Building your own courtyard

The podium with the two chairs on which Heads of State listen to the national anthems during welcoming ceremonies are seen in the courtyard of the Chancellery in Berlin, prior to the first visit of Moldova’s Prime Minister, on July 16, 2019. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Today, we plan our courtyard.

Why a Courtyard? Because it’s the next best thing to constructing a moat, which would be fantastic. However, the challenge of keeping water in the moat to a consistent level, possible mechanical issues with the drawbridge, and the permit process, will in all likelihood be problematic.

As a result, we’ll be constructing the second-most-awesome type of residential appendage on the list of “things that make for a great home,” that being a courtyard.

What does one do in a courtyard that can’t be accomplished on a backyard deck, or front porch?

Why— holding court of course, reading poetry, or simply relaxing in this enclosed and serene space.

And, it’s the term “enclosed” that really defines a courtyard, and what gives it its inherent value, compared to the free for all, open atmosphere of a deck or porch.

Now, you may ask yourself, “Does my home really require a courtyard?”

To which I would answer, survival will most likely be achieved without one. However, would your home benefit from an extra bathroom in the master bedroom? Or, physical fitness area? Or, computer room? Or, any kind of more personal, designated space in the home?

Perhaps yes.

Now, if your home is surrounded with regular perimeter fencing, could this enclosed area be somewhat defined as a courtyard? No, that’s simply referred to as a backyard with fencing, which would otherwise qualify practically any area as a courtyard.

A courtyard most often occupies its own area, essentially creating a space within a space, and by definition has a clear separation from the outside world regarding its level of privacy and its contents.

Basically, the walls surrounding your courtyard should be at least six feet high, and be made of stone, or a heavy duty type wooden fence panel where the fencing planks are tightly installed against one another. Outsiders should not be able to peek into your courtyard, or easily view it from the exterior.

Part of the grandeur or mystery of the courtyard is being able to open the gate to a new area, or private space not commonly viewed by the passerby.

The floor of your courtyard should be of interlocking brick, slabs of rock and pea stone, or decorative concrete patio slabs. The courtyard should be free of the mechanical noise created by lawn mowers and whipper snippers, so no grass.

What does one put in a courtyard? All of your favorite things.

Traditionally, and if space permits, there will be a centrepiece. This can be anything from a raised stone planter box with a flowering tree, to a traditional concrete well, a fixture that served many a medieval courtyard. Or, if you’re of Greek or Italian heritage, the statuettes of half-dressed ladies collecting water by the shoreline is always a crowd pleaser.

Are courtyards, due to the stone flooring, and desire for serenity, to be considered no-child zones? Quite the opposite. Although the courtyard serves well as a place to read or write, it should also be considered a safe zone. Simple child’s play is to be encouraged, with an errant soccer ball breaking a cherubs arm, or decapitating one of the statuettes, only increasing its value.

The balance of the space can be filled with benches, lounge chairs, and a raised, bar type of table for enjoying a beverage or playing checkers.

With four walls of either stone or wood, and a patio slab floor, what goes overhead? Traditionally, nothing but clear sky, with the walls themselves providing some shade.

However, in order to make the space a little more useable in our climate zone, you may want to consider covering a portion of the courtyard space with a SunLouver pergola, a unit where the roof louvers are adjustable, adapting to both sun and rain.

Where to build your courtyard? Front-lawn courtyards can be a little ominous, but it still presents a great spot. Otherwise, choose any area in close proximity to the home.

Good building.

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

Stay out of the sun

I was always intrigued by the Trivial Pursuit question, “Where are the most expensive seats found at the Plaza Mexico, the world’s largest bull fighting ring?”

You may have guessed the best seats in the house would be located near the cantina, providing guests with much-needed hydration. Or, in close proximity to the washroom facilities, VIP lounge, or sombrero and sunglasses sales booths. With the best seats usually placing guests closer to the action, you may have also guessed the most privileged seating to be ringside, where the splattering of blood and mud across your face and clothing would warmly embrace you as part of the spectacle.

Regardless of all those possibilities, the answer was “in the shade.”

