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Posts Tagged ‘Deck Repair’

I renewed another deck near ruin. I had been asked to come and cut off the deteriorating beveled tops of the 6 x 6 posts so that a friend of the owner could install caps to protect the posts. Caps or top rails are a good idea because water and fungi will root a post from the top down. The owner asked me about the longevity of the deck. Upon quick inspection I saw that it had 8 to 10 16′ decking boards with rotten spots and some at ground level post deterioration and some top rail warping and rotting. Following is my effort to renew the deck.

The owner requested that I pressure wash the deck before repair and restaining and provided a pressure washer borrowed from a friend at church. The deck had not been stained in five years, a time well within the stain can’s recommendations and “guarantees”, but the elements know no such time scales. This deck is close enough to trees, though not overhung by them, to get their leaf litter, catkins in Spring, and Yellow Poplar samaras. These get down between the decking boards and collect moisture, fungi, and bacteria (read “rot”). Particularly on this deck the gap between boards was not sufficient to allow this detritus to fall through, so it collected. You can see from the picture that the stain acted more like paint, clinging only to the surface and peeling when pressure washed. That is not good and may have been a large part of the deterioration. I would not have thought much of which deck treatment to use before I started repairing them, but I have some strong opinions now.

So, time consuming and tedious as it was, I got down with my knee pads and wire brushed and whisk broomed the boards.

This deck had been put together with screws, square drive heads, so there was no warping in the decking.

I ended up replacing ten decking boards and was pleased with the ones I was able to pick out.

The caps are plastic and functional and I had to replace only two top rails and two balusters.

I feel like the end result looks like new and will last another good many years. I suggested to the owner that she treat the top surfaces yearly to prevent the deterioration that was happening. With a roller and stain the decking and top rails would take no more than 1 1/2 hours to treat. The look and longevity will be satisfying.

If you look closely, you can see the tar that I put around the base of the posts. In my experience, the interface of post to ground, an inch or two above and below grade is where the most intense deterioration occurs. Though the treated lumber is rated for below grade, and actually does fair quite well in the ground, it does not do so well at the interface. I guess the conditions of moisture, air, and temperature are conducive to rotting bacterial and fungal varieties.

By the time it weathers and she treats the decking boards again in a year, you won’t even be able to tell the new boards from the old as in this picture.

I am reminded of the preacher in Ecclesiastes who is reciting a polemic on the vanity of life. Several times he softens the blow of the discouraging speech with a commendation similar to the following: “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) At a later time He even calls this enjoyment of life “the gift from God” (Eccl 3:13). So I end with thanksgiving to God for giving me strength to work, money for bills from my labor, and satisfaction that I have renewed a product to increased usefulness and slowed the deterioration in this fallen world for the benefit of a fellow being (in fact, fellow saint in this case). It is a gift from God that I can pass along to someone.

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In this day of record high lumber prices, many people are opting for deck restoration rather than replacement. It is still not cheap since there may be nearly as much labor in restoring a deck as in building a new one. Following is an example of restoration and addition.

But how many boards do you replace? Is structural integrity the only criteria? Where does longevity or appearance or smoothness come into play and to what extent? Beyond structural integrity, the owner has preference and say that should be considered. For instance, this owner specified that the surface be smooth enough of children’s bare feet. But that still doesn’t answer how many boards should be replaced and how many should be sanded or screwed down better. How many boards would you replace in the following picture?

Notice also in the preceding picture that the deck was constructed with nails, and that via nail gun. The young girls of the family regularly pounded the nails down. Expansion and contraction and warping can work the nails out where they can snag a shoe sole or strip off some foot skin. For this reason, I prefer building decks with screws. I get it. A crew is supposed to put up a deck in a day and half and move on, but the result is not the best long-term. Screws cost more and definitely take longer to install, but the result is superior. The best new deck screws have star heads, called torx screws and the most common is T-25. They are so much easier to install than Philip’s Head screws because you don’t have to hold the tool perfectly perpendicular to the screw head and press down so hard. I added some additional screws to the deck and instructed the father to have the girls extract the nails as they come up so that he could replace them with screws that I left behind for that purpose.

The railing was particularly rough. In fact, all top surfaces are typically hard hit by the combination of UV radiation, heat, , heating-cooling cycles, moisture in terms of amount, wetting and drying, frost, and freeze-thaw cycles. For this reason I advise people to treat the top surfaces once a year to increase longevity of their deck. Railing balusters and undercarriage take by far the most time to stain and amount of stain, but the railing needs to be done initially for appearance and probably not more than once every 5-8 years afterwards depending on radiation and moisture exposure. Quick visual inspection will reveal if it needs to be done. Notice that I did not say anything about the undercarriage or joists. I’ve seen 20 year old decks that were not treated and are still sound with only the slightest deterioration between the decking boards. A deck that gets considerable leaf and litter fall is in more danger of joist deterioration, but that depends on how well the decking boards are maintenanced and if the gap between those boards is sufficient for litter to fall through. Boards placed to close together gather organic trash.

The cracks in the following post are not the biggest concern. The post was merely nailed on, and over time worked loose from people using it to steady their ascent and descent and temperature variations. For this reason I bolt railing posts on with a 3/8″ galvanized carriage bolt and screws. My father used to say, “Nothing holds like a nut and lockwasher.” Nails certainly do not. The staircase railing was shaky and that made the steps shaky. I ended up completely rebuilding the stair railing and more firmly attaching the stair stringers to the deck. (1)

I thought that it was quite creative to but a planter pot in the hole and under a table until the hole could be fixed.

