California Balcony Inspections; Inspectors Should Not Be Bidding On The Work

With the balcony bill in force & building owners/HOA’s etc. seeking qualified inspectors, I would like to caution BOD’s & owners to be wary of deck inspectors who refer you to a company for any repairs they found needing to be done. General contractors can perform these inspections, but should not bid to repair any problems the inspection might turn up. To be completely free of bias one cannot be a deck inspector on one side & have an interest in a construction firm fixing decks. I’ve heard from a few past clients of HOA’s asking me about being referred to a contractor by their inspector & I reply every BOD should prepare specifications for repairs, work with a construction manager to obtain 3 bids based on those specifications & then award the contract (the Associations attorney writes, not the other way around) to the most responsible bidder. Note I said most responsible bidder. That’s a different subject for a different post… Let us all remember why this balcony inspection bill exists; just over 5 years ago 6 young people died & 7 others were seriously & permanently injured. Lets also remember those that stood against it… Get an inspection done, obtain specifications, have a project manager, get 3 bids, fix and then maintain…lives are at stake.

When Words Kill: Lessons From The Champlain Tower Collapse

The author makes some very good points for consultants to consider… Using language that everyday people will understand. Especially when it comes to condominium boards of directors.

There are many things to consider when doing a visual inspection and certainly one of them is how bad is the degradation of concrete? Since a visual is only limited to what we can see and we don’t have x-ray vision there can certainly be damage inside of concrete that we are not aware of… Unconsolidated concrete rebar that isn’t properly tied sized etc. Hidden water damage may also exist.

So that is difficult to say and as a consultant myself I don’t want to panic people but we certainly also need to make sure that we have their attention as to the dire need for repairs in the “immediate future”. So instead of saying immediate future perhaps the answer is to say repairs need to be made within the next month to 6 months otherwise further degradation may continue and require more expensive and extensive repairs. Basically we need to cover our ass so that if another Champlain happens somebody isn’t going to get theirs handed to them.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertzafft/2021/06/28/when-words-kill-lessons-from-the-champlain-tower-collapse/

Magnesite Decking Is DEAD, LONG LIVE MAGNESITE! Asbestos Warning!

Magnesite from circa 1961 on a deck in Goleta.

I’m not sure when Hill Brothers Chemical Company first started manufacturing Magnesite, however, it’s safe to say it’s been around California, Arizona, Nevada and other Western states for a long long time…it’s distinctive bull nose edges are a sure sign of what the deck has on it.

What I do know is that up until 1977, Magnesite was manufactured using Asbestos as an ingredient. Hill Brothers sold millions of square feet of the material as interior and exterior flooring. This 1999 article from the LA Times discusses the allure of Magnesite, although it doesn’t discuss Magnesite’s little problem of asbestos in it… https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-jul-11-re-54828-story.html

Fast forward to 2002 and Hill Brothers was found liable for 20,000,000.00 after losing a suit brought by a women who had Mesothelioma from asbestos in the floors of the home she grew up in. https://www.kazanlaw.com/verdicts/20000000-verdict-for-woman-exposed-to-asbestos-in-her-own-family-home/

RIP Magnesite. Today Magnesite is not sold by Hill Brothers anymore. From what they told me, a key ingredient was difficult and costly to source due to demands for it from other industries. As a result, they halted manufacture of Magnesite and are no longer supporting the product.

However, the product is still found everywhere in homes, mult-families and older condo’s. This leaves a huge number of people at risk to exposure to Asbestos due to unknowing owners and contractors just treating it like any product and ripping it out, releasing friable asbestos into the environment.

DeckExpert.com recommends to any owner of a property with Magnesite on it to have asbestos testing done on the product no matter when it was installed. It’s better to be safe than sorry and it is a risk reduction for the owner against future claims.

Only Cal-OSHA approved Consultants can test, only Cal-OSHA asbestos certified contractors can remove it. In speaking with several people, they all said that remediation and sealing areas up to prevent release of friable asbestos when demolition is taking place is paramount. Special respiratory breathing apparatus is required, your dust mask from Home Depot will not help you. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE MAGNESITE YOURSELF!

Bottom line, owners of multi-family buildings with Magnesite on them should not attempt to have the product restored or repaired. The service life of Magnesite is up and it’s time to replace it. Magnesite is dead, long live Magnesite!

Coming Soon! DeckExpert.com Best Practices Video Series!

We’ll be doing quick 3 to 4 minute videos on best practices for Waterproofing decks.

Y’all ready for this? Our new 3 to 4 minute video series will focus on best practices building and waterproofing decks over living spaces. I’ll be talking about framing, sloping, sheathing, flashing, drains and much more! Watch for our posts coming soon.

