Little things on the deck

A little deck lighting is a good thing. File photo.

Building a deck isn’t exactly rocket science.

You’ve got a triple 2×10 beam, supporting 2×8 lumber spaced at every 16 inches on center, with either 2×6 or 5/4 decking planks fastened over top. That’s basically all the background education you’re going to require. Worst case scenario is that it’s built a little crooked, or not so level, with the odd crack and splinter here and there.

In the rocket science biz, one loose valve has 100 people in white jackets scrambling to solve the issue. In deck building, you could have a shaky newel post, missing spindles, and a couple of loose floor boards, and all the attention that would generate from the homeowner is him pulling up his undershirt and scratching his belly as he leans back into his plastic deck chair, along with the comment, “yep, I’ve got to get to that someday” while raising his beer in preparation for another chug.

So, we’re talking about two completely different animals. Regardless, there’s no reason why your deck can’t be a beautiful thing. The key is giving special attention to the little things.

So, helpful little deck thing no. 1, the “Decktrack” or “Camo” system of installing your treated lumber or cedar decking planks. Composite decking’s biggest advantage over regular wood decking is the fact the planks are pre-grooved on their edges, allowing the boards to be installing using a side mounting clip. So, no surface screws, which makes for a significantly more attractive finish. Decktracks are 4 ft. long pieces of angled steel that get fastened to the joist system, and allow the installer to drill into the planks from below, pulling the decking planks down snugly against the joists. The Camo tool is basically a clamp with two angled insert holes, and allows the installer to fix the decking plank into position by driving a specially designed deck screw into each side of the plank.

Either way, the result is no surface screws. No surface screws in lumber means no splinters, less chance of cracking, while providing a surface that will not only look better, but will sand and clean more effectively, which translates into the better acceptance of a stain.

Next, and regarding the issue of privacy between neighbors, consider the “Deck Sunblind” louver kit. If you’re looking to spend a little time in your hot-tub, and are a little bashful about exposing the neighbors to your newly acquired mesh speedo swimwear, you may prefer the intimacy of a solid side wall. Those will be referred to as closed louver moments. Otherwise, if it’s an especially warm day, you may want to experience a little breeze as you lounge on your deck with a sandwich and cool beverage, a.k.a. open louver times. The Deck Sunblind kit offers the versatility of both, providing you with the hardware to transform regular decking planks into a very decorative, and obviously very useful, louvered wall that can serve a number of various applications.

Next, consider post cap and deck lighting. Maneuvering on a back deck that may have a number of levels, and most likely a few steps, while being occupied by a full crew of family and friends can be awkward enough under direct sunlight. Under the moonlight though, with vision down about 75 per cent, and with 100 per cent of the remaining family and friends now half in the bag, relating barely discernible stories to themselves, lack of lighting could prove hazardous. So, consider the very easy to install solar post cap, that conveniently fits over a standard 4×4 treated or cedar post.

Deck lighting, following the perimeter of the deck, and especially on your stair risers, is also a good thing. Deck lighting units are best wired into your homes electrical panel, or an available outlet. Providing a brighter, more durable light, these wired lights can be controlled by a very convenient hand held device. So, click-em on at dusk, and click-em off once you kick the last straggler out at 2 am.

Good building.

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

Some woods like paint, some just don’t

The only thing worse than having to paint something once, is having to paint this same item a second time, and then a third, should the finish not turn out quite as good as expected.

So, understanding that having to paint something twice is about as inspiring as watching Maple Leafs pre-season hockey; while also understanding some products simply receive paint a little better than others, let’s make our lives a little easier by choosing products to paint that are actually paint-friendly.

Other than walls and ceilings, things we tend to paint on the interior of a home include moldings, window sills and buildouts, shelving, bookcases, or any number of craft-type projects.

Products that don’t paint so well include fir, spruce, particle board, and mahogany plywood. Wood species that are somewhat unfriendly to paint include knotty pine, spruce, and oak.