So, in mid-afternoon, full-sun, 110 F Mexico heat, where do those sports enthusiasts with a few extra pesos want to be? Not in a hospital suffering from heat stroke.

Which, brings us to today’s topic of avoiding dehydration, wrinkly skin, and any number of serious medical conditions, by enjoying a sunny day from the safe confines of a shaded porch or backyard deck.

Now, Cornwall and area’s sun may not have near the impact of a Mexican sun, but even in our climate, sunburn and the resulting skin damage can result after only 15 minutes of full sun exposure.

So, with many a backyard deck to be constructed this summer, strategizing on how you plan on enjoying the warm weather, while avoiding the sun, will be best brainstormed while your deck concept is still on paper.

The best-case scenario would have your deck plan include some type of permanent roof structure.

Table umbrellas and self-standing umbrella structures are good between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., when the angle of the sun’s rays are practically streaming from directly overhead.

Otherwise, and as the sun shifts from its high-noon position, umbrellas tend to shade everything except the people seated underneath them. Now, you could simply move the seating to where the shade is, or risk lower-back strain, and a few extra scratches on your new composite decking, by tugging the 50- to 70-pound umbrella base into a new position every 30 minutes— but that would hardly be practical.

Retractable awnings? A good option on a smaller scale, but because the unit attaches to the home, you will be somewhat limited size-wise. Weaknesses to a retractable awning? The “retractable” means moving parts, which take time to engage and close, with the possibility of mechanical failure always looming. Furthermore, awnings aren’t snow resistant, if the plans are to shelter your hot tub for winter use. And, they’re deathly afraid of a strong wind – perhaps not to the same degree as a deck umbrella, which will simply take flight and land somewhere in the united counties – but winds can seriously damage an awning nevertheless.

So, with no concerns regarding having to close things up, retract things back, or shift things around, homeowners should consider a permanent-shade type of structure. Essentially, this will require either extending the roof, similar to a carport or extended garage type of construction, or erecting the latest in deck shading, that being a pergola with operating louvers.

The bonus to a roof extension is the chance of rain or snow making its way through to the deck drops to zero, with lighting being provided by a series of skylights, or a string of electrical fixtures. Plus, a permanent roof extension allows you the freedom of leaving the cushioned furniture as is, saving you the task of having to constantly remove and reinstall cushions at the first sign of rain, a real pain in the butt over time, even with deck boxes.

If you’re thinking a more simple structure than a roof extension is more in line with your budget, then consider the “Sun Louver” pergola, an aluminum product where the louvers can tip downward, offering shade or protection from the rain.

Next week, further sun-avoiding strategies.

Good building.

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

Getting ready to play with fire

A backyard fire pit burns in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014. FILE PHOTO

Today we investigate the possibility of operating an open backyard fire pit.

Now, you’re probably wondering, why put all this thought into what’s essentially going to be a campfire in the backyard for the kiddies to enjoy roasting marshmallows, and a hub where the adults can dismiss their supervisory roles while solving life’s issues over a few light ales?

Because, just like we need signs that say, “Speed Limit 100 km/h,” “Don’t Walk on the Grass,” or “Don’t reach into cage to touch gorillas,” relying on the element of common sense when it comes to human behaviour has proven to be unsuccessful.

So, like everything else, including the operation of a backyard fire pit, you’re going to have to get a permit, and follow the rules.

What’s the consequence to not wanting to follow what is basically a pretty lenient set of restrictions? Well— nobody’s going to tear your arm out of its socket and hand it back to you after gnawing on the forearm proves distasteful, but the monetary fine will certainly put a damper on your evening. Plus, restrictions and regulations may vary from city to county.

So, be sure to check with your local fire department regarding the safe operation of an open fire pit, and its bylaws.

The first step to backyard burning, other than operating a simple gas or charcoal barbecue, is to contact your local fire services office, and to request an open air burn permit application. The permit (for Cornwall and area) is going to cost you $100, which will be valid for three years. So, a pretty cheap application fee considering the fine for hosting an illegal burn is about $200 per infraction.

Essentially, the permit application is going to insist on a few conditions.

