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  • Writer's pictureJoe

Case Study: Deck Gone Wrong


This is the message we received:

Good Afternoon- We are building a deck, approximately 20' x 20' x 2ft off the ground. We hired someone to dig the post holes and pour the footings for us. We didn't notice until we were doing our framing that the holes were not square to the house so our center beam is "straight". We have come up with a few ideas on how we could fix this, but we are not builder (have never done this before) and are not sure if either idea will meet code or will be safe. Is this something you could help with? Thank you.

Our client hired a contractor to install post holes, footings, and concrete piers for their deck. They would then frame and finish the deck themselves.

The client started installing joists and beams but stopped when they discovered that the pier footings weren’t in line with one another. This was in turn shifting their entire joist layout causing it to be out of square. The client contacted us in a panic worrying that the entire structure would have to be torn down, footings redone, and the whole project would have to be restarted from scratch.

The client designed the deck themselves with the help of one of the “big box stores” deck building software. However, they were not aware of the permitting process or procedures for their jurisdiction. The contractor who bored the holes and installed the footings also did not obtain a permit or inspection. In this situation, the homeowner wanted permits pulled so that their new deck would be covered under their homeowners’ insurance without any questions.

Disclaimer: DIY Connection will always strongly recommend that the homeowner obtain the proper permits for their project. We will guide you through the permitting process and also explain the possible consequences and outcomes that may arise without pulling a permit. However, the decision is ultimately up to the homeowner.


Our services are designed to be done virtually via video chat, but since this project was in Southeast Michigan, we were able to visit the homeowner in person. Upon arrival, we were able to determine the following:

1. The pier footings were clearly not in line. In fact some varied up to 10” inches off center. Fortunately, the two out rows of piers were in line enough to be able to get the beams straight. The center beam had the most variation, but this one would be the easiest to correct.

2. The outer beams were only single 2x10s. Load charts and Code require that beams be made of two 2x10s for this application.

3. The deck cantilevered past the beams too far towards the yard and the house.

4. The proposed stairs to be constructed did not have a footing or foundation.

5. Not enough fasteners holding framing together, as well as in joist hangers and brackets.


During our visit we shared our thoughts aloud, just like we would have in a virtual setting. We were able to explain why things needed to be changed and how it would pass inspection. We left the client with a game plan which included the following:

1. Since the homeowner wanted permits pulled for their job, we explained the process to them. We pointed out that the permit should have been in place before starting the deck and that the post hole inspection was missed. Typically, in this situation, the local building inspector will require a hole to be dug around one (or more) posts to ensure it is below frost line; 42” in Michigan.

2. Systematically and carefully remove the joists so they can be reused. We introduced them to cat’s paw (nail puller) and explained how to use it. Fortunately, since there were missing fasteners at this point, deconstruction was just a little easier.

3. With the joists removed, the outer beams could have their second 2x10 installed. Next, they will ensure the beams are perpendicular to the house by using the 3-4-5 squaring method. Then, verify that the 2 beams are parallel to one another.

4. We checked joist and beams spans and advised the client to leave the beam out of line. The deck is close enough to the ground that it will not be noticeable. However, we also instructed them to keep the “header joist” (the joist joins the two joist spans together) centered on the beam to provide proper bearing. Doing so would shorten one joist span, but lengthen the other. While the center beam won’t be truly parallel to the outer beams, the joists will still have proper spans and bearing ensuring a safe deck. The alternative would be to redo the footings and piers.

5. The cantilever towards the yard would have to be cut back and shortened. The cantilever at the house would warrant the installation of 2 additional posts for proper support.

6. We explained possible options for the stairs, but with so many different options available, we advised to work with the local building department.

7. The client informed us that they would be using TimberTech for their decking. We gave them some tips and tricks for working with the composite material, as it is not as forgiving as traditional wood.

8. Most importantly, we were able to get the clients project back on track. There was some deconstruction that needed to be done, but the biggest concern was working around the misaligned piers footings. The client was very relieved that they didn’t have to move or redo them. Additionally, their concerns were put to rest and their confidence to finish the project was restored. In situations like this one, it’s not uncommon for the homeowner or DIY’er to lose hope, throw in the towel, and hire a contractor to finish the project. Typically, the contractor then charges extra to fix things or demolish it and restart. Fortunately, DIY Connection was able help and avoid the extra costs and headaches.

Key Takeaways:

· Proper planning ensures a successful project. Whether a permit is pulled or not, it’s always a good idea to have a plan, complete with dimensions. Then you can verify spans and cantilevers to ensure everything will be safe.

· Be weary of contractors who are unlicensed or do work without permits, as their work is often less than quality. We’re not to say that the postholes and piers would have been perfect if the contractor was licensed and permitted. However, typically contractors that are licensed and permitted tend to care more and spend more time striving for a quality outcome.

· The big box stores all offer design and material take off services. However, in most cases, it is 100% reliant on computer information. There is hardly any human interaction to ensure accuracy or code compliance. There is no one suggesting modifications to ensure you’re limiting waste. Typically, the employee entering the information into the software has never constructed anything before, they’re just trained how to enter the information. Unfortunately, it all comes down to making a sale.

· For contractors, your project is just another job for them. But for you, this is the project of your dreams. You’re been saving and dreaming about it for months. It’s a huge deal for you and just another day at work for the contractor. It’s important to partner with someone who is looking out for your best interest.

· DIY Connection can help with all aspects of decks and other projects. From initial planning, to design, estimating, and material takeoffs, to execution, building and code compliance, we have your back every step of the way. Click here to partner with us on your next project.

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