Life’s better with a pergola

Pergolas with large fabric panels that can be installed every spring are a great way to reduce the amount of sunlight and heat that a patio absorbs. Postmedia Network

Why build a pergola in your backyard or on top of your existing back deck?

Because planting a maple tree would incur a 20-year wait for adequate shade. So, perhaps your children, or grandchildren, could live to see the day by which they could relax under such an investment, but until such time passes, you’d be moving your rocker every five minutes in order to catch the shade of those first few leaves.

What about patio furniture umbrellas? They’re fine for providing 15 minutes of cover for afternoon tea. Otherwise, they usually aren’t big enough to provide proper shade for a pair of loungers. Plus, umbrellas are about as loyal as a pet rabbit, and seem to love jumping up and bouncing through backyards upon the first strong wind.

So, for ease, beauty, dependability, while being a project the average do-it-yourselfer could have installed by the end of the weekend, pergolas are a great idea. Consisting of four 6×6 posts with a crown of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overtop, with these joists set on their edges, pergolas are an excellent deck appendage because they provide for semi-shade lounging, without interfering with those delightful summer breezes. Add a little lighting, either by having an electrician install a permanent series of outdoor lamps and fixtures, or by running clear, Christmas type lights along each post and beam, and the nighttime atmosphere can be made to look absolutely spectacular.

Because pergolas are of a very basic, yet structurally sound design, they can often serve as a base for a future screened in porch, if a couple is to really enjoy the nighttime without having to lather up in deep woods mosquito repellent. Pergolas are also beautiful when installed deeper into the backyard, providing an area of tranquility to simply relax and read a book. Plant a grape vine, or series of climbing plants beginning at or around each post base (have one of our local arborists give you a few tips or suggestions) and within a few years you’ll have a beautiful cover of green foliage.

Pergolas can be attached to the home, saving you the cost of a couple of posts, but look better if they’re of the four post, free-standing variety.

Up to this point, I’ve used the term post to describe the legs that support the overhead grilled structure, which would suggest four square shaped timbers. However, for a Mediterranean type of styling, consider replacing the standard 6×6 posts with smooth or fluted, round fiberglass columns. Fiberglass columns are considerably more costly than 6×6 lumber, but they’re structurally sound, will last forever, while the visual impact is profound, creating a backyard retreat that’s all the more unique.

Most pergolas are made of treated spruce or cedar lumber. Wood is easy to work with, and inexpensive, but like your existing deck, or anything else that’s made of wood and has to live outdoors, it’s going to require yearly maintenance. Maintaining such a structure isn’t so easy. Due to the many 2×8 boards set on edge, and considering their relatively close spacing, getting up and in between these joists while avoiding the 2×2 cross pieces above, in order to spread a swath of stain, all while balancing on a stepladder, is actually phase one of Cirque de Soleil training. As a result, and if this task seems a little daunting, you may want to consider a pergola made of maintenance free composite product, or aluminum. The advantage of non-wood products, besides not having to paint or stain, are the many screen, side curtain, or overhead canopy options that can make your pergola all the more special, and versatile.

Some models of pergolas are available with a system of aluminum louvered joists that are hinged in a manner which allows them to stand straight up, or lay flat, offering full shade, or cover under a light rain. Regardless of how it’s constructed, pergolas are a beautiful thing.

Good building.

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

Composite vs. wood: like trading in Trigger for that Mustang

Purchasing a new automobile can be expensive, as can be the purchase of composite decking.

Further to that big expense, driving your new car off the showroom floor will have you suffer an immediate investment loss of about nine per cent— and by year end, this once-shiny beauty will have declined a full 19 per cent in value.

Following the automotive trend, the ROI (return on investment) of a composite deck is about 75 per cent, essentially incurring the home renovator a 25 per cent hit on their just-made purchase.

So, if purchasing an automobile is such a lousy investment and if owning a composite deck means losing 25 cents on every dollar spent, why would a consumer consider either one of these products?

Because the alternative to owning an automobile is basically riding a horse, while the options to composite decking include cedar, treated spruce, or IPE, all falling under the category of wood.

Am I suggesting the ease of using and caring for an automobile, in relation to having to stable a horse, is in any way comparable to the merits of investing in a composite deck, as opposed to real wood?

Absolutely.

After two years of living with a composite deck, which followed 25 years of maintaining both treated lumber and cedar decks, I can without prejudice, qualify the distinction of composite decking relating directly to the experience of driving off in a new car, compared to lumber, which would be like saddling up your 20-year-old plug every morning.

Are we to altogether forget lumber as it relates to decking? Absolutely not.

Lumber will always provide the framework for whatever surface material of choice, and still remains the best value for decking materials, provided you don’t mind the maintenance.

However, if your budget can handle the price point of composite decking, the decision should be as easy as handing over the reins to Trigger, in exchange for a Mustang.

