Support, age key problems for wooden decks

As crews begin the inspection process of decks at Tara Apartments, a deck builder says most repairs are needed in the deck's support

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Brandon Beissenherz can thank the extreme weather in mid-Missouri for his experience in deck construction.

"That's how I got started originally, was cleaning and staining old wood," Beissenherz said.

Now he owns Columbia Deck & Fence, a place he's worked since 2005. Beissenherz said inspectors and deck owners call him to repair two areas commonly in disrepair.

"One is that it's got proper lag screws," Beissenherz said, holding a half-inch head screw the length of a toothbrush. "The other is all the joists have joist hangers."

The two work together to secure the deck to the building, and the part suffering the most work when bearing weight.

"From a structure standpoint, this is what's holding the weight," Beissenherz said. "Because whatever's attached to the house, that's what you don't want to see collapse."

It's a structure inspectors at the University of Missouri-owned Tara Apartments may be looking at next week. The engineering firm Trabue, Hansen & Hinshaw recommended to the school it restrict resident access to the decks so that the firm could take a closer look at them. Crews began sealing the doors leading to the decks Friday morning, and will continue the process next week.

Beissenherz said many decks built before 1990 are secured to buildings with just nails. Construction began on Tara Apartments in 1982, but only one deck ABC 17 News found had visible screws leading into the building. The University could not confirm if the decks had been built at the same time the apartments were built. Beissenherz said decks secured with nails are still in good condition, and construction with lag screws and joist hangers is intended to last the entirety of the deck's life.

The wood of the decks may suffer from the many extreme versions of Missouri weather, but Beissenherz says good construction is key to a long deck life.

"Wood can only handle so much," Beissenherz said. "This isn't so much as far as decay on the wood, the issues are how it was built, not so much the wood itself."

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