The civil deck

One way to put a damper on that backyard barbecue? Splinters from your deck. Postmedia Network

So far we’ve managed to build a deck that can deflect the effects of direct sunlight or a light rain, that can control the winds and skew the view of peering neighbors, and that can provide valuable storage for seat cushions and pool supplies.

Today, we further our quest to build the most civilized of decks by eliminating one of the most dreadful components of exterior deck building, that being splinters.

Essentially, when it comes to entertaining, the book of host etiquette deems it a major faux pas to expose your guests to an environment that can inject them with a pain so formidable, that during times of conflict, the piercing sensation of a splinter was considered an effective means of getting information from infidels.

Basically, if splintering is to be avoided, we are to never screw or nail into wood without first pre-drilling a hole. The best case scenario when fastening down cedar or pressure treated decking will have the installer avoiding the use of surface screws entirely. Surface screws can be replaced by one of two systems, them being the ‘Decktrack’ band, or the ‘Camo’ clamp.

The Decktrack band is a 45 inch strip of powder coated steel that gets nailed along the top edge of the deck’s 2×8 or 2×10 joists. The Decktrack bands are perforated, and allow the installer to insert 7/8 inch screws into the decking planks from underneath.

The Camo clamp is a mechanism that sets the special Camo deck screws in position on an angle. The installer then clamps the plank in position with one hand, then drives the screws into the edge of the plank with the use of a cordless drill, held in the other hand.

The Deck track and Camo systems require a little more time on the part of the installer, and are a little more costly than simply having to buy regular decking screws. However, a deck surface free of screws is a beautiful thing. Surface screwing not only promotes splintering, but by penetrating the wood grain, will enable your decking planks to regularly absorb moisture, which isn’t a good thing. Decking planks that are constantly wet do a poor job of absorbing stain, which will translate into a future of watching your painted or stained decking wear or peel off every season.

Is there any good way of using a surface screw? Yes, by pre-drilling, and using the appropriate countersink bit beforehand.

How else do we avoid splinters? By using connecting hardware every time one piece of lumber meets up, or butts up, against another. The key is avoiding the toe nailing technique. Toe nailing, or toe screwing, is a rough framing strategy whereby a nail or screw is inserted at an angle into wood, in close proximity to the just-cut edge. No matter how careful one is when toe nailing (or screwing) the piece being nailed always cracks and splinters, at least slightly.

With rough framing (that’s inevitably hidden inside the wall cavity) this strategy is quite common and poses no issue. In the world of finishing, the toe nailing procedure looks horrible. So, where the 2×4 railing butts up against the 4×4 newel post, or where your 4×4 newel meets the decking platform, use the appropriate connecting brackets.

Now, connecting hardware isn’t cheap, costing at least a few dollars per assembly joint, compared to paying pennies for a couple of nails or screws. However, and again, we’re building a civilized deck here, not a tree fort.

Next, avoid painting or staining when you can. So, be sure to consider the aluminum spindles (available round, square, or in flat iron) instead of wood, and be sure to cap off your newel posts with the matching aluminum caps.

What’s new in deck accessories? The sliding door kit. Swinging doors can sag over time. So, if cordoning off your back deck is necessary, due to having small children, or small puppy dogs on board, consider the very effective, and smooth operating action of a sliding door.

Good building.

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

Civilized decking

Pergolas can be built to allow the light to shine in or for sun protection, or as a stand-alone unit or attached to an existing structure. Postmedia network

With the term civilized defined as ‘bringing a place or people to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced’, and decking defined simply as ‘a wood planked platform or terrace that is attached to a home’, how do we combine the two?

Like everything else, with focus, foresight, and a little determination.

Essentially, we want our deck to be a comfortable place to live on, and not just on those slightly cloudy, 25 degree Celsius days. Which brings us to advanced decking feature no. 1, the SunLouvre pergola.

Scorching sun or a mid-afternoon rain need not send the party indoors. A regular pergola is a good deck feature because it offers partial shade. Partial shade on a sunny afternoon is a good thing. However, when it’s high noon, and the sun’s at its strongest, those pieces of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overhead, fixed in position on their edges, will be offering limited relief. And, if it should happen to rain, well . . . unless you’re a member of our national ballet core, there will be no staying dry under a plank of lumber that’s 1-1/2 inches wide.

So, in comes the SunLouvre pergola. Built completely out of aluminum (making maintenance, staining, and cracks or warpage, a thing of the past) the big advantage to a SunLouvre pergola is that the top sleeves are movable, operating on a system of louvres. This feature allows the homeowner to relax under full sun, full shade, or anything in between.

When the louvres are closed, the sleeves overlap in a manner that prevents rain from entering. So, and unless we’re talking a torrential downpour of biblical proportion, there will be no need to corral your guests indoors at the first sign of a few droplets. In most cases, the pulling down of one mechanism will operate an entire ceiling structure. Although the aluminum columns that support the SunLouvre system are quite decorative, if you’re a wood lover who absolutely wants to keep their wooden columns intact, the SunLouvre system works independently of the posts, and as such, can be custom ordered to fit and operate on an existing wood frame.

