Shear Bracing Beats Lateral Attachment

The article on “Better-Thought-Out Lateral Attachment Requirement” (Editor’s Letter, November 2009; free at misses the boat. The initial cause of elevated decks failing is not that the decks pull away from their attachment through the band board of the building they’re attached to. They initially fail because they rack from a lack of lateral bracing, which ultimately causes the decks to pull away from their attachment to the buildings they serve. If elevated decks were designed based on the assumption that the decks are out in the open and not attached to a structure, they would need the additional post supports and lateral bracing, in the form of knee braces or horizontal shear bracing, that would allow them to stand on their own. If such were the case with elevated decks up against buildings, no actual attachments to the buildings would be required.

Robert A. Chagnon, P.E., SECB Structural Consulting Engineer via e-mail

Perception of Building Inspectors

Some of Glenn Mathewson’s comments in “Arguing With the Inspector” (Structure, January/February 2010; free at confirmed my own perspective.

I was a hands-on general contractor for 22 years and a Certified Building Official for over 16 years. I am currently the CBO for several communities in Minnesota.

Mr. Mathewson’s suggestion to pick your battles disheartens me. Whether warranted or not, there is often a perception that contractors/owners should be intimidated by the building inspector and that any discussion will be confrontational. That is what grieves me. I truly respect contractors’ time. I try to be punctual for inspections and be quick in responding to requests for information or inspections, permit submittals, etc. I view the contractor/homeowner as the code enforcer’s customer.

I believe that people in the code enforcement business need to constantly remind themselves that effective communication is key to good contractor relationships, and through those relationships a quality product can be produced efficiently and cost effectively. I do not place the entire burden of code inquiries on the contractors to prove their case. The code enforcement officer is the one with the correct code reference materials — he should share them and not make the contractor purchase extra manuals. Inspectors should be encouraged to provide the contractor with copies of the relative code documents (usually just a few pages).

I explain to the owner or contractor that they are the customer and I am not the enemy. I’m a resource on codes. If I run into a situation where corrections are needed, I always provide a copy of the relevant code section to the contractor/owner so we can openly discuss the issue. This makes it clear that the requirement comes from the code and isn’t an inspector’s personal requirement. When the information is provided to the contractor/owner in a courteous, non-confrontational way, a mutual agreement is usually easily achieved. No one goes away with hurt feelings or a damaged relationship.

Contractors/owners should never feel intimidated about asking questions or about openly discussing their situations. They should feel free to request supporting documentation or additional site or office meetings without being concerned about damaging a future project relationship. I am very grateful for all of the quality contractors out there who are continually trying to improve their craft and conduct business in a professional way.

Thanks for letting me vent about one of the non-technical, important sides of the code enforcement business: relationships and respect.

Jim Rich, CBO Duluth, Minn.

Stair Attachment Disagreement

First, decks should be designed for a 100 lb./square foot live load (not 40), as people congregate on decks.

Next, Simpson’s CS-16 is not designed for anything like the application shown in the article “Quick and Sturdy Stair Attachment” (November 2009; free at It is designed to connect two separate wood members along the same axis of force. The fasteners (nails) are at right angles to the force trying to separate them, and the ultimate strength is either the strength of the CS-16 or the combined shear values of all of the nails on one side of the splice. In the example shown in Figure 3 [see photo, below], the strength of the connection would be the withdrawal resistance of the fastener nearest the joint, until it failed, then the next, until they were all pulled loose. Never would you have any more strength than the withdrawal resistance of a single nail.

I’m just a self-employed California General Contractor, not a structural engineer. An engineer could explain this more clearly.

Tomorrow I’m building a staircase (interior not deck), and the engineer wanted to hang the stringers (using the proper connectors, not the CS-16), but I’m going to cut my stringers so that the top tread is an extension of the floor above so that the stringers can bear on that floor joist system. I’ll add his hangers so there is no argument, but I like the stability of the direct wood-to-wood connection.

George A. Hamilton Jr.

via e-mail

Editor’s note: The article referred to was reviewed by a building inspector before it was published. The design live load for decks in the IRC is 40 lb./square foot, and the connection in question is one part of a system, which even without that connection would support the design load.

Enlighten Us

On page 60 in the Products section of the November 2009 issue (free at, there’s an article on the Phoenix Recessed Deck Light Kit by Aurora Deck Lighting. The last sentence states the kits “are available through Aurora’s Web site for about $200 each.” I called Aurora and the rep I spoke to said you cannot buy through them, only through dealers. To buy online, the rep sent me to The Home Tops Web site doesn’t have the kit listed yet, but the Aurora rep told me I could call Home Tops to make a purchase (for $200).

Kyle N. ReichRochester, N.Y.

Editor’s note: Aurora Deck Lighting’s Web site,, has a dealer locator, by state and by zip code.