Q. We moved into our new house about six years ago and have enjoyed decorating and making it our home. The subdivision is beautiful, and the outdoor space has been great. The back yard is large, and we have a treated wood deck that we enjoy virtually every night that it is nice. Recently I noticed that the exposed cut outs for the stairs from the deck are beginning to split from the screws that they used to attach them. Now I feel that they will break. I have contacted a carpenter about fixing them. He wants to almost completely rebuild them at a considerable cost. He said that they were built improperly. I feel that the original builder should take care of them. When contacting them, they said that since they met code requirement inspections that they were proper and since the warranty period was past that they were my responsibility. Should I contact the county building department to see if there is another resource I should take? — James on Fish Lake

A. Stairs can be vulnerable exterior items and a safety concern. Yes, code requirements are intended to address foremost health and safety, but they are only intended to address minimum requirements of construction.

Exterior stairs that are built with an open stringer as I believe you described can be susceptible to accelerated decay because of the open grain of the wood.

Regular staining and sealing will help but having risers or oversized supports and stringers would be the best for long term performance. These oversized framing components are above and beyond basic code requirements.

Building codes are not intended to be quality control. Many times, I’ve had homeowners say, “Well, it passed code so it must be OK.”

Right after construction things might appear OK. But several years of use and outdoor exposure can make things weaker and they begin to fall apart. Then safety becomes a concern.

Jeff Deahl is past president of the Builders Association of Northeast Indiana. Questions for the Square Corners column may be submitted to jeff@craftsman-design.com.

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