Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deck Building !!! Final Part!!

In earlier posts, I have given warnings pertaining to applications to avoid and not to cheat or stretch the limits. Well, back sometime in the 80's we built many decks, and as I have mentioned, many still stand to this day; others may have been removed for various reasons, but never due to lack of structure.

Well, one day, along comes the new guy on the block who proclaimed himself to be the Deck King. His prices where drastically lower than ours and, therefore, naturally received much attention. My partner at the time was quite upset with this new fellow and his unbelievable prices. I assured him that our prices were derived fairly and justly, all things being considered, and it would be just a matter of time till the reasons for this vast difference in price would surface. Well, needless to say our new competition managed to pull in quite a few projects we had quoted , which only further irritated my partner. I never changed my practices or lowered my standards to try to meet his.

Some time later, there was a very shocking article in the daily newspaper. It was about a family that was having some kind of celebration on their new deck, when suddenly the party moved from the air to the ground. Yes, there where some injuries; thankfully, none serious. This is a true story, and I'm telling you because you don't want you to fall prey to something similar.

Now that you know what a good job should be like, make sure you get your project done right the first time. Rule Number 1 is don't cheat; Number 2, don't stretch the limits of your components. In other words, use the timbers for the purposes they where designed to perform. And finally, maintain your investment. Nothing takes care of itself. It's up to you.

Happy Decking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deck Building!!! part 4!!

This will be a quick overview on stair building. Choose the location that suits your best use. Use 2"x12"s for the stringers, measure the distance from the deck's surface to ground level, and don't forget to allow space if you're going to use a concrete pad or pavers, for example. Now, divide that total dimension by 7 inches. Play with that number, if need be, keeping all steps the same rise distance; don't exceed 7.25" total rise. The rise is the distance from one step to the next. The tread is the step itself. This should be approx 11 inches, so a 2"x12" will serve perfectly to use for your treads. Use a framing square to mark each vertical rise and each horizontal tread.

As you draw these out onto your stringer, you will see each step, and exactly where it will be positioned. Follow your pattern down from top to bottom, to the last step. Use the fastening devise of your choice to place under each tread as support. Also, screw the treads from the outside of the stringers into each tread center. You should have three to four screws in each tread on each side.

Well, I hope this helps you. Don't get frustrated. Even so-called seasoned carpenters have difficulty with stairs, so learn as you go. Contact me, if you need to, or hire me to do any part or all of your deck. Remember, steps are something that people have a built-in feel for, so they will feel comfortable and easy to go up and down when they're right. When they're not , they can be clumsy and/or dangerous. This is not something you want, ever. Also, REMEMBER to make a gate if you have small children, one that can be secured when closed. The gate should be light, but strong and easy to operate.

Well, hopefully, you have a deck now, so stain it or preserve it. I don't suggest painting it; however, if you must, don't paint the undersides of the decking, as this will cause wood rot in a short period of time. The reason is that water passes through the wood too slowly because the paint is not porous enough, trapping water inside the deck boards, and never completely drying out. Avoid painting if you can. In the next segment, I will talk about and illustrate what not to do when building your deck. I will tell of some real-life experiences to illustrate these points.

Well, enjoy your new deck, and maintain it yearly, and you should be able to enjoy it for years to come.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Deck Building!!! Part 3!!

The hope is by now you're ready to begin work. First and foremost, you must secure the main box plate to the existing structure. If it is wood, locate the beam centers or the main box plate that your walls rest upon. Secure this plate using lag bolts, or through-bolts if your home is built of block. There are many of them out there that I passed through solid cement, sometimes twelve inches in depth, and then used threaded rods to secure this plate. Remember, the deck will be secured to your home only as well as you secure this vital plate!!

A good tip to remember is that every board has a crown to it; this is a raised section that can be seen when the board is held on edge and you look straight down the length of the timber. Crowns are always up when placing floor joists; mark them clearly so you don't face any timbers with the crown facing down. I always liked to use a colored keel, which is like a big crayon, but is unmistakably identified. Remember to place your floor joists 16" on center. Use a framing square to square up your frame and take your time placing all your beams, making sure you're square and level, and that you have parallel spacing between each floor joist. Now determine where your support members will go. These will reduce span and keep your dimensioned lumber within the codes. Don't cheat or stretch the spacing of these support members; they are what will be holding up your deck and its bearing load.

Once you have placed these members, you can determine where your support posts will be located. Again, don't cheat or stretch the span. More is better here. You may be asking yourself, how is all this lumber staying up while I get my support members and support post in place? By now you will have realized that you must temporarily support your entire framework until this process is in place. Once again, don't skimp on temporary supports; they will be keeping your deck square and level till you get your permanent support posts placed. You will want to keep them in place until the cement dries on your footings, so take care to place them where they will do the most good, yet not be in the way of the building process. During this time you will learn to appreciate the convenience of using screws for assembly.

Once you get all these components in place, you're ready for decking the top surface of your floor joists. These timbers are very important, as they will be highly visible. When I was building decks years ago, I would go to the lumber yard and pick each and every board to be used. Although some were not fond of this practice, I explained to them that I didn't mind at all paying full price for the lumber to be used; my goal was to ensure it was usable. So, I found it much more effective to select each piece. Although it took time to do this, in the long run it saved time and headaches. Till this day when I build a deck, I employ this practice. It also would be wise to use #1 lumber, as it has very few knots, if any.

