How safe is the deck you are standing on?

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - You could be enjoying a meal on a deck at your favorite restaurant or on a private deck of your own and it gives out.

"That distance above ground if there is a catastrophic failure, certainly people could be injured," said Mount Pleasant Building Official Lee Cave.

There are laws that govern the design and structure of decks to prevent a collapse, but you need to make sure you plan well ahead so the deck stays up to code.

"You really have to design a deck in accordance with what you expect it to do," said Cave, "The codes give you minimum performance level."

Contractor Will Danielson said if things aren't done right while a deck is being built it could cause a deck to fail. Decks can fail for a number of reasons, but shoddy workmanship is often the cause. Cave said that amateur builders or homeowners trying to save money by doing work themselves routinely violate safety codes.

"Doesn't design the deck properly, doesn't support it properly builds without a permit and no inspections of course."

Properly building a strong deck is only the beginning. Once a deck is built, the government will do a final inspection to make sure that it is safe. However, they do not have a method in place to make sure that it stays that way.

"We inspect the deck while it's being built, during the construction process. Maintenance is left up to the property owner," remarked Cave.

Most decks are made of wood. Over time, wooden decks will weaken due to exposure to wind, rain and other weather conditions. In the Lowcountry, even the strong metal beams that support a deck can give out over time. Using quality products can lengthen the life of a deck.

"Salt water is incredibly corrosive in the Charleston area and that is another reason stainless steel products should be used on decks because they will withstand greater exposure to salt water," said Danielson.

Building inspectors and contractors alike suggested periodically having your deck inspected to ensure that you are not standing on a potential disaster.

Mount Pleasant building officials say if you believe a deck is unsafe, you should complain to your city, town or county building inspection division. They will take a look to make sure it is up to code.