Why some product species have difficulty with accepting paint is mostly due to their porosity. When a wood species or plywood is somewhat porous, regardless of its hardness, it tends to absorb paint in a haphazard manner.

As a result and once dry, a porous surface, once painted, will have often produce a raised grain, where the wood fibers rise up like little hairs, creating an uneven sheen, which will require sanding and subsequent coats. The results certainly aren’t disastrous by any means, just unsatisfying.

Now, you may question, if I included spruce in my list of those species not so friendly to paint, then why in last week’s article was it recommended to paint your treated decking planks, which in most cases are made of this same spruce species?

That would be a fair inquiry.

The simple answer is, sometimes it comes down to money. First, outdoor wood products should be painted or stained, regardless of species. So, even though spruce may not be the most suitable product for painting, the fact it’s a fraction of the price of cedar, or composite lumber, makes treated lumber definitely worth the paint risk.

What species of wood best suits the exterior, and paints or stains really well?

That would be cedar. It’s light in weight, easy to cut, drill, and sand, whether you’re looking to build a multi-tiered deck, pergola, or a couple of traditional Adirondack chairs for the backyard.

If we’re talking outdoors and if it’s in the budget, make it out of cedar.

Back in the house, preferred products to use when a painted finish is desired include finger-joint pine, medium density fiberboard (aka MDF), and birch plywood.

Finger-joint pine boards differ from knotty pine planks in that the knots have been cut out, with the board being re-glued back together using what’s known as a finger joint, since the seam resembles the fingers of two hands interwoven together. Finger joint planks represent the best compromise between regular knotty pine and clear pine.

Although knots in a pine plank can technically be sealed with a primer or shellac type solution, in reality, and in time, knots always tend to bleed through to the surface, ruining what was a good finish. Clear pine would be an option, but it’s prohibitively expensive, making finger-joint pine the best value when painting.

Finger joint pine is generally three-quarters of an inch in thickness and available in planks ranging from 2.5 inches to 7.25 inches wide.

If a wider plank is needed, in the case of a deep window buildout, shelving, or bookcase, ask for paint-grade birch plywood. It’s less expensive than stain-grade plywood, but every bit as durable. Paint-grade birch ply can be ripped to any width.

If you’re an artistic or crafty type and are looking to install a cutout of Santa and his eight little reindeer on your lawn this Christmas, then look for Russian (aka Baltic) birch plywood. Available in a variety of thicknesses, Russian birch plywood is the best choice for really any interior wood project or craft that will require paint.

Good building.

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

Why do we stain our decks?

Why cut your lawn? Why comb your hair?

Or, if you’re a fellow old enough to remember the last time the Montreal Canadians won the Stanley Cup, why stick to the more conservative boxer short if you’re purchasing swimwear?

Because, in general, things just looks better that way.

So, why stain a wood deck, knowing full well your efforts will only last a year or two before the stain begins to wear and peal, requiring a repeat of the whole process?

Again, because in general, wood looks better when it’s painted or stained.

The alternative to staining or painting, is sitting idle while your decking planks begin to crack, splinter, warp a little, then turn grey over the next few years. Otherwise stated, they get old-looking.

So, to keep your deck looking as new as possible, for as long as possible, there’s no other solution than having to regularly apply stain.

Does applying a stain mean having to sand the wood beforehand? Not necessarily.

There are three different types of finishes to choose from when considering how to protect your cedar or treated-lumber deck. These choices include a clear coat, semi-transparent, and solid (aka opaque) type stains.

Clear coats and semi-transparent stains are traditional favorites because they accentuate the wood grain. The only issue with clears and semis is that sanding will be required every time. That’s because clear coats and semi-transparent stains are practically as thin as water, and as a result, need to sink deeply into the pores of the wood if they’re to effectively grab hold of the surface.

Unfortunately, wood pores can only be opened up by the act of sanding. If you skip the sanding stage, and simply apply a clear or semi type finish over a pre-existing clear or semi-transparent stain, or even bare wood, the liquid will dry on the surface then most likely peel as the year wears on.