When placing the decking down, you will find that most wood has either a cup or a crown, a cup being a curve inward, a crown being upward. Always face the best side up, whether cupped or crowned. Industry standards have found this to be the best application, despite years of theory to place the bark side up. When you take a photo of someone, you may hear them say, "Shoot my good side." That's because, for whatever reason, they appear more attractive on this side. This is the same with your decking. Let the best side prevail.

You will need to construct your railing system; that is, the supports for the railing system, before you place down your decking. The reason is that they will go down below your deck surface into the box plates, which will provide additional and necessary support. I like to through-bolt these supports, as this provides excellent strength for safety and stability. There are many styles of railings to choose from. Pick one that complements the existing architecture of your home, as this will make your deck appear as though it belongs to the home, and not as an added-on eye sore. Many people don't respect this part. Don't fall into that snare. Take time to consider, look at photos of sample railings, or simply try some real live samples and see what works. Now install them.

Just when you thought the fun was over, there's more. Do you need stairs? Where should you place the steps? How should they be constructed? We will learn more about how to build a deck that will last in the next blog. To be continued...

Deck Building!!! Part2!!

We have discussed certain elements of building your deck; now, let's look further. How large is your deck going to be? How high off the grade will it be? Will you be enclosing it at some time in the future? How many levels do you want, and shapes? All these questions need to be answered before you get started with your project. I, for one, have never built a deck that wouldn't pass the building codes or surpass their requirements. The reason is simple: Do it right the first time.

The size of your deck will determine lumber dimension to be used on floor joists, while the height can determine the difference between using wood support posts versus steel columns, and their size as well. You also will be able to determine how many support members it will take to keep the spans within code. Every deck I have ever built could withstand any future weight capacity that the structure would allow, and then some. By building this way, one could later enclose their open deck to a screened room, or even a room to be used all year round as living space. Many of my projects where later enclosed and utilized this way. Later, I will give you an example of why it is of critical importance to build this way.

You must consider snow loads (if you live in an area where it snows) and an allowance to step your deck down, so that when you do get a snow storm, the melted water does not enter your home through seepage. This has a simple, but necessary remedy known simply as a step down. I made it a habit to place the floor joists on 16" centers and still do this application to this day. True, it takes a few more joists, work, and a lot more deck screws to fasten the decking down; however, this is money you will never regret spending. It is the difference between enjoying your deck for years to come, and replacing it shortly after it has been built -- sometimes even worse, which we will learn about later.

Years ago, I used only hot-dipped galvanized nails to secure all the components, whereas today I use coated exterior deck screws for the entire assembly process. There is no comparing the fastening ability of a nail to a screw. It would be like comparing holding down a board with your hand versus clamping it down. Another great advantage to using screws is that it makes it very easy to change a board's location or appearance without damaging the materials. So, again, there is an extra expense in using a screw over a nail, however, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Like everything in life, there is a way to approach things so that what we do is decent and in order, and mostly a blessing to all involved. My Dad used to say, "Don't be penny wise and dollar foolish." This is great advice. Don't compromise on certain things that are critical to your success; rather, be patient and wait till you can do it the right way. If you plan it out, it will happen, and you will be able to look back at what you did and say I'm sure glad I made the choices I did. Well, there's more, a lot more.

I bet you where thinking, how hard could it be to build a simple deck? And you are right; it is not very hard at all. The hard part is doing it right the first time!!! We will learn more of what to do, and what NOT to do, in the next blog.

Building A Deck!!!!! Part 1

Whether you choose to build a deck here in Florida, or in New York, or in California, there are certain basic considerations you will want to explore. Let us begin with the type of lumber to use. Today there are many choices: pressure treated lumber is one, then there are redwood, cedar, composite lumber, Douglas fir, and more. Depending on your specific location, your choice is important for various reasons, such as availability of the product itself, how it will hold up to the environmental conditions of your area, and how big your budget is to execute your project. Once you examine all these variables and are satisfied with your research, you may begin the planning process.

Now, let's take a project that will be done in New York. Consider the extreme changes in weather from summer to winter. From really hot days to freezing cold days. How will this effect the components I'm choosing for my deck? Years back, before pressure treated lumber, I built many decks in the New York area, some of which are still functioning to this day. This goes back some 25 years or so. How they were maintained over the years is a direct determination of their present condition.

In that geographical area it is necessary to dig down below the frost line, which could be as deep as 42 inches. (Most times it is 36 inches.) The reason for this is to prevent heaving, which simply stated is what happens when ice or frost gets below a footing. As it expands from below the footing, it raises it upward with great force and determination. One would find it hard to believe the damage heaving could cause if it has not been experienced personally. So, this is a critical factor in deck building in that region. No matter how good the quality of lumber chosen, or even the workmanship, if careful consideration is not given to this fundamental aspect of your project, the only hope you could have is that you have a fireplace, because that is where you will be burning the remains of your deck, providing you did not use pressure treated lumber, which should NEVER be burned.

Well, this is a start... We will see other important factors to be considered, as well as learning more about how to prevent the devastation caused by heaving. Tune in again for the continuation of this subject of deck building.