain distance of a main electrical service panel or overhead service conductors. The locations of dryer vents, a/c unit compressors, exterior outlets, and lights all influence your decking project. Identify potential influencers before beginning to build, and then research required clearances to avoid running into problems during or after installation.

Insufficient or Interrupted Handrails on Stairs

Colorado building codes state that a handrail is required when a deck is 30 inches or more above ground level. Too often, do-it-yourselfers think their deck is low enough without taking measurements. The top of the railing must be at least 36 inches high, and spacing between balusters less than four inches apart. Through bolts or special hold-down anchors are the best way to ensure the safety of your railing for the future.

We have also seen railing interrupted with posts at one or several points along its length, either for decoration or functional purposes. However, building codes require that the entire length of the railing be uninterrupted.

So should you do it yourself or call the pros?

From over-spanning composite wood to incorrect riser heights and incorrectly attached guard posts, we’ve seen all kinds of mistakes (and corrected a lot of them, too).

Building a deck is a big job where nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. To prevent costly mistakes and guarantee a safe walking surface, do your due diligence in educating yourself on best practices. And if you have any doubts about getting the job done right, remember that the stakes are high. Let our professional Colorado deck installers tackle the job for you and create a beautiful, durable deck that is 100% up to code.


  • Nate Barrett

    As the President of SRI Decks, my greatest satisfaction comes from the immediate sense of fulfillment that our work brings. From the initial design discussions with our customers to the moment we capture the final project in photos, I feel an immense pride in my team for their dedicated efforts. My passion for hands-on work and outdoor projects is matched only by the joy I derive from seeing a delighted customer when we’ve successfully completed a job. Fun Facts: I like hot chocolate in my coffee. I’ve been with SRI for 12 years, prior to ownership. I have a daughter, 3 dogs and a loving girlfriend.

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