First, your fire pit will have to be located somewhere on your property that’s at least 20 feet from the property line, and any combustible structure. Trees and bushes, although obviously combustible, that encroach the 20-foot barrier, won’t necessarily sink this project. Unless of course, and upon inspection, the fire inspector deems you’re locating of the fire pit under an overhanging tree limb, is a site choice that needs reconsideration.

However, if you can’t strategize a fire pit location that keeps your flame at least 20 feet from your neighbour, or 20 feet from your home, or the extension you added to the deck, then you might as well shelve this initiative.

Next condition, your fire pit cannot be something that by definition, or sight, is homemade. So, the collecting or rocks to form a circle, a longtime tradition that created many a fond memory of outdoor camp adventures, which unfortunately and conversely led to even more forest fires, is not permitted.

Nor is the always classy, oil drum cut in half, which within a year usually rusts out at the bottom, then topples over, spilling hot embers onto the shoes of those unsuspecting marshmallow roasters not prepared for a quick retreat.

As a result, getting permit approval will require you procuring an official steel fire bowl, or approved stone type of outdoor fire pit or cooking grill.

Once you’ve solved the location issue and chosen an approved fire-pit unit, it’s pretty well clear sailing from this point.

Other conditions to burning will include having a readily available means to extinguish the fire in case of emergency. A simple garden hose will qualify as an extinguisher, providing that when Uncle Fred’s pant leg becomes engulfed in flames, and people are panicking, engaging the hose doesn’t mean having to first search for it in the darkness of the back shed.

Finally, part of the fire pit requirement is to notify your neighbours of your intention to openly burn, which can be a delicate subject to broach if existing relationships aren’t so great. So, be sure to get along with your neighbours, don’t ever blow smoke their way, and as a foolproof method to keeping the peace, invite them over for the first burning.

Good building.

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

Panelling success for your fence

Today we’re building a great fence, a beautiful fence, a most powerful fence panel that’ll rank second only to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in its effectiveness in deterring invaders and neighbourhood undesirables.

However, instead of concrete, our fence panels will be constructed of treated lumber and wrought iron. Plus, armed security personnel, drone surveillance, and video monitoring will remain optional considerations.

The bulk of the fence panel will be formed with 1×6 fence boards, along with a combination of 2×4 and 2×6 framing lumber, while a wrought-iron, 12-inch high, picketed-lattice type of crown will provide the panel its décor, ultimate intimidation, and definitely its “wow” factor.

Wood on its own is nice, but essentially lacks something. Steel or wrought iron on its own is beautiful, but maybe a little too correctional or institutional. By combining the two, you get a fence that states we’re not necessarily keeping anybody in, or anybody out, but we enjoy our privacy.

Besides simply being attractive, a fence panel must have two other qualities.

One, that it be serviceable.

And two, that it be removable.

Fence brackets, the U-shaped hardware that connects the 2×4 or 2×6 horizontal framing to the fence posts, might not be the carpenter’s way of creating a butt joint, but it’s got to be the fence-builder’s way. That’s because stuff happens in the life of a fence that may require you having to remove or replace a panel.

If a backyard pool is in your future, backhoes are rarely successful in squeezing themselves through 36-inch wide gate openings. Or, the building of a utility or storage shed would certainly be facilitated by the delivery people being able to access your backyard.

And, with the teen next door most recently having acquired their driving licence, the odds of your neighbours’ Ford Windstar making its way through your fence and into your backyard at 3 a.m. on an early Sunday morning has now increased tenfold.

So, for these reasons, we make fence panels removable. Fence panels need to be serviceable in order for them to have any type of longevity. Non serviceable fence panels are those where the 1×6 fencing planks have been fastened to the 2×4 cross members using nails, in a board over board, or good-neighbour type of pattern. Nails make removing a fencing plank without destroying the board almost impossible, while a board on board, offsetting type of plank placement is extremely awkward to paint or stain.

As a result, the crooked or cracked planks that need replacement are rarely removed, and the fencing lumber never gets protected with either a clear sealer or coat of stain.

In order to make a fence panel serviceable, the installer will need to make the 1×6 fencing planks easily removable, which means simply using the appropriate length decking screws.

