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Bolting Deck Beams to Posts: 3 Don’ts for Your Deck

Building a deck can be a long and challenging process, but the end result is worth the effort. You’ll be able to watch Fourth of July fireworks from that porch, sit and enjoy lemonade or beer during the summer, sip a cup of cider in the fall, and decorate it with holiday lights in the winter. First, though, you have to build it.

Depending on where you got your deck-building plans, you may not realize some of the do’s and don’ts for crafting a safe, solid deck. For example, some blueprints recommend bolting deck beams to posts; and we’ll discuss why that can be a danger. Before you build your deck, check out some of the cautions and suggestions in this guide.

Don’t rely on bolting deck beams to posts

Bolting deck beams to the posts sounds like a good idea, right? And it is—as long as you’re not solely relying on the bolts to hold your deck together and keep it solid and sturdy for years.

Bolts alone are not going to secure those beams and posts together tightly enough. And over time, the nuts and bolts you use are going to loosen. Even if you’re using the right grade of hardware, all it takes is a couple of loose bolts, and your deck could begin to tilt or even collapse outright, potentially causing harm or death.

Instead of bolting intersecting deck beams to posts and leaving it at that, take the time to secure your deck’s structure properly. Research the type and grade of hardware you need. Be sure that you use heavy, solid brackets and cleats.

If you’re not sure if the hardware suggested in your instructions or blueprints is adequate, talk to a knowledgeable friend who takes safety seriously and get recommendations.

You’ll also need to check the codes and requirements for constructing decks in your area. Your deck will have to pass inspection, and in some areas, bolting and notching simply aren’t permitted. You’ll need galvanized steel caps and post-to-beam connectors with approved fasteners in multiple locations, positioned at the juncture of each post and beam.

Don’t ignore clearance and access requirements

It’s important to take note of where and how your new deck adjoins to your house. Is there a basement window nearby? Be sure that basement windows have an escape path with at least 36 inches of height clearance, so a person could exit those windows in case of emergency.

Are your deck stairs near other windows of the house? You’ll need to install tempered glass in those windows, so a fall from the stairs won’t result in a guest crashing through a window and worsening their injuries.

Also, a home’s electrical panel must be at least 10 feet above any deck structure or at least three feet to either side of it. Rules like this may seem arbitrary, but they’re in place for safety purposes, and to ensure reasonable access to key parts of your home.

Don’t set deck piers or footings above ground

Foundation systems for decks must have below-ground roots for optimal safety and stability. They need to reach at least a foot beneath the surface, and they need to be placed in solid, undisturbed soil.

If you live in an area where the ground freezes in the wintertime, you’ll need to go further with your deck piers or footings, sinking them deeper than the frost line. Be sure to check with local authorities to find out the code requirements for your area.

The rule about footing depth is there to prevent lazy builders from simply locking their deck posts into above-ground concrete footings. Without the firm grip of the undisturbed ground around them, those footings could shift when the earth freezes or when rain causes erosion. Just a small shift in a deck post, just a hint of instability, and the entire deck structure can be compromised.

Do the deck right

When it comes to building your own deck, the safety of your family and guests should be your top priority. Dig those footings or piers deep into the ground. Take the time to go beyond bolting deck beams to posts and do the job right. Measure stair risers correctly and ensure that all access points and electrical panels of the home have plenty of clearance.

With that time and effort invested into your deck, you’ll be much more confident in the security and stability of the entire project. You’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt that your deck is rock-solid. Once you finish the deck, indulge yourself with a set of brand-new deck furniture, as a prize for all your hard work. You’ll be able to enjoy many family barbecues, birthday parties, or quiet sunset from that vantage point.

Mike Bailey