After the last spike

Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network
Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network

As you drive in the last 2-1/2 inch decking screw, number 1,836 in the journey, the screw you’ve been looking for, and the last spike in this backyard decking project, the sense of accomplishment temporarily distracts you from an aching back, and the torn callouses that have ravaged your once soft and pudgy, office bound hands.

Moments later, sitting on your newly constructed deck, you tilt back the first cold beer of the day, a just reward for a job well done. And, as the golden goodness trickles down your dry gullet, the liquid relief is satisfying, while a firm clasp of the cool bottle helps ease the pain of many a bruise and cut.

However terrific, this construction afterglow will unfortunately be short-lived.

From this point on, we move on from a world of measurements and construction, to décor and finishing, otherwise regarded as the total unknown. I use the term “unknown” because history has shown there is no special treatment, or evolved system of finishing, to owning a beautiful wood deck, that doesn’t include regular maintenance.

Basically, the next procedure regarding your treated lumber deck is as follows. You can either paint, stain (opaque or semi-transparent), clear coat, or do nothing.
A do nothing strategy will certainly free up at least two weekends per year, but will have your deck go from a warm hue of golden brown, to a rather unhealthy weathered grey.

Maybe a natural, silvery grey, is what we’re looking for, you may counter. I agree, the silvery grey look certainly has its place, such as on an ocean front boardwalk, and the deck of a saloon in a western movie, while being the official color of most telephone poles. But, on a backyard deck, grey, aged, splintery wood, is about as charming as roadkill at the edge of your driveway. If you like the look of weathered grey, choose the appropriate deck stain of that color.

Next, you have the choice of paints or opaque stains. I group these two products together because they both will benefit, and stick better, with the aid of a primer. Opaque stains have a dull tone, while paints offer the option of a semi-gloss sheen.

The term “gloss” often spells fear for some, due to its “slippery when wet” reputation. True, gloss paints are slippery when wet, as is every other surface known to man, other than a bed of nails.

Then we have semi-transparent and clear coat finishes. I group these guys together because they have a higher liquidity, and as a result, adhere better to the surface when the wood planks have been pre-sanded.

Semi’s and clear coats allow only one coat of finish per season, which is pretty easy. However, in our climate, the chore of lightly sanding, then staining or clear coating, will become a yearly event if your goal is to keep things looking pristine.

Paints and opaque stains, on the other hand, allow the homeowner to apply several coats of product, if they feel so inclined, over the course of a weekend.
The bonus of 2-3 coats of product is a tougher surface, more durable color, and a finish that should last 2-3 years.

Why can’t stains and clear coats last as long as the fine print on the can suggests? Because our climate can be just too hot, too humid, too rainy, or too cold, and that’s just over the course of one weekend, to really give paints or stains a chance to really adhere. Plus, most of us don’t prepare the wood with a proper sanding, or brushing, before we start.

And, we tend to bring out the pressure washer, the absolute death blow to any possibility of your stain properly adhering. Broom, soap, and a rinse with the garden hose, is all the cleaning force your deck should see.

When to stain? Wait 2-3 months following construction, the decking should be suitably dry by then.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Deck board spacing matters

The correct spacing between planks for your deck? Handyman Hints has the answer. Handout/Postmedia Network
The correct spacing between planks for your deck? Handyman Hints has the answer. Handout/Postmedia Network

With the framework, railing systems, and stair stringer work completed, we’re now ready to install our treated decking planks.

The big question of course is, what should be the spacing in between the planks? However, and before coming to a spacing decision, let’s first examine the inherent characteristics of lumber, and how that relates to our landscape, and of course the time of year.

Now, does deck board spacing really need to be examined so scientifically? After all, this isn’t exactly the lounge deck off the stern of the Queen Mary, where it would see duty hosting royalty and world dignitaries.

We’re talking about an outdoor living space that’ll see plenty of spilled beer, barbecue sauce, hot dogs getting squished in between the planks, and maybe even the odd Leaf fan.

So, why scrutinize the plank spacing when its future will see such abuse and roughhousing? Because, deck board spacing matters.