The fencing planks will also need to be easily stainable, which is best achieved by installing the 1×6 planks vertically, placing one plank up tightly against the next, as you move laterally across the horizontal framing members.

The horizontal framing members should be comprised of two 2×6 treated studs (with one placed at the top of the panel, and one at the bottom) along with a 2×4 horizontal stud going across the middle of the panel, in order to prevent warping. The top of the fence panel should then be capped with a 2×4 stud, which will prevent water from entering the soft end grain, or Achilles heel of any fence plank.

Instead of crowning the fence panel with a traditional wood lattice, the enlightened fence designer would choose from a series of wrought-iron lattice designs.

Fence gate? Go with either a wood/iron frame combo, which would offer privacy, or a wrought iron gate, with its iron bars and curved, pointed spindling, adding a medieval touch.

Post caps? Choose the matching iron caps, they’ll look great, and best protect the post’s end grain.

Good building.

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

Posting a good start

Shane Harris and Travis Bright work on installing new resin and galvanized fence posts into position on Wonderland Road north of Fanshawe Park.in London, Ont. on Thursday July 9, 2015. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network MIKE HENSEN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

With our permit secured, the property line clearly established, and the gas/electrical/cable lines effectively flagged across the lawn, we can begin digging our post holes.

How does a person dig a post hole? Preferably with the help of an auger, driven by mechanized heavy equipment.

What about digging a post hole manually, perhaps engaging your son or nephew in a male bonding type of experience? Not a good idea.

This might have been possible about 100 years ago, when real men waged war during the day, then played hockey at night. Unfortunately, time and the computer age have modified the average male physique to the point where the shoulder and lower back development required to perform the task of repeatedly digging a four-foot hole has been genetically eliminated.

Strangely enough, manual post-hole diggers are still available, but with the design not having changed since the days where men could actually perform this task, your backyard soil would have to have the consistency of butter in order to make this task even somewhat conceivable.

As with all fence projects, the key to success will be the posts’ placement.

The best-case scenario will have your posts buried 48 to 54 inches into the soil, and spaced at every eight feet on centre. Use a mason’s cord to ensure a straight fence line. Pull the mason’s cord tightly along the future fence line, then drop the cord to grass level. Using a tape measure, or preferably a 150-foot open-reel fiberglass tape, mark an “X” on your lawn with a florescent spray paint to designate the post holes, and where the backhoe will drop his auger.

Don’t stake the lawn with pickets, keeping the mason’s line a foot or so above the lawn, using strips of ribbon to designate post placement. You’ll never trip over an X, and it’ll never move.

In order to allow for the three-to-four inches of spacing underneath your fence panels, and at least a few inches of fence post extending above the fence panel, along with the possibility of some variance in soil height, a five-foot fence will require you using 10-foot fence posts, while a six-foor fence will require 12-foot fence posts. Your posts can be made of 4×4 or 6×6 treated lumber.

The 6x6s look better, stay straighter, and are significantly stronger, so they’re definitely the preferred choice.

Securing the fence posts? With the post hole drilled into the soil, insert a sono-tube (cardboard cylinder) into the hole. A 4×4 post will require an eight-inch diameter sono-tube, while a 6×6 post will require a 10-inch cylinder. The sono-tubes are key to containing the concrete and gravel matter that will surround and secure the posts, and help prevent ground moisture from infiltrating this same area around the posts.

Be sure to toss a shovel-full of gravel into the sono-tube before inserting the post. This will help keep the bottom of the post somewhat dry.

If a fence post (regardless of it being a 4×4 or 6×6) is going to have a gate secured to it, with this gate presumably seeing regular swinging use, you’ll be wanting to first toss three-to-four bags of pre-mixed, just add water, concrete into the hole before filling the balance of the space with gravel.

All the other posts will not require cement, and can be secured using a 1/2 to 5/8 gravel mix, or stone dust.

Installing fence posts is minimally a two-person, brawn/brain joint co-ordinated effort. The brawn gently shovels and packs the gravel into the space surrounding the post, while the brain surveys the post leveler, making any necessary adjustments to post lean in an attempt to keep the post perfectly straight and in line with the mason’s cord.

