Decked deck

Cockeysville collapse: Obtaining a permit would draw an inspection to help prevent such accidents.

June 03, 1999

TO MANY builders and homeowners, building permits and inspections are annoyances best avoided if possible. The Memorial Day collapse of a 12-foot by 14-foot deck in Cockeysville that injured seven people, including a man burned by a falling grill, demonstrates the danger in that thinking.

The deck, built four months ago, collapsed because it was secured into thin particle board sheathing rather than to the house's solid wood frame. Baltimore County code and enforcement officials say their inspectors might have been able to catch that fundamental flaw had they examined the deck. But Decked Out, the contractor, never bothered to obtain a building permit, which would have triggered an inspection.

Building codes and inspections exist for one reason -- to ensure that the buildings we live and work in are structurally sound and have safe mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. Construction or renovation reviews can be long and complicated, but Baltimore County deliberately simplified the approval process for new decks.

To obtain the $60 permit, homeowners need to bring a sketch, including dimensions, of the proposed deck to the Bureau of Building Plans Review. If the plan meets zoning and setback requirements, a building permit is issued, along with charts that specify how to build a deck properly. The county then conducts two inspections. The first ensures the adequacy and depth of the holes for the concrete footers that support the posts; the other is to check the structural integrity and safety details.

Ironically, many people gladly pay several hundred dollars for a home inspection before they buy a home but balk at paying the nominal fee to the county for a thorough inspection of new construction. Considering the danger of a poorly constructed deck, the inconvenience of a permit and inspection seem rather slight.

Pub Date: 6/03/99

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