To float, or to dig that deck’s foundation

There are two ways to support a backyard deck.

Either the deck, or more specifically the deck’s platform, can be supported by beams and columns that rest on deck blocks, or these beams and columns can sit on poured concrete piers.

Deck blocks, often accompanied by an 18”x18” patio stone underneath, placed there in order to lessen the chance of the deck block sinking by strategically spreading the working load of the deck, create what’s known as a floating deck.

Concrete piers, poured about 48-54 inches deep into the soil, require the homeowner to first dig a hole in order to accommodate the sono-tube (cardboard cylinder) and accompanying Bigfoot base the concrete gets poured into.

Why a homeowner would dig, as opposed to float a deck, depends entirely on circumstance.

A Bigfoot base, or footing tube unit (plastic base and cylinder in one) demands such a large hole, you’re going to require the services of a backhoe. Don’t attempt to dig this hole by hand, or bother hiring the manual labour to do so, unless of course you’ve happened upon a band of migrant workers from some third-world country.

You likely shouldn’t be getting your heart rate up to the level of horsepower necessary to effectively move this amount of earth, while the chances of getting a local young person to drop her or his cellphone in exchange for a spade shovel, separating them from the outside world for the few hours this task will require, is conservatively estimated at zero.

Backhoes require space to manoeuvre, which will be a challenge if you’ve cut off access to your backyard by means of a fence or stone walkway. Then you’ll be faced with having to ask your neighbours for permission to have the backhoe access your backyard through their property, which could be awkward if ties are somewhat strained, due to you allowing your Rottweiler to regularly poop and basically run amok through their gardens for the past six months.

Then you’ll have to hire a crane to lift the backhoe over your home, dropping it into your backyard. It’s a quite spectacular and doable feat indeed – and perhaps costly – with you certainly forfeiting a little anonymity, if your goal was to build this deck under the radar of the local building inspector.

The advantage of having concrete piers is stability, being that it allows the builder to secure the balance of the deck’s weight to the home’s foundation.

Decks supported by poured concrete piers and ledgers attached to the home don’t generally move.

Plus, poured piers can accept tons of weight, which along with the proper engineering, will permit the -homeowner to transform an existing deck into the floor of a future three- or four-season sun room.

If you’re not thinking sun room in the future, or at least a screened in porch, you ought to be, it’s often the natural progression of a deck if as the homeowners, you plan on sticking around for the foreseeable future.

Because floating decks are subject to sinking or heaving up at certain times of the year, although quite mildly in most cases, they should work independently, and not be attached to the home. As a result, and to ensure your floating deck remains stable and level, the beams supporting the joists should be constructed of three-ply 2x10s, spaced no more than eight feet apart. This triple beam should rest on 6×6 timbers (4x4s are no longer permitted) which will sit in the heavier 6×6 deck block.

If the floating deck is to be three or more feet off the ground, homeowners should consider using adjustable post brackets. Basically, the 6×6 posts get locked into the U-shaped, adjustable brackets, which in turn rest in the deck blocks.

The adjustable brackets are insurance against severe sinking or heaving, since they allow the homeowner to adjust the height of the supporting beam with the simple turn of a nut.

Good building.

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

In the hole

Adding to your deck? There are a few things you should know. Postmedia Network

Case #662, titled “Digger” has a Mr. Conrad W. Crete, his close buddies refer to him as “Con” or “CW”, looking to extend his existing backyard deck by another six feet.

His present deck spans the width of the home, but only extends out about 10 feet, which up to this point, has provided plenty of sitting and lounging space.

However, with a just purchased hot tub on the way, measuring about eigh ft. in diameter, the existing 10 foot depth allowance is going to be eaten up pretty quickly. Plus, C dub’ya wants to access his hot tub comfortably from all sides, which would require a new deck depth of at least 16 feet.

Mr. Crete’s present deck is of standard wood construction, complete with a ledger board attached to the home’s foundation, and four poured concrete piers, which support a beam and the balance of the joists system. At issue is the fact ‘Con’ wants to simply attach this deck extension to his existing deck, using deck blocks to support this new framework. In essence, he wants to attach a floating deck to a poured concrete pier deck.