Solid stains are my favorite because they don’t require the homeowner having to sand beforehand. The wood surface will need to be washed, in order to eliminate any surface oils and dirt, and primed, if were talking a new wood surface, but not sanded. Solid stains resemble a paint, in that they completely hide the grain, and only highlight the general texture of the wood.

So, if you’ve been used to seeing grain, a solid-colour surface is going to take a little time to get used to. However, telling yourself you’ll never have to sand again is often all the transitional therapy you’ll require.

Regardless of which type of finish you choose, success in staining will require a little help from the weather gods. Deck stains are like fair-weather golfers and only feel truly comfortable when there are white fluffy clouds in the sky, it’s not too hot, or too cold, with absolutely no chance of rain.

As a result, late summer and fall often offer the best windows of staining opportunity.

When do I paint or stain my new treated lumber or cedar deck? Basically, when the wood is dry.

Testing for dry can be done by randomly sealing (on all four sides) a few 4”x4”pieces of saran wrap to the top of various decking planks that will be in the sunlight for at least the next 30 minutes. If after 30 minutes, you see condensation developing on the underside of the plastic, the lumber is still too wet to stain.

Other keys to successful staining?

Buy a good quality brush, wear gloves, and be sure to choose work clothing— if you don’t rinse a stain splatter within the first 10 seconds, that supposedly water-soluble droplet will be there for life.

Other than that, ease the stress on the knees by strapping on a good pair of knee pads (hockey shin pads are a good alternative), take an Advil for the inevitable lower pain to come, turn the radio on, and get at ‘er.

Good building.

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

Inevitable roof moss

Some things are inevitable.

Every time I watch a movie called Titanic, the ship always sinks. Just the other day, I caught the 1997 version of “Titanic” about midway through the movie. Even though I’ve watched this same film about five times, albeit in portions, I still held hope that maybe the ship wouldn’t sink this time. But it did. You would have thought Captain E.J. Smith could have avoided that darn iceberg, since it hadn’t moved in 20 years, while Leonardo DiCaprio still managed to slip into the frigid ocean waters and die, after once again failing to find a half decent floatation device to support both he and Kate Winslet.

Spring and fall in our part of the world means our local weather reporters need only to remember three words when describing what atmospheric conditions we all have to look forward to in the morning, them being “wet and cloudy”.

If you own an asphalt or cedar shake roof, then persistent wet and cloudy conditions will lead to moss and algae growth, it’s inevitable. Moss and algae are basically plants. As a result, they require everything a plant needs to survive, including plenty of water, relative shade, a sprinkle of sunshine, and a reliable food source, or basically, the exact environment provided by the average roof in any one of our three united counties. Moss and algae differ from regular plant life in that they have no roots. However, they stick really well to practically any non-metallic surface, and once established, will do what plants and all living organisms do, and that’s multiply. Moss and algae are basically esthetic issues, whereby in mild cases, their appearance is worse than their bite. However, if allowed to persist, moss will grow in between the shingle tabs, loosening the necessary bond between these tabs, creating a path in which water could infiltrate into the plywood below.

When that happens, you get a roof leak, with the only solution to this problem being total roof shingle replacement. Unfortunately, knowing why moss exists on our roofs, doesn’t make avoiding or preventing it from happening any easier. The problem is the huge iceberg, which in this case represents our very accommodating environment. Temporary solutions to eliminating moss are those related to either cleaning or scrubbing the moss off the roof. The same type of bleach, ammonia, or regular home cleaning soaps that would be effective in cleaning mold, would be effective in removing moss. Roof, siding, and deck cleaners are also available on the shelves of your local building supply centers. The only issue of course is that your moss problem is situated on a roof, which is not only sloped, but has a granular surface that could become loose with basic foot traffic. Slope plus loose granular surface plus a 16-24 foot drop that leads to a sudden stop equals not having to worry about your moss problem anymore.

So, unless you own the same type of roof harness worn by professional roofers, I recommend avoiding that climb up the extension ladder. Besides, cleansers can be a little harsh on your plant and garden beds below.