Fence gates? Wooden gate panels can be made to size, but the more decorative wrought-iron type gates will require specific spacing between posts.

So, choose a gate pattern or style before starting the post-hole drilling process.

Next week, creating a great fence panel.

Good building.

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

Good fence vs. bad ones

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, is not only the title of probably the greatest western movie ever made, but also describes the three types of wood fencing a homeowner has the choice of building.

With the market already saturated with a combination of bad and ugly fences, it’s my recommendation we look to differentiate ourselves by building a good, or even what would be considered a great, wooden fence.

Now, to be fair with the bad and ugly fence builders, their fences didn’t necessarily start out that way. As a matter of fact, bad and ugly fences could have very well been quite attractive in their early years, and simply declined into their present state of battered, grey crookedness over time.

So, our goal will be to build a fence that will look good, and keep looking good at least until the middle of the century, or until which time a Canadian-based team wins the Stanley Cup, whichever comes first.

As mentioned last week, fences fall under the building code, and therefore require permits. Not only are permits key to making sure you follow the basic rules pertaining to fence height and acceptable product mix, but the permit process will initiate the “locate” process. Locates are those little yellow flags you occasionally see darting across persons lawns, and are placed there by the cable, electric, and gas-line people, indicating where these service lines run across your property.

Essentially, there are two reasons why the service people don’t want you hitting, or cutting off their lines in your attempt to dig a post hole.

One, if you happen to break a line, you’ve automatically ruined their mood by adding another three hours of emergency service time into what is already a fully scheduled workday. And two, sometimes the coroner isn’t always immediately available, which in the case of a severing a gas or electrical cable, could have the service guy having to re-connect a line while your corpse lies rotting in the sun only metres away, which can totally ruin a fellow’s appetite come lunch hour.

For a wood fence to be great, all four components, them being the post holes, fence posts, fence panels, and fence maintenance program, all have to follow a program of procedural excellence.

Starting with the posts holes, drill them anywhere from 48 to 54 inches in depth. Any shallower and you risk the frost heaving the posts up every winter, which will disrupt the entire fence line, and look lousy.

Does frost heave, a scenario whereby the frozen soil pushes things up to the surface, really occur? Just ask any local farmer who has to pick rocks out of his fields every year.

As for fence posts? 4×4 lumber is good, but 6×6 timbers are much better. So, if there’s wiggle room in the budget for the extra costs of using 6×6 posts, go for it. Besides simply looking better, 6×6 timbers are significantly more solid (great for high-wind areas), and stay straighter over the long haul.

Fence panels? Avoid the standard and very much overused board-on-board, or what’s referred to as the “good neighbour” style of fence panel, for basically two reasons.

One, because the fence boards are installed in an offset manner on either side of what’s normally a couple of 2x4s running vertically from post to post, the element of privacy isn’t so private. In other words, when standing on an angle, you or your neighbour can easily see into each other’s property. So, if you’re looking forward to seeing what latest fashion in swimwear your neighbour will be sporting this year, then choose what’s essentially a good viewing of the neighbour fence design.

Two, the good neighbour fence design is an atrocity to paint or stain, which will inevitably make continued maintenance a virtual impossibility.

Therefore, with privacy and easy maintenance being two important elements to our fence’s long term viability, next week we’ll look into building a “friendly neighbour” design.

Good building.

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

Surveys make ‘fence’ between neighbours

An October 2008 file photo of Ron Denis of land survey firm Farley Smith and Denis, with his survey equipment. JULIE OLIVER/OTTAWA CITIZEN/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today, we put to paper a plan to fortify our home’s perimeter, initiating a strategy that’ll forever protect our backyard property from those undesirables set on disturbing our goal of privacy and tranquility.

In other words, we’re building a fence.

Two things to consider before planting a post hole-drilling auger into the soil.

One, fences require permits, so be sure to get one.

And two, know the exact location of your property line.

Unfortunately, fencing is like any other home renovation, in that its manner of construction is guided by rules. So, if you were planning on topping your fence with a department of corrections-approved razor wire, and installing electrical power around all possible points of entry with a shock surge capable of incapacitating a 200-pound man, then the city officials may ask you to modify your drawings.

