Nov 22 2015

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Building a Deck

We needed something to replace the old concrete stoop for our front door, so I decided to build a deck to replace it. We had the contractor remove the stoop when he was removing our old sidewalk and driveway. It was cracked and people had to step backwards down the steps when we opened our door.

The only real requirements for the deck were: 1) It would have plenty of room for visitors to stand without having to step backwards and 2) It would have a place to put a couple of chairs and a small table so we could sit outside and watch the world go by.

With that in mind, I called the city to see what the requirements would be to get a permit. Surprisingly they specifically recommended that since my deck would be under 30″ high, I should float it and I wouldn’t need a permit or railings. This wasn’t exactly the response I was expecting from the city, 

My first plan was to add more fill up to the first block on our house so that the deck would only need a single step, but after I calculated that I would need over 3 yards of dirt, I changed the design to two steps. There was just no way I was going to haul that much dirt by hand because our driveway was too new for a big truck to drive on and we couldn’t get the fill close enough. All the places I called about fill, were pretty much out for the season anyway. 

Also against the advice of just about everybody I talked to, I didn’t design the deck with railings, rather I extended the steps to the entire front of the deck. Everybody was worried about people falling off…had they even seen our old stoop? We didn’t want the deck to be a feature in our landscaping, when everything is finished hopefully you shouldn’t notice the deck, it’ll be an extension of the yard. The ground level will be higher, there’ll be planters and gardens all around, and two different walkways will converge on the steps. 

Floating the deck meant I had to level and compact the the existing ground under the deck. Luckily I had the driveway contractor leave a bunch of fill (although maybe only 1/2 a yard) rather than haul it away. I marked off the area with stakes and figured where I needed to add dirt to make a base the sloped slightly away from the house. I flattened the area by eye, tired myself out with the hand tamper, added dirt, and repeated. Once I thought I had the base prepared, I found a couple of straight boards for screeding and used the boards with my 4 foot level to finish the base.

Before I set the piers in place, I covered the base with landscape fabric. Then I put some spare river rock on top to keep out weeds and detour animals from digging.

The deck would be supported by six short 4×4’s. These 4x4s in turn would support 2 – 4×6 beams. In turn these beams supported the joists. Rather than buy 4x6s I bought 2×6’s and screwed and glued them together. Then I screwed the post caps to the beams and the 4×4’s to the post caps and set both finished supports in the post piers. I screwed some 2×4 stretchers into the tops of the beams to keep them from rocking while I built the frame. I figured I’d just leave the stretchers attached permanently.

This is a good a time as any to explain that I decided to use screws rather than nails to attach all the framing brackets. To my contractor father’s shame, I can’t hit a nail worth a damn. Also since this was the first deck I was building, I didn’t trust I’d get it right the first time and it’s a huge pain to remove nailed brackets. I did some research and found that as long as you use the correct screws, screwing in the brackets was up to code. It really isn’t significantly more expensive either. I paid $40 bucks for the framing screws and I the nails would have cost about $20.

My hose bib is right where I would have put a ledger board and it was definitely going to be in the way of my back rim joist. I could have had the option of not having a back rim joist, but since I was going to lay my decking diagonally, I needed one to screw into. I also wanted access to the hose bib, so I decided to make a little trap door for accessing it.

Consequently this actually made building the frame easier, since the beams do all the supporting, I didn’t need to waste money on joist hangers. I would just screw the rim joists into the joists, but to get access I had to attach the rim joists to the joists before I attached them to the beam. So I attached the hurricane clips to the beam to space the joists, then I placed the joists between the clips and slid them away from the house. I screwed the rim joist to the joists and slid the whole assembly into place. If I wouldn’t have had two assemblies, I don’t know if I could have slid the entire thing at once. 

Once I had the joists in place, then I screwed them to the brackets. I also attached a cripple joist and created a box where the hose bib was.

For the stairs I hung the stringers from the joists. At this point I needed to create a base for the stairs. I leveled and compacted the dirt and placed some extra landscaping blocks for the stairs to rest on. Then I bolted the 11 three step stringers to the joists. There would be three risers, the last of which would also be the front rim joist covering the bolts.

Once all the framing was done, it was time to lay down the decking. After the framing, the decking was the easy part. Well it would have been the easy part if I had decided to lay the decking straight and face screw it. Instead I wanted to lay the decking diagonally and use hidden fasteners. The steps would still be straight so I conquered those first. Other than having to break the special tool to install the hidden screws on the steps, this part went easy.

Actually laying the decking diagonally wasn’t any harder. The installation flew until I had to deck over the hose bib. I created a frame that would sit on two cleats attached to the joists. I had to match the decking over the access panel with the decking over the rest of the deck, which involved some hand cuts. I suppose I could have just decked over the access panel then cut the decking later, but this doing it my way wasn’t too hard.

The last hiccup came when I ran out of boards to finish the last corner, I did have a few scraps left, but nothing long enough to do it with one piece. Ugh three more feet… Rain was coming and I wanted to finish before kids came trick-or-treating, so I ran to Menards and picked up one last piece. I had to work in the dark, but that’s what worklights are for.

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