Next, if inside storage space is considered to be an essential asset, then it’s going to be just as valuable a commodity outside. Decks can be like any other living space, either spacious and neatly staged, or cluttered with furniture, side tables, and any number of appendages. So, where is a homeowner to store chair cushions and those extra folding chairs?

Plus, decks often cozy up to pools. Pools require brushes and leaf nets, long hoses for vacuuming, and little floaty devices, with all this stuff having to be placed somewhere when not in use. You can always toss these items into a pool or storage shed, but it certainly would be more convenient if things could be tucked away in a drawer.

Which, brings us to advanced decking feature no. 2, the ‘Deck Storage Drawer’. In general, the space underneath a deck would be regarded as a damp, spider infested no man’s land. However, the Deck Storage Drawer changes all that, enabling the homeowner to gain 64 cubic feet of quality, dry storage space. The Deck Storage Drawer is essentially a box of hardware, containing the necessary tracks, wheels, and brackets to assemble (along with the required treated plywood) a drawer that can be up to 48 inches wide x 24 inches deep x 96 inches long, capable of holding up to 250 pounds of whatever you like. The added bonus of the deck drawer is that it doesn’t take up valuable deck floor area, while having about twice the storage capacity of one of those plastic, surface deck boxes. It also comes with its own pull handle and keyed lock mechanism. The front of your Deck Storage Drawer can be finished with whatever product you’ve chosen as a skirting material for around the deck, be it lattice, treated lumber, or composite decking.

Good building.

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

Bringing indoor comforts outside

Backyard decks are a terrific addition to any home.

Without them, well, you’re basically barbecuing and lounging about on grass or mud. And, besides a deck providing the homeowner with an easy transition from the interior of their home to a level section of outdoor living space, it’s important that the homeowner not forget the ideals of what makes a living space comfortable. In other words, a backyard deck plan that calls for little more than a raised platform is essentially a giant frypan designed to unmercifully roast you in the scorching sun. And, while an open concept living space may be desirable inside, this same strategy outdoors will simply allow your scrutinizing neighboors to question why a hefty 260-pound man such as yourself, would once again purchase the latest style in men’s competitive speedo swimwear.

So, understanding that indoor living is comfortable due to us being able to control the light, shade, and our privacy, while also protecting us from the wind and rain, it stands to reason that if we’re to enjoy a little outdoor living, some of these indoor living features will need to be duplicated outdoors.

Now, what about those persons who claim that the outdoors is what it is, and that we should accept the elements in all their natural glory? Those persons are what we refer to as campers, and they’re essentially nuts. How else can you explain such uncivilized activity as sleeping in tents and collecting your poop in plastic bags? We might as well go back to walking with the aid of our hands and living in caves.

When I step outside, I want to be comforted by the texture of treated lumber, or a composite deck underfoot. Then, once I make my way over to the louvered privacy wall, adjusting the planks, thereby enabling a slight breeze to help counter a hot, still air, created by a relentless afternoon sun, I would then park myself under the partial shade of a pergola. That’s as close to roughing it as I want to be. Matter of fact, if throughout these few minutes of setup, my coffee were to chill slightly, then this outdoor experience would have been truly regretful.

Further to bringing some of the general comfort amenities of indoor life to the outdoors, your deck is also going to require you providing it with some storage space. Deck chairs, benches, and sofas, often come with cushions. Unless you plan on bringing these cushions in every night, a better and simpler option would be to keep them in an outdoor storage space.

With our theme for the next few weeks relating to what every deck should have in order to provide more peaceful and comfortable outdoor living, let’s start with how to ensure a little privacy. Creating privacy between you and your neighbour can be a sensitive issue. We all like our privacy, and we generally get along well with our neighbours, so, how formidable a dividing wall structure do we need to build?

Does the building of a solid plank wall essentially say, “I’d rather not talk to you”, with a lattice wall, or typical offset plank (good neighbour) pattern, signifying that you’re more open to visitation? To answer this state of condition between neighbors, with the bonus of being able to go either full disclosure, or complete privacy, homeowners should consider the ‘Deck Sunblind’ system.

The Deck Sunblind is a hardware kit that permits the homeowner to construct a louvered section of panels up to 72 inches wide, by 48 inches high. With most dividing walls being about 6 ft. in height, the 48 inch high section of louvers works well because it allows the builder to install a 12-18 inch section of solid wall at the bottom, with 6-12 inches of solid planking at the top, which when all assembled will look quite decorative. The 72 inch maximum width is a guideline, since going any wider with 5/4×6 decking planks would risk them warping.

Next week, more deck must haves.

Good building.

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

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

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

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