Where you build your fence isn’t such a concern for the city, unless of course you end up placing some of your fencing, or parts thereof, on city property.

Other entities that may show concern for your haphazard drilling of holes along perceived property lines are your neighbors. So, if a fence is in the plans, have your property surveyed.

If, on the other hand, good ol’ Mr. MacTavish, your friendly neighbour of 15 years, has you thinking you can save yourself $500 on the cost of procuring a survey by settling on a designated property line together, relying on your good relationship to keep things cordial, give your head a shake.

Guaranteed, the moment you finish your fence line, ol’ Mr. MacTavish drops dead like a sack of potatoes after choking on his haggis. The new owner of the property, a Mr. Chauncey MacDonald, moves in a week later, and while being not so happy to discover your ancestors might have participated in the death of his forefathers at the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, decides to test the integrity of this fence line by having the property surveyed.

Guaranteed, just like the time you decided to forgo the information search and invest in steam-engine auto technology, your best-guess fence location strategy is going to end up biting you on the ass.

Often, neighbours will choose a mid-point between two homes or properties in order to establish the likelihood of the property line. This can be faulty reasoning, because most homes see some type of renovation over the years, whereby extra garage, deck, or living space is added to the width of the home, often encroaching upon the home’s property line.

When this happens, the dividing line between properties becomes far from the centre point, which will only be an issue years later when new, unassuming owners move in, and start making undocumented land decisions.

So, to avoid the awkwardness of having a new neighbour, a neighbour who essentially has pre-judged you as descendants of brutal thugs who had stolen land from his family only 300 years before, presenting you with a document indicating your fence has been constructed three feet onto his property, we get a survey.

With the perimeter lines of your property clearly established by the survey, you can begin to plan out the post placement.

If the fence is to be yours, then the posts should be wholly placed on your side of the line. This strategy will cost you a little of your backyard square footage, but will at least ensure the decisions regarding the look and status of the fence to be entirely yours.

What about shared fencing?

As with anything shared between neighbours, whether it be a fence or a snow scraper, this type of scenario is probably best avoided.

Next, what about fence height and fence building materials?

Both will fall under the scrutiny of your city permit, whereby your idea to raise emus and other exotic birds by building a 12-foot perimeter wall with used sheets of galvanized steel roofing, will most likely be discouraged.

Next week, the best fence.

Good building.

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

Working with real wood for your deck

In this new world of composite decking, why is pressure-treated lumber or cedar still a good choice for a porch floor or backyard deck?

Because painting or staining a horizontal surface isn’t such a pain in the butt. As a result, and until the solid PVC and composite companies render their products a little less expensive – and somehow manage to design a decking that doesn’t retain heat so effectively – real wood surfaces are going to continue to win the marketing battle by default.

As previously mentioned, real wood surfaces will absolutely require maintenance if their appearance is to keep up with the balance of your ‘touch-it-once,’ maintenance-free home.

Choices of decking lumber commonly available in most local markets include pressure-treated spruce, or western red cedar.

Brazilian decking lumber such as IPE (eeh-pay) is also available, usually under the status of a special order (which may require waiting a week or two), but I hesitate to recommend its purchase. Definitely a beautiful species of lumber, IPE can be as costly as composite decking. Furthermore, there’s one colour choice, which is basically a mahogany red type of tone.

Due to IPE’s wood grain being so tight, the surface pores won’t accept a regular semi-transparent or opaque stain, and must be sealed with a clear oil specifically designed for the IPE product. Left untreated, IPE, like everything else, will turn grey. Although a delight to the end purchaser, IPE (aka ironwood) can be a nightmare for the installer, due to its stubbornness in accepting a nail, screw, and even a drill bit.

With a core density and burn resistance equal to concrete, IPE is one of the few wood products that won’t float. Although a popular wood product to be used on the decks of many a luxury cruise liner, building a diving platform or raft out of IPE would fundamentally be a disaster for the uninitiated cottager.

The choice between treated lumber and cedar lies primarily with the user’s experience. Essentially, both species will require a pre-sanding, followed by the same install strategy using either the Camo (edge screw), or deck bracket (fasten from underneath) strategy of non-surface screw insertion.