Adding more challenge to the situation is the fact Mr. Crete is hoping to simply butt this new piece of framework up against the existing series of joists, enabling him to make a seamless transition from old surface decking to new.

In theory, and if all things could remain as dry and as warm as the day of assembly, then a floating deck attached to a permanent structure could possibly work. However, that’s not going to happen. Once the rain and snow melt seep through the floor boards, and/or the water runoff from the downspouts surround the deck blocks, with this dampening of the soil either causing the blocks to sink slightly, or heave up a little during the colder months, you’ll be able to sell tickets to school children by having them experience your crooked deck exhibition. Floating decks and permanent structures (such as a deck supported by piers, or your home) are like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Stanley Cup. They’re fine apart, but never the two shall meet.

A floating deck can provide a good surface to live and play on, but because it’s susceptible to whatever ground forces lie underneath, it’s got to work independently. So, a floating deck can butt up to a home, or existing deck, which would allow you to make various adjustments to this deck if necessary, but it should never be attached.

C dub’ya really wanted to float this deck addition, since the thought of mixing cement was about as enticing as attending a 6 a.m. outdoor yoga class. The challenge would be in maintaining a seamless transition between existing deck structure and floating deck, since the floating deck is most likely to move a little bit, whereby even a one-quart to one-half inch of difference would create a dangerous trip hazard. It was then suggested to Con that he add 16 feet of floating deck, positioning it one step lower than his existing deck, creating a second tier (which would look quite attractive) while solving the issue of having to maintain a perfect seam, or transition, between the two surfaces.

This suggestion was quashed. Con and his wife Babette enjoy winter hot-tubbing, where C dub’ya felt the 10 ft. sprint between patio door and hot tub, dressed only in his bathrobe, at any point below 10 degrees Celsius, would result in shrinkage significant enough to affect the intimacy.

So, it looks like we’re digging. Because we’re elongating an existing deck, the support beams already in position were simply made about six feet longer, and would be supported by a second series of poured concrete piers. Additional lumber was then added to the existing piers, in order to help them support the connection between new and existing beams.

Case #662 closed. Good building.

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

Hardwood flooring

When it comes to hardwood flooring, know what you’re paying for. Postmedia Network

Case #502, tag name “Quick Draw” has a Mr. Bill ‘shorty’ Remington looking to purchase hardwood flooring for his newly constructed home. Shorty had seen some ‘Gunsmoke’ stained, pre-finished oak hardwood on special at the local Big Box outlet, and was wondering if we, the local family owned building supply center, could match their price by either procuring the same stuff, or finding something comparable in color and price.

The code on the product tag indicated this product was exclusive to the Big Box people, while the perspiration stains on the cardboard boxes were obviously those of exploited sweat shop workers and the under-aged, further evidence of product derived from the Orient. The advantage to having an exclusive product is that the consumer can’t really compare it, price or quality wise, with products from other retail outlets, since the “exclusive” supposedly represents, or signifies, a product only available through them. As a result, and without the information available to properly search this product’s grade ranking and origin, the buyer is left to make a decision based on this flooring’s general appearance. And, with a sales sticker overhead indicating some great, limited time offer, consumers may feel the urge to take advantage of this perceived special buy.

However, further examination of this exclusive product showed it had an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Buckshot’ series of pre-finished hardwoods, available nationally from Dodge City Distributors. So, the only thing exclusive about this hardwood flooring was the cardboard box, along with its almost undecipherable coding . . . almost. The Buckshot series of flooring is a mid-range product whose grade falls somewhere in between rustic grade flooring, which is recognizable by its color variated, knotty complexion, and select flooring, which is more uniform in color, has generally longer pieces, and no visible knots. So, this flooring could be what we call a natural grade, which is the usual tag name given to those floorings having a little bit of color variation, with only small, pin head sized knots.

But it wasn’t quite that either. To further confuse the grading issue, the planks of this Gunsmoke oak were finished with a micro-v bevel on the edges only, and not the butt ends, while the knots (although small) were filled and somewhat camouflaged with a color matched paste. The micro-v edge is a crucial feature in pre-finished flooring because the planks aren’t sanded after they’re installed. Unfinished flooring must be sanded after installation in order to smoothen the transition from plank to plank, due to the always slight variation in plank height. Otherwise, as people shuffle over the floor, slide chairs, or move furniture over top, the flooring would be subjected to chipping. Because pre-finished flooring essentially skips the post installation sanding stage, it requires a micro-v edge to smoothen the slight difference in plank height that you still get with a pre-finished product. This micro-v edge should be on all four exposed edges.