Deck board spacing based on a strategy related to real information and atmospheric conditions, will provide years of beautiful, along with less maintenance, outdoor living.

What are the consequences of not following a plan, or disregarding the elements?

Aching lower back, followed by the dependency on medication, wrapping up with the eventual loss of sanity.

Now, the medication dependency and sanity issues are most probably worst case scenario outcomes, but I tell ya, the aching back due to always having to care for your decking planks, should the spacing be off, is a guarantee.

What are the characteristics of wood? Wood will shrink and expand during seasonal fluctuations in both temperature and humidity levels.

As a result, decking planks (which are normally 5-1/2 inches in diameter) will shrink down to about 5-1/4 inches during the sub-zero months, and may expand to about 5-5/8 inches wide during the summer.

With this fact in mind, we know we can space our boards a little closer during a hot, summer install, because the planks are generally at their widest.

Conversely, if the install was to take place during the early spring, or late fall, the decking planks should be spaced a little further apart, which would allow for future expansion.

What exactly does “a little closer” or “a little further apart” mean in terms of measurement?

I like to use the common nail strategy, relying on the width of a 2 inch (summer), 3 inch (spring/fall), or 4 inch (sub-zero), size of nail to determine board spacing at specific times of the year. The longer the nail, the thicker the shaft, and therefore the wider the spacing.

Generally, decking planks will tend to shrink on the width, and not so much on the length. However, don’t make the mistake of treating your decking planks like they were hardwood flooring.

With the knowledge that the planks are most likely to shrink a little, rather than further expand, during a summer installation, you may get the urge to place the decking planks tightly together. Avoid this urge.

Yes, the planks will shrink slightly, leaving a small gap in between each board that will initially look quite attractive.

However, once the dust, leaf matter, and helicopter seeds (compliments of our local maple trees) descend into this perfectly sized crack, the space between each board will fill up with debris faster than you say “hey, did you hear PK Subban’s latest country and western single?”

When that happens, you’ll be forced to scratch out the gunk with a hook bladed knife.

Unfortunately, most people tend to pass on the ensuing knee and back pain of that process, and instead turn to a pressure washer.

A pressure washer will be very effective in removing the debris, as it will effectively saturate your deck with water, and effectively remove the stained or clear coat finish.

When the wood is finally settled, what you want is about a ¼ inch space between planks.

This will allow for good drainage of rain and snow melt, and easier cleaning with nothing more powerful than a broom and garden hose.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Blocking is key

Before you get to lounge on the deck, you have to build it. Don't forget about deck blocking, says our Handyman. Postmedia News Network
Before you get to lounge on the deck, you have to build it. Don’t forget about deck blocking, says our Handyman. Postmedia News Network

Today we’re talking blocking, as in deck blocking.

Deck blocking is to decking what a fou-rman, 1,200 pound offensive line is to protecting the quarterback. It’s what solid defence and goaltending is to winning playoff hockey. Blocking is the five sugar sticks Honey Boo Boo gulps down before hitting the stage at yet another Toddlers in Tiaras competition.

In essence, blocking is the game changer, and the ultimate stabilizer.

Once you’ve dug the holes, poured the piers, leveled the supporting beams, and completed the framework, or basically all the fun stuff, you’re going to want to move on to installing the deck boards.

After all, and by this point, you’re almost home. And, with the decking planks installed, your deck will actually look somewhat complete. So, let’s get those deck boards installed, and we’ll concern ourselves with the newel posts and railing system afterwards, right? Wrong!

Installing the decking planks will be the final piece of the puzzle. Before the planks, before the railing, and before the stairs get installed, we do the blocking.
First, we establish the position of the newel posts. In order to achieve a straighter, super strong railing perimeter, space the posts no further than six feet apart.
Railing systems are only necessary, by code, if your deck is 24 inches or more, above grade (grass level). Realistically though, I think a railing should be installed if your deck is any more than 12 inches off the ground.

