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

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

This old house

There’s much to like about older homes, but they can also come with some challenges. Postmedia Network

We purchased an old house once, ONCE!

Actually, we still live in an older home, built in the 80’s. So, when people question what type of home is the better investment, new or old, several factors come into play. Plus, our history of home ownership somewhat bucks the seemingly natural progression of buying an older home first, fix it up, sell, then buy an old home, renovate, sell, then build a brand new home.

We progressed from building a brand new semi-detached, followed by a brand new home a few years later, to buying a century old farm house, then moving into our existing, simply older home of today.

After 30 years of living in various new, old, and very old structures, what single distinguishing home feature separates the then and now of home building? The use of the basement.

Our first two homes were new, with finished basements. Our last two homes were old, where in the century home we were faced with a dungeon, essentially unsuitable for modern human life, whereby a basement renovation would have cost more than the price of the home. Our existing basement space is typical of most homes built in that era. That being a generally low ceiling, unfriendly placement of duct work (requiring anybody over 5’8” to duck every five steps) and the occasional puddle of water on the floor. So, other than being a relatively good venue for youngsters to hone their wrist and slap shot skills, the 30-year-old basement can be a risky investment living space wise. Risky, but not impossible.

The advantage new homes have is that the basement walls have not only been sealed with foundation tar, but they’ve been subsequently covered with either a plastic dimpled membrane, or water sheading type of fiber matting. Plus, the weeping tile systems are perfectly clean, effectively diverting water into a sump base, or sewer system.

In the olden days, concrete basement walls were simply tarred, with sediment and soil settlement certainly having somewhat compromised the weeping tiles effectiveness by now. When the homes defensive system breaks down, water gets in.

So, what do you do if this great older home comes for sale, but you really need the space provided by a finished basement? Well, you either walk away, or forget putting money into the more fun, kitchen and bathroom areas for now, and call in the backhoe. Only by excavating around the foundation, installing a new impermeable membrane, and new weeping tile drain, can you really be guaranteed a dry space for the next 20 years.

Although never chosen for their basement advantages, older homes are often attractive due to their uniqueness, reasonable price, but most often, location. Location is huge, whereby the best strategy asset wise, is usually to buy the worst home on the best street. Therefore, if this old house is livable by your standards, then every penny you put into it should increase its value, and be recuperated if you decide to sell years later.

What can you expect to replace or repair in an older home? Well, if history, or our experience, is any indication of what is, most homes for sale are at the end of their work cycle. In other words, we haven’t met a homeowner yet who chose to update their furnace, re-shingle the roof, or renovate the kitchen and bathroom areas, before putting their house on the market. It’s been more of a take it as is, sure we’ve just given the place a coat of paint, but basically that’s the price, and if anything should break or go wrong, may the strength of your faith pull you through.

Best bet, have an accredited home inspector, or home builder friend, take a walk through this older home with you. They’ll have the experience to ignore the staged bowl of fruit and fresh flowers on the counter, and get right to checking the age of mechanical systems, roofing, windows, and the general integrity of the homes envelope.

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