Both species are coniferous, or evergreen types of trees. What makes cedar the premium product, or preferred choice over treated lumber, is cedar has a tighter grain than spruce, and contains natural oils, which causes cedar to be more stable over the long-term, meaning less chance of splits and cracks under the stress of our fluctuating temperatures.

Plus, as anybody who’s ever worked with cedar knows, the lightweight planks are a pleasure to handle, with its soft grain cutting and drilling with ease (essentially the exact opposite of IPE). Like any wood product, having a paint or stain properly adhere to the wood’s surface means first sanding the wood with an 80-grit paper.

Because cedar lumber is usually kept indoors, and therefore dry, it can be stained immediately after installation.

Treated lumber, due to it being stocked on a much larger scale, is usually kept outdoors. Although wrapped in protective tarps at least for a portion of the year, wind and general inefficiencies can definitely affect the consistent use of these tarps, so treated lumber is bound to absorb a little moisture. As a result, treated lumber will usually benefit from at least a few weeks of dry weather before attempting the sanding and staining process.

Protecting your wooden deck surface can be done using either a clear sealer (yearly application), semi-transparent (lasting two-to-three years), or opaque (solid colour) stain (generally applied every four-to-six years).

I love wood, so the option of a clear or semi-transparent finish is attractive to me because it accentuates the natural grain patterns of each plank. However, because I love my boat more, and cherish every summer weekend, the solid colour stain, which lasts longer and applies without having to sand between coats, is my go-to, outdoor stain product of choice.

Good building.

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

When choosing real wood

With all the terrific choices of composite decking available in today’s market, why would any homeowner install treated lumber or cedar on their decks?

Although it’s been suggested to avoid using uncovered wood products outside, especially relating to porch posts and railing systems, real wood decking still holds some advantages over the solid PVC or composite decking alternatives.

However, the “holds some advantages” statement will have to be qualified by referencing the fact composites still have some challenges, or product glitches that will need to be ironed out, in order for the choice of composite decking over real wood to eventually be considered a no-brainer.

Challenge No. 1: price.

Although aluminum and vinyl railing systems have fallen in price, due to improvements in manufacturing and larger-scale production, the costs of composite decking have steadily increased. Unlike aluminum and vinyl railing components, which have been around for decades, composite decking is relatively new, and has seen lots of improvements from those early generation composites that often swelled and developed mould.

Today’s solid PVC, or composite/PVC-wrapped products have evolved considerably from those early years, with swelling, shrinking, expansion, and mould being non-issues. However, this road to composite decking success has of course come at a price for the manufacturer, with these research and development costs filtering down to the eventual consumer.

Is composite decking done evolving? Not quite yet.

Although the recipe for making a composite or solid PVC decking product is pretty well understood, with developments in sheen, texture, and colour variation, every manufacturer’s goal is to make their composite as realistic looking as possible. The cost to purchasing composite decking is not likely to fall anytime soon.

So, although aluminum and vinyl railing systems stand at an affordable two-to-three times the price of real wood, composite decking remains two-to-four times the price of cedar, and four-to-eight times the price of treated lumber. As a result, there’s still hesitancy on the part of the consumer in purchasing such a premium deck product, with further improvements regarding the costs of production to be made on the manufacturing end.

Challenge No. 2: temperature.

Essentially, in severe heat and/or direct sunlight, composite decking, regardless of colour or texture, gets too hot to walk on in bare feet. Real wood decking, under the duress of heat or direct sunlight, remains relatively comfortable to bare feet. So, regardless of composite decking’s many attributes, on some levels it may never outperform Mother Nature.

So, how does the homeowner deal with wood decking’s biggest challenge, which is of course maintenance? Is doing nothing to your wood deck an option? Yes, but a really lousy one.

Without some type of protection, a wood surface will warp, crack, develop slivers, and essentially look horrible.

Now, if your backyard is littered with dog poop, a 1970 Pontiac Parisienne on blocks, and a few garden gnomes scattered about, then a greying, decaying deck would provide the perfect centerpiece to such a backyard world of death and misery.