Deck Collapse Kills One Person, Seriously Injures Another Person

https://www.wrde.com/story/44011555/woman-dead-after-dewey-beach-balcony-collapse

A deck collapse has led to the death of a woman who fell 10 feet to the deck below. Another oh so avoidable accident, 6 years after Berkeley… And that terrible anniversary is this month.

It’s time to institute deck inspections nationally… It’s time to end deck collapses. Looking at this photo, the joists were nailed into the butt ends.

Wood Decks Are Not Your Friend In Fire Country, Ever.

“The deck that we had off the house,” she said. “It was a two-tiered deck, and it was redwood, and that’s what brought down our house.” Corey and Danusia Larsen of Malibu CA of the Woolsey Fire that burned over 600 homes.

I’m still trying to find it but I remember seeing a quote from a firefighter in California describing wood decks as organized kindling. That quote sticks in my head and won’t budge. I’ve reviewed hundreds of pictures of homes that are burned and often you can see the outline of a wood deck or the remnants of…

To me the ideal fire resistant home would be stucco or concrete or Hardie board with a metal of concrete roof any decking on it would be a division 7 traffic coating that is fire rated for use in California fire zones.

This article describes the new house that was built by the Larsen’s after the Woolsey Fire. https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-west/wildfires/2021/05/21/malibu-couple-fireproofs-home-after-losing-everything-in-woolsey-fire

It is my opinion that Cal Fire and other fire authorities will not specifically say or seek to ban wood framed and wood decks as the deck industry would be up in arms. However I will say that wood decks and wood framing exposed does not belong anywhere on a building particularly in a high fire hazard zone. Decking manufacturers will say that their products have passed tests under ASTM standards that is required by ICC-ES to get a report… My counter argument is let’s take an aged outdoors 5 years wood frame deck with wood boards or composite boards and put it into a real life type situation IE ember storm, fire wood stacked underneath the deck, plant growth around it etc and let’s see if that deck really is fire resistant. I will say outright that it is not.

Wood decks and composite decks are not your friends in fire country. If you are in fire country the only thing that will help you in my opinion are concrete decking systems and systems that rely on concrete backer board for their fire rating.

This article won’t make any friends in the deck industry that sell composite and wood decks but I’m just truth telling here.

IT’S DECK SAFETY MONTH, AND THE BALCONY COLLAPSES CAN’T STOP/WON’T STOP UNTIL AND UNLESS…WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

Removal of the deck boards against the building reveals a seriously deteriorated set of beams.
They died because of poor workmanship and failing to inspect the deck. #NeverAgain

The North American Deck & Railing Association (NADRA) has declared May as “Deck Safety Month”, although IMHO, every month should be Deck Safety Month.

Read Frank Woeste’s article by clicking here on deck connections here https://awc.org/codes-standards/publications/dca6/deck-connection

Rarely does a day go by without my Google alerts, “deck collapse” & “deck fire” sending me an email about another balcony collapsing somewhere or someone’s grill or fire pit on their deck was the cause of a major house fire.

Two weeks ago the headlines were about the Malibu balcony collapse, where 16 people fell to the rocks 15 feet below while at a house party on the coast. Fortunately no one died. This time. Six years ago, six students died and seven were seriously and permanently injured…broken backs, crushed lungs, featured bones, when the balcony they were standing on to take a picture for a birthday celebration suddenly collapsed.

I remember waking up the morning of June 16th 2015 to see the grisly photograph of blood pooled on the sidewalk, a balcony laying flipped over on the balcony below and staring at the broken cantilevered beams that had rotted away and breaking down in tears. Today I still tear up at the thought of what happened. Berkeley was so avoidable. Malibu was so avoidable. Every balcony collapse is so avoidable.

Something else happens when I read about another balcony collapse-I get angry…very angry. In my opinion, a deck inspection by a competent inspector should be able to find the small clues that a deck about to fail leaves…and my anger is directed at the homeowner, property manager, whoever is in charge, who did not opt to spend $300-1000 on a deck inspection but is willing to spend tens of thousands on legal fees to defend their lack of due diligence.

Many decks, especially wood decks are older and worn. Wood rots, nails rust, supports become weaker, and if additions have been added on top of the deck, then extra weight that probably wasn’t factored into the engineering calculations creates additional stresses on the structure.

Before your next party, before you rent the house with the “large expansive deck” on AirBnB, before another deck collapses with people on it and are injured or killed, for God’s sake, get your deck inspected.

Forget the money it costs, think about the guilt you’ll feel having blood on your hands.

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