The reason for choosing composite decking can be summed up in two words— low maintenance.

Basically, the only maintenance tools required when owning a composite deck is a 50-foot garden hose extension and a 24-inch fine bristle broom. Actually, you could probably get away without having to touch your deck at all.

However, if you’re going to keep that composite surface looking absolutely pristine, and there’s no question you’ll want to, it’ll require the occasional hose down and sweep.

Notice that I did not use the term pressure wash when referencing cleaning. Please do not pressure wash your composite decking, or anything else other than the box of your dump truck, or the hull of your 500-foot sea freighter. The power of these machines will eventually destroy the PVC finish and drive moisture into the composite fibres, causing the boards to swell, promoting mold growth.

The advantage to composite decking is that it it’s not wood. So, besides it eliminating hours of sanding and painting over the next 25 years, composites are free of all the other not-so-admirable characteristics of wood decking, such as cracks, splinters, rot, and surface screws.

Two drawbacks to composite decking: One, it can get hot to the touch on a scorching, sunny day. Remedy? Wear sandals, or give it a hose down at high noon.

Two, composites are beautiful, but they’re not perfect. Actually, they would be as close to perfect as possible, if your deck was indoors. However, due to our seasonal fluctuations in temperature, composite decking will shrink and expand, which can cause heartbreak for those who cherish a perfect miter joint.

How to choose the right composite? That’s easy.

Providing you’re looking at comparable 25-year warranty products, choose the colour, or combination of colour and texture, you like best. Products can be solid PVC, PVC wrapped on four sides, or PVC wrapped  on three sides.

As long as it’s a quality, 25-year warrantied product, its technical composition will make little difference in your everyday life.

Good building.

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

A real shocker

Going with the composite deck? Why not include the oversized hot tub and a fire pit. Postmedia Network

Shocking probably best describes the sentiment felt by most people who inquire about the price of composite decking.

“Really!” they say, followed by a pause, then a “hummm…” as they rub their chins and look up to see if the proper response to their inquiry is by some chance written on the ceiling. Without a doubt, composite decking is a first class product, and without a doubt, first class costs.

I’m always shocked by the cost of travelling first class. Just the other day, while browsing through a cruise vacation catalog, I came upon the list of various pricing options. Ten day, Caribbean voyage on this particular cruise line, 5,000 bucks per couple if you didn’t mind sleeping in the belly of the ship, with the rhythm of the pistons lulling you to sleep, or 20,000 smackaroos for a room with a balcony. Same ship, same food, same ocean, with one set of folks enjoying the stars at night, while the belly people have the enviable task of alerting the crew should an iceberg rudely puncture its way into their living quarters.

While boarding a plane some years ago on a nine-hour flight to wherever, one of our fellow business travellers remarked that the 10 steps it took him to walk through the corridor of the first class section was the easiest 3,000 bucks he ever made. My wife and I have never paid for first class flight accommodations, but due to some chancy circumstances, have been bumped up three times in maybe 25 years of flying. I remember only the first class flights, because they were glorious, and included better food, better movie choice, and far better comfort.

Being a first class occupant, even temporarily, doesn’t necessarily change you as a person, although I do remember asking the stewardess to close the drapes separating coach from first class. With the coach class pesants constantly peaking in on us first classers, you could just feel their envy, which was disturbing my enjoyment of a lovely, happy hour chardonnay.

As it turned out, on the nine-hour return fight, our fellow business traveller (who was quite affluent) found he and his wife in first class. Ah, the power of wifely persuasion.

This all to say that yes, composite decking is expensive, but like most things that cost a little more, or in some cases, a lot more, it’s almost always worth it.

Essentially, composite decking can be anywhere from three to four times the price of a cedar surfaced deck, or about five to six times the price of treated lumber decking.

These figures, again, may seem a little shocking. However, these numbers refer to the price of the decking, or surface materials only, since a deck’s framework, regardless of what product’s being used as the surface, will in most cases be made of treated lumber. So, we’re basically talking about costly decking material, whereby the cost of the deck’s framework will remain constant.

Are some composite decking products better than others? And, why the price difference between brands of composites? These are probably the two most often asked questions. Whether one decking plank is better than another can be determined by warranty. Basically, the better brands of decking carry 25 year warranties against staining or fading. Due to this relatively long warranty period, the surface quality of such decking’s are also more resistant to scratching and wear.

Composite decking brands, or even series of products within the same manufacturer, can also differ in price due to their manner of composition. Although all still referred to as composites, since the original recipe for these manufactured decking products contained a mixture of wood slivers and recycled plastics, composite decking has evolved to include the more popular solid PVC decking, and PVC wrapped products.

Other variables that can sway the price are the more pronounced textures, or variegated color schemes of some planks. Basically, you get what you pay for.