What about pressure washing? Bad idea. Pressure washing from ground level will separate your shingle tabs and drive water underneath, basically achieving in minutes what will take your moss years to accomplish. Pressure washing from above is also not recommended because you’ll loosen the granular surface, again, aging your roof unnecessarily. Essentially, you’ve got to melt the iceberg, which means changing the environment. This can be accomplished by installing a strip of zinc banding just under the roof capping, or first row of shingles near the peak of the roof. Perform this task in warm weather, enabling you to more easily bend back the shingle tab. When it rains, tiny particles of zinc get washed down over the shingles. Zinc is poisonous to moss and algae, so in time, the moss will loosen up and fall off. Good moss fighting.

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

Find the source of those white stains

Efflorescence, a fibre-like mineral deposit — mostly salts — that indicates small, persistent moisture inflow. Before getting fluffy like this photo, it starts as white-coloured stains. Steve Maxwell/Postmedia Network

Got a tough laundry stain to get out? No problem.

Rinse the garment with cold water, then scrub in a little laundry detergent, let sit for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse once again.

Still not clean? OK, if were talking a piece of white apparel, try a little bleach, then rinse and scrub once again. Continue this process for 15 minutes, or until the next period of the hockey game commences.

If after giving this stain issue its due attention, the unsightly blotch consisting of a mélange of Molson Ex, chili sauce, and Dijon mustard, still persists, well, you’re going to have to live with the fact that balancing a meal on your stomach, the size of which could have fed a small village in Tanzania for two weeks, while watching the game, was probably a bad idea.

As a result, you can either live with the blotch, since a belly stain of this sort on a white t-shirt isn’t such an uncommon fashion statement for a man of your age, or toss the fine garment into a container in the garage containing various other undershirt apparel, that being the box simply labelled “rags.” Problem solved.

Now, what about house stains, and specifically, those relating to the white, powdery stuff on your brick or stone work— how does a homeowner deal with that relatively common stain issue?

Well, water, soap, and a little scrubbing will help, but it won’t solve the problem. The white residue often seen on cement floors, concrete foundations, as well as various cement sidings, including brick or man-made stone concrete products, is called efflorescence.

Taken from the French “to flower out,” efflorescence describes the action of salt in the cement product, or mortar, migrating to the surface of the concrete by moisture that has infiltrated the concrete.

Where does the salt come from? Salt exists in the ground, in the air, and can be found in just about every type of food and living organism.

If you’ve ever worn a ball cap on a scorching summer afternoon, where you likely perspired off a few pounds, then left your cap on the coat hook to dry at the end of the day, only to find a white residue having stained its surface by morning, that, in a nutshell, defines the action resulting in efflorescence.

Salt in the brick or stone gets liquefied by rain water or moisture that has infiltrated the brick. This salt infused moisture then makes its way to the surface of the brick through various pores in the product, then dries when it hits the open air, leaving a salt residue.

How do we clean off the efflorescence? First, scrub with a stiff bristled brush, then rinse with water. If the efflorescence contains calcium deposits, as well as salt, this is going to be a much more stubborn removal.

As a result, you may have to revert to using muriatic acid (diluted 1 to 20 in water). Muriatic acid is extremely corrosive. Therefore, you’re best to hire a professional cleaner for this task. They will have the proper clothing, ladders, and harnesses to safely work with this product.

The only issue with cleaning is that it’s likely a temporary solution. Efflorescence is unattractive, but not harmful to you or your brick. However, it is a sign of moisture entering the brick wall, or foundation, in some way.

So, avoiding further efflorescence issues means eliminating the cause. Basically, you’ll need to check your water management systems. This includes verifying the manner in which your landscape slopes away from your foundation, ensuring the roof valleys and flashings are effectively directing water to the roof’s edge, and everything in between. The in between stuff includes window sills, caulking around windows and doors, and making sure your roof edge properly deposits water into the eavestroughing.

If you’ve got efflorescence on your siding or foundation, moisture is somehow making its way in.

Next week, roof stains. Good building.

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