A two foot drop doesn’t seem like much if you’re between the ages of 10 and 20 years old, participate in step aerobics, or are a former highland dancer. But I tell ya, if you’re a toddler, elderly person, or have had knee surgery, looking down at that two foot drop is like staring death right in the face.

Blocking means simply wrapping lumber around the newel posts after they’ve been sunken into the joist system, or providing solid lumber for the anchoring plate of your chosen vinyl, aluminum, or composite post.

If possible, always extend your wooden newel into the joists, it’s a superior strategy to surface mounting. Once you’ve established the railing height, cut your newel post to the proper length (be sure to add the deck board thickness and joist depth to this measure).

Then, cut a ½ inch by 7-1/4 inch (depth of your 2×8 joist) notch into the 4×4 post. This notch will allow you to conveniently set the 4×4 newel on the edge of the perimeter joist, along with perhaps one screw to hold it in position, while you add the blocking.

Blocking should consist of 2×8 lumber (two layers deep) on either side of the post, with a third piece of 2×8 spanning from joist to joist. Lock the blocking into position using PL glue and screws. Then, drive two carriage bolts through the whole assembly.

Basically, the newel posts ought to be able to stop traffic. And, don’t kid yourself, the integrity of this post will be tested.

First by the local inspector, who’ll tug away at this newel like not prying it loose meant they weren’t going to eat that day. Then of course by every visitor, in-law, and good buddy, who’ll want to christen the deck by giving that first newel a little shake, along with the blessing “Yep, this looks pretty good”.

Most aluminum and vinyl railing newels have bottom plates that allow only for surface mounting. When this is the case, plan your blocking so that each and every lag screw gets drilled into solid 2×8 lumber, and not simply the decking boards.

Plus, if your aluminum post system comes with 2-1/2 to 3 inch long screws, toss them in a jar for future, unrelated use.

Then, invest in a series of 4-5 inch, heavier lag screws, and use them instead. There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to securing a newel posts.

Good building

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Attach or self-stand?

There are two manners of construction, or building strategies, when it comes to adding a deck to the back of your home.

Basically, a deck can be free-standing, or attached to the house. Either way, both types of deck provide a home with the living space to host such basic necessities as a barbecue, ice cooler, and of course the standard plastic or steel tubing furniture on which to relax, discuss, and solve world issues. And, there will be no issues regarding size of living space, railing systems, or number of descending tiers and platforms, due to your deck being attached or self-standing.

However, there are slight advantages to using one system, over the other. The biggest advantage of an attached deck is stability. Generally, attached decks don’t sink or tilt. This is due to the fact that our building code, when it comes to attached decks, will require you to first install buried piers, in order to support the beams, which in turn support the joists and framework. Buried piers will require you having to dig big holes, since these piers will require 24-28 inch wide footings, dug about 54 inches below grade.

Unless you’ve been exercising your back by performing 500 lb. deadlifts three times per week, the task of digging a series of holes this wide, and deep, is best performed by a backhoe. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of heavy machinery, backhoes are to your lawn what a few raccoons are to an unprotected bag of trash put out the night before garbage day.

So, there’s the lawn devastation factor to deal with if you invite one of these fine, big boy toys onto your property. However, attached decks also have the advantage of being more easily modified into gazebos, or three season sun rooms. This is because the footings and piers, and the ledger boards (bolted to the home’s foundation), are all resting, or attached to, concrete that is sitting on undisturbed soil, and below the frost line.

So, if you’re looking at a deck for now, but maybe an enclosed area in the not so distant future, consider attaching the deck to the home. Self-standing decks cozy up to the house like a fellow on his first date with a gal at the movies. The advantage of a self-standing deck is that it’s adaptable. The ledger board of an attached deck provides a secure anchor for the joists and frame work, but it’s got to be fastened to something solid. Many homes have vinyl or composite sidings that extend well under the patio door, leaving little foundation to work with in order to install a ledger board. Or, pipes and duct venting that are usually found at the rear of the home, often interfere with the proper fastening or alignment of a ledger board. Also, some homeowners may not feel comfortable drilling into a brick or stone façade, or having to remove existing siding in order to find the necessary studs in which to bolt the ledger board.