Next week, shocking or not, composites are the way to go.

Good building.

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

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

Avoiding the shake down

REUTERS photo

It’s the same sensation of gut wrenching trauma the Montreal furriers’ felt when PK Subban was traded to Nashville.

What just happened? Well, due to your newly installed porch railing section having just failed the shake test, you, like the furrier shops, will be suffering a yet to be determined financial loss.

When a newel post, which is essentially the backbone of your spindle and rail system, fails the shake test, it brings two things into question.

One, is the newel post perhaps missing a few lag screws, and simply lacking the proper blocking (when extra pieces of 2×8 lumber are used to secure the post into the joist system)?

Or two, has the newel and subsequent railing system been installed in a manner that contradicts the stamped drawings regarding this product?

If it’s a case of adding a little lumber and a few screws, then the burden is one more trip to the lumber yard, and yet another opportunity to pick up a coffee and blueberry muffin at the local drive-thru.

If it’s a case of the railing not meeting code, or being improperly installed, the sense of nausea is your body’s reaction to the fact this deck is yet going to require more time, and money.

What is the shake test? The shake test is a battle between a fixed 4×4 newel post, made of either treated lumber, aluminum, or composite matter, and one motivated inspector. I’m not sure what amount of education and practice is required before an inspector attains his “shake ’em up” certification.

What we do know is that the training is intense. Once the inspector gets his or her hands on the newel, and the “shake” procedure begins, it would take a crow bar to pry their fingers off. Basically, the integrity of the post is challenged by clasping the top of the newel, and with subjective force, an attempt is made to move this post backwards and forwards.

If the degree of deflection (the measure to which the post can be forced off its 90 degree perch) is significant, the inspector will ask for the proper documentation regarding the manner of install.

This “documentation” element is going to be the make-or-break factor in how well the rest of your day is going to proceed. Either the next few hours will be spent in calm repose, once the documentation confirms your manner of install as being correct. Or alternatively, an error or omission is discovered in the strategy, leading to you performing donuts on your front lawn in therapeutic frustration.

As a homeowner about to build a deck, especially if a pool’s involved, it’s important to understand one key point. Your deck drawings may have been good enough to earn you a building permit, but this in no way signifies your deck and railing system is to code.

In other words, the building permit has simply OK’d your drawing. From this point on, it’s up to you to follow code, and have the proper engineered stamped drawings regarding your chosen components.

As an example, a deck plan with newel posts placed at every 8 ft. on center, will pass the permit stage.

However, not all railing systems are permitted to span 8 feet. Some composite railing systems are stamped acceptable for 6 ft. on center newels only.

Vinyl, composite, and aluminum railing systems, all have their specified manor of install, which will differ from wood, and even from manufacturer to manufacturer.

What happens is that 8 ft. composite railing sections get purchased and installed, and then it’s discovered the Ontario building code has only approved the 6 ft. long series of components.

Or, the newel posts get surfaced mounted to the deck, when the approved drawings indicate they should have been integrated into the joist system. So, avoid those big headaches by procuring the stamped drawings regarding your specific chosen line of products, first.

Then, proceed accordingly.

Good building.

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

Not worth losing your head over

Might look nice, but is it up to code? Pinterest photo
Might look nice, but is it up to code? Pinterest photo

Negligence; the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

Case #255, titled ‘Heads will roll’, has our Mr. Blimp inquiring as to the availability of aviation wire. Since his list of previously quoted items included 2×8 joists, 4×4 posts, and various other lumber materials, his request for aviation wire intrigued me. Was this Mr. Blimp to construct a rejuvenated version of the Howard Hughes ‘Spruce Goose’, with the aviation wire used to support a great wing expanse of golden brown plywood? And, will the balance of the aircraft equally benefit from the advancements of time, basking in the glory of our new age pressure treated lumber?

Unfortunately, no such plan was in the making. The aviation wire was to be used in replacement of the more traditional spindle, and be installed horizontally, perhaps every 8-10 inches apart, tautly stretched from post to post, on a proposed backyard deck. No doubt an attractive, nautical type of installation manner (being the preferred railing system of most cruise ships), offering the person on the deck a relatively unobstructed, clear view of whatever landscape formed their backyard, the horizontal line strategy unfortunately contravenes our local building code.

When Mr. Blimp was made aware of the fact this type of horizontal install, be it wire, rope, board, or spindle type of railing structure, would not only violate the four-inch spacing bylaw, but would further be non-compliant due to this system permitting a child to easily climb over the railing, he remained unfazed. “Well, I’m not getting a building permit” were his justifying words.

According to the household insurance people, negligence is certainly subjective. Being held financially or legally liable, as the result of somebody injuring themselves on your property, due to you, as the homeowner, inviting people onto a backyard deck that was not code compliant, is arguable, and like everything else, subject to interpretation.