Luckily, success in owning a great looking wood deck that’ll demand only minimal maintenance, will require invoking these procedures.

One, sand both sides and the two edges of each plank with an 80-grit sandpaper.

Next, seal the underside of the planks with a clear waterproofing product.

Three, and most importantly, refrain from surface screwing the decking planks. Choose either the ‘Camo’ installation tool, which is a procedure that strategically guides the camo screw into the edges of the decking plank, or fasten the decking planks from underneath by first installing deck brackets, which are perforated steel strips that get fixed along the edge of each joist. Surface screws are to be avoided because they provide a direct route for water and moisture to enter into the core of the lumber. When this core water freezes, cracks, splitting, and splintering are the results.

Conversely, a sanded wood surface, when sealed, should last for years before needing a further coat. Next week, more on real wood decking.

Good building.

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

Decked out in composite

Composite deck lumber is a blend of reclaimed plastic and recycled wood fibers. There’s no need for finishing composites. Just keep them clean. STEVE MAXWELL/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In this, our last segment on “touch it once,” the strategy of choosing building products based on the likelihood of these products not requiring a second touch, or further maintenance once they’re installed, has us examining what will probably be wood’s last stand— that being wood decking.

So far, the touch-it-once strategy has us choosing 50-year warrantied sidings, such as vinyl or fibre cement, or such mainstays as brick and stone, which can last several generations.

Touch it once means extending the warranty on your asphalt shingles by following a directed manner of install.

And, touch it once essentially means eliminating all that is wood on the exterior of the home, opting for aluminum or vinyl railing systems, PVC trim-boards around windows and doors, using PVC posts wraps to protect those 4×4 or 6x6treated columns, and vinyl lattice or vertical siding to skirt the raised portion of your deck.

However, when it comes to decking material, is composite or PVC decking not the obvious choice if we’re to stick with our touch-it-once home maintenance strategy?

Or, has treated wood or cedar decking suddenly become a one-touch product?

Without a doubt, composite or PVC decking is the best way to finish your deck. Composite decking is beautiful year after year, has a perfectly uniform colouration and grain pattern, doesn’t warp, crack, or sliver, and cleans up with a spray from the garden hose and sweep of a broom. So yes, composite and PVC decking is the obvious choice for any deck surface.

Conversely, wood decking products will definitely need maintenance if their appearance is to remain constant, so that inevitability hasn’t changed.

As a result, there’s no reason to choose anything other than composite decking, unless of course any of the following reasons pose an issue.

Challenge No. 1, price. Treated lumber costs about $2 per square foot, and cedar decking about $4 per square foot, which seems costly enough, until you compare it with the ticket price of composites, which due to the vast array of finishes and colouration choices, will range in price from $8 to $15 per square foot of decking product.

Now, in all fairness to composite decking, consideration must be given to the fact most composite and PVC decking products come with 25-year warranties, which should entitle the owner to 25 years of weekends spent doing something other than painting or staining a deck. So, if we consider the costs of time and material related to maintaining a wood deck, the pricing gets a little closer.

Regardless, composite decking still remains considerably more expensive than wood.

Besides the price, it’s important for the future composite decking buyer to realize three further points.

One, composite decking isn’t the perfect product, yet. Its surface is tough, but not indestructible, so it will scratch and dent if people are careless in the way they move decking furniture about.

Two, being composed of mostly recycled plastics – a great thing because it reduces stuff otherwise going into our landfills – composites do move a bit under the stress of extreme heat or cold. So, those miter joints that were so tight and perfect in the spring, may not look so good in the heat of the summer or fall, which can be disappointing to the perfectionist carpenter.

And three, the surface of your composite or PVC decking will heat up to a slightly uncomfortable level in direct heat and sunlight. I love our composite deck, but on a hot sunny day, stepping out onto the deck from the patio door without my sandals on has seen me do a not-so-coordinated tippy toe dance back into the kitchen.

So, with composite decking comes the need for shade, sandals always at the ready, and a hose nearby to help cool things off.

Otherwise, you’ve got wood decking, which when really analyzed, isn’t such a formidable challenge.

Next week: the one-to-two, OK, maybe three-touch wooden deck.

Good building.

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