SB 721 Will Force the Inspections of Decks-Who Should Perform the Inspections?

DeckExpert.com supports the inspection bill for decks. The Berkeley tragedy, the lives lost and the survivors who are left with serious life long injuries, has brought us all to realize the need to implement an inspection & repair program on a statewide level. This “accident” was no accident. 

The collapse at Berkeley was on a path to occur somewhere-the building industry in California and beyond will argue against my points, but this tragedy was years in the making. There are many reasons for this-from architecture schools that don’t teach it’s students the basics of waterproofing.  For example, right here at Cal Poly SLO, many courses, not one on waterproofing. I’ve offered to give a lecture at Cal Poly; my offers have been meet with silence.

http://www.catalog.calpoly.edu/collegesandprograms/collegeofarchitectureandenvironmentaldesign/architecture/#courseinventory

The architect who designed the balcony in Berkeley designed it poorly. The glue-lam beams, not supposed to be cut, but he called for them to be. The waterproofing membrane, not supposed to be used on low slope plywood decks, Few architects truly understand waterproofing principles in my opinion. There are those that specialize in repairing deficient buildings and decks, but they are the exception, not the rule.

General contractors don’t “get” deck waterproofing. To them it’s a minor thought, where the cheapest bid is the best for them, it puts more money onto their bottom line. Most I talked with as a waterproofing contractor didn’t understand sequencing/scheduling the waterproofing work. I give seminars at JLC Live Residential Construction show and my room is filled with general contractors who know they don’t know enough. With water intrusion issues the number one issue in construction defect litigation, it’s a serious problem.

Currently the CSLB does not have a license classification for waterproofing contractors. They did, but for some reason it went away. Currently 3 specialty license classifications can perform waterproofing services C-8, Concrete, C-33 Painters D-12 Synthetic Products and B licensed contractors can as well. Reviews of sample tests from CSLB reveal little if any knowledge of waterproofing is required as their tests don’t ask anything about waterproofing. Even more disturbing, D-12 contractors don’t even take a test on the trade portion like the other trades.

The biggest problem I see in the construction industry is the evil practice of “piece work” pay, where a worker is paid by his production rate, rather than being paid by the hour. In piece work, “Joe” is paid a set rate to install the framing for the deck. If it takes an average of 12 hours to frame a deck, piece work pay may be set arbitrarily and only gives “Joe” an incentive to finish faster. If he takes 12 hours to frame the deck he makes the same as he would if he framed it in 8 hours. “Joe’s” incentive is to get it done in 8 hours. If it passes inspection (meeting code is like getting a C- in school) the contractor is happy, Joe is to because he won’t get docked for a “go back” charge to fix the deficiency.

“Tom” also gets paid to waterproof the deck on a piece rate. “Tom’s” incentive is to get the deck waterproofed as fast as possible to maximize his take home pay.

From my experience in working for production waterproofing companies, it’s one big cheating cluster fuck of a mess. The workers cheat to max their pay. Want me to bring a few to a Senate hearing? They’ll tell you. It is not possible to perform the job and make a living wage under piece work pay without cheating.  The project manager? He’s getting a bonus if he delivers the project on time and under budget. On time means to damn bad the deck is wet, waterproof it anyway.

One big question stands out-were the employees of Segue Construction & R Brothers Waterproofing being paid piece rate when that balcony was built and waterproofed?

These problems must be addressed in tandem with implementing laws on decks and balcony inspections.

So who should inspect the thousands of  waterproofed decks and balconies in California? And at the same time, why aren’t wood balconies and decks being included? I read that in a five year period, over 33,000 people were injured in deck collapses.

I don’t believe that pest control inspectors or general contractors are the best qualified people to inspect decks. Architects and engineers are better qualified, but has anyone asked them if they want this job?

Several answers exist; first, a deck inspection checklist needs to be developed that every inspector will use and file with the appropriate authority.

NADRA (North American Deck & Railing Association, NADRA.org  has a comprehensive checklist for inspecting decks. Their annual deck safety month in May helps to illuminate the need for regular deck inspections. NADRA also has a course for qualifying inspectors as “deck inspectors”. These inspectors are capable pro’s who perform deck and home inspections on properties for sale. They certainly could, with some training on waterproof deck membranes, be qualified to inspect decks under SB 721.

The Roof Consultants Institute (RCI-online.org) is an international association of building envelope consultants. It’s members specialize in design, investigation, repair and management of roofing exterior wall and waterproofing systems. As waterproof decks are indeed roofing systems keeping the interior dry, these consultants are well qualified to perform deck inspections.

Lets also not forget that there are the deck waterproofing companies themselves who inspect decks daily as I do as a deck inspector, who have personnel that are qualified to perform inspections.

It’s my belief that before the state arbitrarily designates who is “qualified” to inspect, that the state determines if in fact general contractors, pest control companies, architects and engineers are actually qualified.

To accomplish that, testing and certification is necessary.

I hope to enlist NADRA and RCI in this endeavor to develop and certify deck inspectors.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my input. I hope that together we can all work towards ensuring that balcony collapses and the injuries and deaths that come with them become a thing of the past in California and nationwide.

2 thoughts on “ SB 721 Will Force the Inspections of Decks-Who Should Perform the Inspections?”

  1. The inspections should be done by waterproofing consultants, building envelope consultants, roofing consultants, or whatever else you want to refer to them as. As to what standards to inspect to should be the following: Structure, drains, flashings and substrates should be inspected to meet local building codes as required by the local municipalities. The waterproofing materials inspections should be done in accordance with each manufacturer’s inspection requirements. In a typical wood deck, I would expect the first inspection is to check that existing conditions meet code and are satisfactory before the installation of the waterproofing starts, Inspection 2 after the lath installation or during the concrete installation. Inspection 3 after the membrane installation and the 4th inspection after the work is done. While this is clearly a life safety issue, we have to careful not to overburden the industry with excessive inspections. The inspector should keep reasonable documentation and pictures from each inspection which will need to be submitted to the owner and the city to get the final inspection.

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