If a homeowner, after having a guest, or neighborhood child, injure themselves on their property, were to be asked the question, “Were you intentionally negligent in the construction of your deck, and deliberately designed it in a manner to inflict injury?” Most of us would, I suspect, answer with a definite “no”, and moreso, be quite shocked by such a damning inquiry.\

However, in Mr. Blimp’s case, he was aware of the fact he required a permit for his deck construction, and was further aware of the fact his proposed railing system was not code compliant. So, would moving forward with this strategy make him careless, reckless, just plain negligent, or none of the above?

In this case, Mr. Blimp remained defiant, and built his deck and railing according to his plan. Days later, as fate would have it, a child broke their ankle after climbing over the railing. The following week, an invited guest, late Saturday evening, decapitated himself after attempting to squeeze in between the aviation wires in a hurried attempt to retrieve his fallen beer.

So, who pays for the damages? Again, it becomes subjective. In the lawsuit to come, will it be discovered that the little kid was left unsupervised by his babysitter, or that the decapitated guest was by his own doing, inebriated. With luck very much in Mr. Blimp’s corner, both suits were amicably settled. The small child was paid off with a year’s subscription to an ice cream of the month club. The girlfriend of the decapitated man, having been desensitized to the trauma by binge watching all six seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ over the previous weekend, and citing a strained relationship anyway, due to this fellow being a Leafs fan, accepted as fair compensation the same ice cream of the month club.

Case #255 closed.

Not all breaks and decapitations end up so rosy, or easily negotiated. My recommendation, avoid negligence. Build safe, and build to code.

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

The solution to peeling paint

“Why is the paint on my deck peeling?” is a question asked by many a homeowner, and is an inquiry that ranks just below such queries as “why is the sky blue?” or “how do airplanes stay up in the air” and the always thought-provoking “what’s really wrong with Carey Price’s knee?”

The answer to each question can be unequivocally explained of course by the laws of science and physics. So, and due to various moisture related, atmospheric issues, we know why paint peels.

Knowing why something happens usually leads to a cure or means of prevention. This way the problem doesn’t persist, nor arises again. However, paints and stains are one of those procedural type products, with a relatively clear set of rules to follow, that for some reason, are rarely adhered to by the average homeowner. Therefore, if you don’t want your decking paint to peel, or wear excessively fast, you’re going to have to follow procedure. If you’re not the procedural type, or don’t enjoy reading fine print instructions, or simply don’t like being told what to do, then your solution to your paint peeling issue is going to be pretty straightforward.

Basically, trash your existing wood planks in exchange for composite decking. If this solution seems extreme, then let’s review what it’s going to take to get a paint or stain to stick.

In 99 per cent of paint peeling cases, the reason for paints or stains not sticking to the wood decking is because the decking planks are filled with moisture. The other one per cent of failures can be attributed to various unnatural phenomena, such as gremlins urinating on your freshly stained deck while you sleep, or the heat from a recently landed Martian spaceship.

In other words, it’s all about keeping the moisture out of the wood before you paint or stain.

First, we prepare the wood by sanding both faces of the decking plank. Sanding the wood opens the pores of the grain, which in turn allows the stain to penetrate more deeply.

Don’t pressure-wash. Pressure washing certainly opens up the pores of the wood, but at the same time will drive moisture deep into the grain. Again, the reason paints or stains don’t stick is because the wood is wet. Wood saturated with water will be incapable of further absorbing a stain. Furthermore, water pressurized into the wood may take weeks, even months, to evaporate. If, during that time, you choose to stain the wood, it’ll be a ticking time bomb as to when those first signs of peeling will appear.

Why then, is pressure washing so popular? Because it’s easy, and like a slice of pecan pie with ice cream, provides immediate satisfaction. But, it’s not good for the wood.

Next, seal the underside of your decking boards with a clear sealer. For those existing decks, this will either mean crawling underneath, or removing the deck planks and sealing the underside in a more comfortable manner. Removing the decking planks is the better strategy, but is usually only possible if they’ve been screwed into position. A decking board that’s been nailed down may be too difficult to pry up, without damaging the edges, leaving you with no other choice but to join the spiders in the underneath deck world.

Sealing the underneath of the plank provides protection against one half of the moisture element, that being ground water. Then, we seal the top. Clear sealers offer fair protection, semi-transparent stains are better, with opaque stains providing the best, long term results. I recommend first sealing the decking with an exterior primer, followed by two coats of opaque stain. “Do we really need a primer?” or “I’ve heard of those two in one, primer/paint products, is this available?” are questions we field often.

First, yes, there isn’t a stain or paint application that wouldn’t benefit from first being primed. Secondly, two in one’s are effective marketing for the lazy. For best results, follow the program.

Good building.

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