So, why was the v-edge omitted from the butt edges of these pre-finished flooring planks? Not sure. Either the grade school aged children who were given the task of v-edging couldn’t reach the router’s table top, so the task was forgotten in exchange for milk and cookie time, or the elimination of the butt edge micro-v was simply heralded as a strategic cost saving measure.

Next, paste filled knots look fine enough, but with hardwood flooring in a constant state of flux, there’s the likelihood that these fillers will become loose, exposing the knot, thereby dropping  your floor down a grade.

“So Shorty, wha da ya think?” I inquired, “I can source you the same stuff, at the same price, or you can pay an extra buck per square foot and get something you’ll really be satisfied with”, I concluded. Shorty paused for a moment, weighed the options, thought about which flooring his wife would prefer, then loaded up the wagon with the better grade.

Case #502 closed. Good building.

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

Living on the edge

Imagine the dinner conversation around this live edge table. Postmedia Network

Why would anyone want to attend a rock concert where the lead singer is 74 years old? Because in this case, the fellow with the microphone in his hand is Mick Jagger, and the band behind him is called the Rolling Stones.

This ain’t the “Hot Rocks”, the “Rolling Pebbles”, or some tribute band you can catch for 15 bucks at the local watering hole, or grand opening of another Suds ‘n Duds dry cleaning outlet. We’re talking being in the presence of arguably the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time, along with 30,000 others, enjoying the real thing. Real things, or seeing real things live, have value, and that’s why they demand the big money.

That being said, not all senior performers can draw a crowd. I play old-timer hockey with a bunch of former great athletes, guys who used to fill their respective barns to the rafters come playoff time. These days though, the crowds are a little slimmer, where the average attendance Tuesday nights has unfortunately dropped to about one, and that includes the Zamboni driver. But don’t kid yourself, challenge any one of these guys to a chug a lug, or pie eating contest, and they will bury you.

This need or desire to own, see, feel, and touch the real thing, has developed a niche in the world of furniture known as ‘Live Edge’. Live edge basically describes the strategy of using slabs of trees to serve as table tops, shelves, desk tops, and if cut from a large enough, and long enough tree, even board room tables.

Now, why buy a slice of a tree trunk, complete with the worm holes, cracks and splits, along with the mishmash of color and grain patterns you’re bound to find on a slab of raw wood? Not so strangely, it’s these general imperfections in the wood that make each piece so naturally attractive, and of course unique.

We live in a world where a tree is sliced up, graded, then cut up into smaller pieces, graded again, then glued back together in an attempt to achieve the most perfectly uniform table top, or cabinet door. Plus, and depending on where and what you’re buying, so called wood furniture these days is about as close to being 100% real wood, as a multi-chain, fast food hamburger has of being 100% real beef. In other words, there’s a lot of particle core furniture out there, and it all looks good and seems solid enough, until of course you have to move it, or reassemble it, a second time.

So, if anything, live edge wood slabs are a refreshing change to what we see every day. If you’ve been to some of the larger cities, live edge products can be found in specialized or boutique type retail outlets. You’ll know when you’re in a boutique type store when the person serving you is a size 2, very fashionably dressed, and offers you an expresso coffee if you happen to show the least bit of interest in the boardroom table, fashionably priced at $22,000.00.

The big city outlets usually offer South American type species of wood, which no doubt cost a bundle, considering this lumber is harvested from a rain forest, then sailed down an Amazon River filled with piranha, while surrounded by a jungle occupied by tigers and other man-eating creatures.

So, in all fairness to the seemingly high price point requested by these boutiques, there’s a cost of shipping factor tied to these products that we usually don’t experience in Cornwall and area. Regardless, creating your own live edge furniture won’t be near as pricey as the finished versions if one, you sand and finish these slabs yourself, and two, stick to local species of wood.

Simply google “Goodfellow Live Edge” to see what’s available, and the possibilities that exist, in the world of real live lumber.

Good building.

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