The new railing looks nice, is smooth, and is well attached. It bothers me that people who stain decks are so sloppy. There are products that will clean stain off of vinyl siding without damaging it.

The new stair railing bottom posts are planted two feet in the ground, painted with tar, and concreted in. The railing is solid. The old balusters were fine and reusable, which saved more cost in re-cutting than materials.

The owners also wanted a privacy fence and specified the height. I set three 4 x 4’s in concrete and bolted them to the deck. The slat boards were 1 x 4’s ripped on a table saw, meaning they were 1 11/16″ wide. (2) I might have built with wider boards but the owner had a certain aesthetic in mind. Notice additionally that I have begun the framing for the skirt to keep the dog and other critters out.

Yes, there is a 2 x 4 missing in the privacy fence. I had to take a second run to the lumber yard for a few missing boards. It is nearly impossible to go just once, especially on a repair job where new realizations of deterioration become evident. I put it in later, but didn’t want to stop work late in the day for a run to the lumber yard when I was making good progress. Also, this is the only picture where you can glance the result of the floor sander I rented.

Following are the results of the repair. Given time restraints I did not stain the balusters or skirt. The owners did. I like their taste in decor and stain color. To save the lawn and prevent wet or muddy feet, they also added stepping stones.

In two respects I had to be creative concerning the skirting. One was the transition from privacy fence to skirt. I opted for a water shedding wood ‘shingle’ that encased the uprights. The other is not pictured, a screwed in access ‘gate’ at the other end of the deck. If I hadn’t told you, you would never know it is there from looking. You never know when someone might throw or drop any number of things that go through the slats and need to be retrieved or some maintenance needed on the house that requires access under the deck.

Some of these old boards were installed incorrectly, crown down, so that water gathers on the deck. This is major reason to re-stain the deck yearly.

This flowering bush unknown to me is a great way to decorate in front of a garbage can fence. Functionality is great, but appearance is inviting. Extend this idea to God’s Creation. Ecologically self-replicating and self-cleaning and simultaneously visually inspiring and health-giving only begins to describe the depth of God’s gift to us of functionality and beauty in nature for which we should regularly give thanks and praise. Decks and such are only a vague reflection of that creativity.

  1. stairway parts- https://www.mycarpentry.com/image-files/xstair-diagram-solid-risers.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Pc601Vrgj6.jpg
  2. A 1 x 4 is actually 3 1/2″ wide (dressed lumber). If you subtract the 1/8″ of sawdust made by the blade width and divide by 2, you get 1 11/16″. The lumber yard did not have the 1 x 2 inch stock and ripping produces straighter boards anyway. Being from out of town on this job, I asked the owner if a friend had a table saw that I could borrow. A brother in Christ was glad to assist.

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I could be talking about the underpinnings of society, but that seems to be going no where at the moment. So, I’ll just talk about a recent deck repair that I did.

Two of the posts had significant bows due to warping at a knot or knots. The first one pictured is the worst since a crack goes almost all the way through the two knots on either side. Gravity is persistent and will overcome any imbalance eventually. For that reason I hand pick all lumber when I am building a deck and take back boards that are not looking like they will go the distance. Nothing is permanent and decks can be expected to last 20 to 30 years depending on how often you stain it, the quality of the original boards, maintenance, and how it was designed.

Here is it close up. I should have shown the other side so you could see how serious the problem was to the structure of the post.

The other one looked as follows. If the grain at the top of the knot split to combine the two cracks, the post would not be far from gone.

The first step was to install a temporary support. A few posts from a previous job and my trusty persuasional tool (sledgehammer) served the purpose well. I hammered the temporary up to plumb, allowing you to see just how bowed the post was.

The next step was cutting the post off and rigging a way to pulled it out of the concrete slab. The slab was added after the house and deck were built, so they poured it around the posts. My car and truck jacks worked slowly but surely.

I was surprised how shallow the post was set. The aluminum plate, badly corroded, was sitting on gravel in the hole whereas these plates were usually used to set posts on concrete. There was not too much cracking of the concrete.

I filled the hole with concrete and inserted a “J” bolt that would later secure the bottom plate.

Two days later I installed the new posts. You can see in the background that I had not yet installed the second post.

A post whose bottom can dry out will last much longer.

Next I went around and clamped together joists which had warped and separated and screwed or bolted them together as needed. Some just looked ugly and others presented possible structural problems.

That does not look good from a structural standpoint. I had to jack up the left joist a bit to clamp and screw it together.

This one looks bad but is well supported so I don’t believe it caused a real problem.

However, real or perceived, I was tasked with fixing it.

My father would always say that there was nothing better than a nut and lock washer. I have a son and son-in-law, who are Materials Joining Engineers, who would likely differ. At any rate, I must not have quite learned the lesson. However, in my defense, I find that a flat washer crushed slightly into wood works quite well.

Decks And Such (https://facebook/decksandsuch), be the job small or large, fixes the prob lem (prob-><-lem -> problem) and gets the results.

I am pleased to thank God for the strength and experience to work in this way and the flow of work that has begun in 2021. When work slacked up in December, I became concerned, but it was all part of the plan. I had back problems soon afterwards that prevented me from working. As soon as that subsided, the work started coming again. We can depend on God to provide; we need to trust Him even when things get lean.

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