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

Inevitable roof moss

Some things are inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once upon a roof

Roofing has changed quite a bit over the years. Postmedia Network

Home builders once used 1×8 spruce planking to cover the roof trusses of a new home under construction. That was once.

The strategy basically involved the following. Build the retaining walls for the poured concrete foundation using 1×8 spruce lumber. Then, once the cement was dry, the spruce planking would be removed and used as sheeting material over the roof trusses. One product, serving two purposes, and although a little labor intensive, produced hardly any clean-up or waste to speak of. In those days we also put chains on our summer tires for better winter traction, used rotary phones, and thought lawn darts to be a great summer game for the whole family.

Times have changed. Winter tires have become the standard, rotary phones are about as common as a Stanley cup parade down Yonge Street, while lawn darts have been taken off the retail consumer shelves completely, having been remarketed as the preferred weapon of choice for those low-budget mercenary types.

Was the use of 1×8 spruce planking as a roof sheeting a bad idea? In retrospect, no. Back then we were roofing homes with what was known as an organic shingle, due to its base consisting of a mixture of asphalt and wood fibers. Organic shingles were flexible, and molded themselves easily over the not so perfect 1×8 planking. Plus, warranties back then were in the 10-15 year range. So, if a roof lasted 10-12 years or so, people were generally satisfied. If tearing off these old shingles and replacing them with new ones seemed excessive, people would simply re-roof, adding a second, or even third layer of asphalt shingles. If the homeowner chose to go with steel roofing, as opposed to asphalt, then the steel would either get screwed directly to the planking, or the installer would first install 1×4 rough spruce, spaced every 16-24 inches, over the existing 1×8 planking. Either way, emphasis concerning the protection of one’s home was placed on the surface product, not so much on the substrate.

Today, roofs occasionally leak. In the olden days, they leaked a lot. Why roofs leak less today has everything to do with the substrate, along with better education and information relating to proper venting, and attic insulation. So, what have we learned over the years? 1×8 spruce lumber will expand, shrink, and with prolonged exposure to water, will of course rot. However, the main knock against the old plank system is the issue of movement. You can’t install something that doesn’t want to move, like fiberglass shingles, or steel roofing, over something that naturally, due to our varying climate and atmospheric conditions, can’t stay still. That would be like wrapping a puppy in gift paper, setting it under the tree Christmas Eve, and expecting it to stay still, without wrinkling or tearing the wrapping paper, until the surprised recipient picks it up the next morning.

When the substrate moves, screws loosen, nails pop, and when the shingle tiles separate from each other, or in the case of steel roofing, the overlap on the ridge develops a gap, your roof will no longer be water impermeable.

The first sign of a breach in the roofing system is the decorative sunburst that develops on your ceiling, or a domed ceiling fixture filled with water, enabling you to create the very unique ceiling fish bowl (just don’t turn on the power).

The key to a roof’s long term success in shedding water is stability, and that can only be achieved by nailing or screwing it into plywood. So, if you own a home with a boarded roof, be sure to remove all existing shingles, then fasten a layer of 3/8” spruce plywood directly to the 1×8 lumber. Next, cover this plywood with a quality synthetic felt, then install the required roof venting. Your roof is now ready to receive the finished product.

Good building.

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

Cementing your future

This guy knows what he’s doing. You might not, when it comes to working with cement. Postmedia Network

Today we’re going to be dabbing into the trade of mixing and applying cement.

I use the term “dab” because cement work, or concrete repair, isn’t something the average office softie ought to jump into full bore. Unless of course through a series of bad investments or sure bets gone lame at the track, you’ve indebted yourself beyond the point of recovery, and as an example to others you’ve been persuaded to jump into a bucket of soon to be cured concrete by fellows simply known to you as “Vito” and “the Razor”, let’s otherwise limit this first stab at concrete to a small repair.

Regardless of what type of concrete, be it wall, floor, steps, or walkway, is in need of repair or resurfacing, the strategy to preparing the area remains pretty well consistent.

First we scrub the area being repaired (using a steel, or otherwise stiff bristled brush), then sweep the surface clean with a fine, softer bristled broom. Next, rinse the area with the garden hose or spray bottle of water. Brush, sweep, rinse, that’s basically the prep work required for concrete repair.

Be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves at all times. Pre-mixed concrete powders usually have a Portland cement additive, which is corrosive. Not that these components will eat through your skin like battery acid, but with prolonged exposure, will certainly cause irritation. Should you get any powdered mix in your eyes, simply douse your face with water.

Tools for the job will include a bucket, trowels (pointing and pool), a quick mixer, and a drill. A pointing trowel is triangular in shape, and is handy for shaping cement to form a corner on a wall or step. A pool trowel is basically a rectangular trowel with rounded corners. Square cornered, or drywall type trowels, will gouge the finish as you spread the concrete mix over a wider surface, such as a platform or walkway. The pool trowel simply allows you to more easily float the trowel back and forth without creating too many lines.

A quick mixer is essentially a heavy duty whisk, or blender, that fits into the chuck of a regular drill. Don’t walk into this project without your quick mixer, thinking its function could be replaced by a paint stir stick and a little elbow grease, with the 15-20 buck investment better spent on a Tim’s run for coffee and muffins.

Depending on your choice of pre-mixed concretes, the working and setting time for many of these compounds is anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes. So, if after 5-6 minutes of stirring, an old hockey injury starts to creep back into play, requiring you to take a few moments of down time to wipe your brow and work the kink out of your shoulder, upon returning to the pail, you may find your first batch of mixed has turned into a secondary anchor for the boat.

The convenient aspect about the concrete repair products available today is that they come in a pre-mixed powder. This powder formula contains both the cement components, and the necessary bonding agents, which basically enables these new cement products to stick to older, existing surfaces. Don’t be intimidated by the number of various cement repair products you’ll find on the shelf of your local building supply store. The industry has become task specific, which was designed to simplify things, but on the other hand has created shelves full of pictured containers that can certainly leave the first time shopper a little bewildered. My suggestion is to let the salesperson know what type of repair project you’re attempting, then let them help you choose the most suitable mix for the job. Although there is certainly some crossover in that some pre-mixed cements could perform a number of tasks, you definitely wouldn’t want to choose a poly-plug compound (which dries in two minutes) and use it to build up a broken step corner that may take you 5-10 minutes to shape.

Good cementing.

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