So, for all those folks we have the self-standing deck. Because a self-standing deck is basically a large table, it requires at least four legs. If the deck is any larger than 12 feet, or the maximum span of a triple 2×10 beam, you’re going to require at least a second, or third beam. More beams will of course require more supporting legs (6×6 posts). But, that’s what happens with a self-standing deck. Without the house being relied on to supply support, you’re going to need more legs. Now, a self-standing deck can be pier supported, or simply float. Floating decks are riskier for newer homes because the 6-8 feet of ground that extends out from the foundation, has yet to fully settle. As a result, the weight of a deck will surely have a couple of the deck legs sinking slightly. Older homes (15-20 yrs.) have surrounding soil that’s had plenty of time to settle, providing a solid base for a floating deck.
Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Flats overhead

Today we’re talking flat residential roofing, and specifically, how to get them to stop leaking.

Now, why would anyone choose to have a flat roof? Well, like the lawn dart (banned in 1988, after having skewered more individuals than those wounded at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410), and clacker ball toys (banned in 1985, after it was discovered that with vigorous clacking, the resulting explosion was second only to the M67 fragmentation grenade) it seemed like a good idea at the time. Theoretically, flat roofs aren’t a bad idea, and are normally the least complicated way of covering a carport or back porch. Plus, the material cost of flat roof joists are often cheaper than a peaked, or truss system of roof. And, with a little added engineering, a flat roof can be turned into an outdoor terrace, providing a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood.

Having living space on the roof can also be quite private, unless you live by the airport, and provide a unique type of entertaining area for guests. Flat roofs rarely leak because they can’t disperse water properly. After all, flat roofs are like a table top, allowing precipitation to simply flow over the edge into an eavestrough type of system. So, even snow, which melts eventually, shouldn’t be an issue. However, in our part of the world, we get freezing rain, followed by a 24 hour thaw, then 20 centimeters of snow, with a 10 day severe cold spell to wrap up a typical January month end. When that happens, the snow melt buried under the exterior crust will pool in the middle, usually for several weeks, providing a true test of your flat roofing membrane. Eventually, and after years of pooling, the water will make its way through.

So, how does a homeowner with a flat roof avoid the inevitable? By using the best in materials, and by providing adequate drainage. First, a flat roof, or even one that is slightly sloped, requires a solid plywood base. So, if you’re repairing or replacing an existing roof, remove all asphalt or granular roofing materials that are presently on the roof.

Never apply modern day products over existing materials. One, you’re leaving two Volkswagen Jetta’s worth of material weight on the roof, which will only lead to roof sag, more water pooling, and eventual leakage. And two, the planks or plywood under this existing roof could be in lousy condition, or even close to rotting if the leaking has been ignored for some time. Left unchecked, adding a couple of tons of new roofing material to a flat roof with a weakened joist system, could make things really uncomfortable for the fellow in the top bunk when that first heavy snowfall hits.

With the old materials cleaned off the roof, check the condition of the underlay material. If you discover the underlay to be a series of 1×6 or 1×8 planks, replace the ones that have cracked or rotted, then cover the planks with a ½ inch thick plywood sheeting. Roofing materials, whether it be steel, asphalt shingles, or flat rubber membranes, absolutely require plywood as an underlay.

Next, you’ll be applying a two part roll roofing product such as the Henry Bakor Duratac system. The system consists of first installing what’s referred to as a base sheet, which is a rubberized, self-sticking, 39”x65 ft. roll-on membrane that gets applied directly to the plywood. If applying the base sheet in late fall or early spring, first apply a primer to the plywood to help adhesion.

Next, apply the cap sheet, which is essentially the same type of self-sticking roll as the base sheet, except the cap sheet has a granular surface to effectively defend against the elements. Further keys to a successful flat roof application? Use a heavy roller to effectively seal the membranes to the plywood, and each other. Plus, avoid leakages due to pooling by properly flashing around chimneys, plumbing stacks, and everywhere the roof meets a ledge or wall.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard