Welcome to the first of JLC’s Building Sessions – a series in which we bring together the industry to discuss some of the thornier topics around building performance, quality-control and sound practices that building professionals face today.

Leading off in this first session, we take up the combined challenges of designing and building safe stairs for outdoor decks that will last over time and be still be cost effective.

The building code gives us a set of prescriptive requirements that dictate what is needed for a set of safe stairs. But as you will hear in the video broadcast, code is the minimum standard and there are engineered standards that show us better ways to build decks that will actually hold up over time. Then, builders must balance what the engineers want to see against what is possible within the confines of budget and client expectations.

Featured Speakers

Joining us for our first Building Session is JLC contributor, Bruce Barker, an ASHI certified inspector who currently serves as the ASHI immediate past president. Bruce was himself a builder, and is an ICC residential combination (building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing) inspector, a licensed contractor, and a licensed home inspector in multiple states.

Also joining the discussion is John Moss, founder of RailFX. Moss started building houses, and later worked on the wholesale side of the building materials business. In 2015, he developed a full-featured cable railing system to strengthen his in-field cable sales. This launched RailFX, which was eventually acquired by Prime Source, and today he continues to oversee new product development.

Safe Over Time

To improve safety and to reduce liability, Barker begins by advising deck builders to follow the latest edition of DCA 6 (free download in link below).

A deck is only truly safe if it remains so over its entire service life, and as Barker explains, the DCA-6 provides the best guidance available to ensuring that outdoor decks remain durable over time.

Deck Stair Defects

In the video, Barker shows in graphic detail what happens when builders don't follow the DCA-6 guidance, and steers the audience towards cost-effective ways to implement the standard. The video shows vivid examples of:

  • the effects of deck loads and stresses;
  • proper and improper stringer throat depth;
  • overspanned stringers;
  • stringer attachments to rim joist;
  • drop headers do's and dont's;
  • practical and enduring stringer bearing at bottom;
  • rules for stair guards and guard posts;
  • safe stair landings;
  • deck handrail defects.

Practical Cable-Rail Details

The cost of cable railing is in the fittings, so the more builders can streamline the railing, the fewer fittings will be required, resulting in tremendous cost savings.

Moss covers several details that can make the railing easier and less expensive to install, including:

  • wood railings with cable-rail guards;
  • making cable rail work with solid wood or composite-sleeve posts;
  • do's and dont's for stairs running parallel to the rim joist;
  • the importance of dropping the first step ;
  • three guard post attachment methods (surface-mount, fascia-mount applied direct to framing and fascia-mount with brackets);
  • problem-solving cable hardware options;
  • through-the-post cable installations.

Special thanks. The editors and producers of JLC's Building Sessions offer our thanks to RailFX for making this presentation possible.