Alex’s Playhouse: Support Posts and Deck

Alex’s birthday has come and gone and unfortunately the playhouse wasn’t finished in time. We experienced a delay with having to move the playhouse location in order to maintain good relations with our neighbors. Lesson learned, go into more detail on what one is seeking approval. All is good, friendly relations were preserved.  In part thanks to the use of the demo hammer –  quick work was made of hole digging and original footer destruction. Everything else transferred over (brackets were salvaged!), the posts just had to be cut down to accommodate the different elevation.

Critical Tools: Levels – old school and laser, circular saw, reciprocating saw, measuring tape, drill with spade bit, guide string

Process (Simplified):

  1. Create channel is post, drill through bolt holes, mount post.
  2. Determine desired floor height and use laser level to determine cut down post height of a single post (cut down post height =  top of post – floor decking – floor joist)
  3. Cut posts down to proper height and notch out shoulder for support beams.
  4. Install beams (how to build a beam), floor joists, floor decking

Process (Gallery)

Skill Level: Advanced/Expert.

Tip(s): Use the laser level to mark the posts at dusk. Makes it much easier to see the line.

Know your tools. We mounted the laser level to make the top of all posts (floor height). While we struggled with the optical illusion introduced by the land’s slope, something still didn’t look right. We fastened a 2 x 4 along the marks across two posts and checked with an old fashioned level. Definitely out of level. Looking closer at the laser level it was determined the wrong setting was being used. Whoops. Second tip is when in doubt using a different method to confirm what you are seeing.

Deck: (Mostly) Finished Product

Ah, the deck. The original two week estimate to completion quickly morphed into five. Why the 250% increase? The major reason was that sections of the deck were poorly done and required more repair work than originally estimated (see this post (demo 2/3) and this post (assembly 2/3) and this post (demo 3/3)). Part was also finding the proper demolition technique (see this post). And wrangling Alex (summer camps, meeting cereal demands) takes time away from deck repair.

What is left to be done:

Screening around the hot tub area.

Benches/table in the hot tub area.

Post caps. Sooner or later we will make a decision on what to buy.

What we like most: The hot tub. It is amazing how time flies while one is soaking.

The gates. We hired a local metal artist to create two custom gates for us. Marion did a wonderful job and we look forward to commissioning more functional art from him in the future.

Having a stable and safe deck. No more sloping due to improperly installed cantilevers. No more over cut stair horses. Just a nice solid feeling deck.

The railing. We now have vertical railing balusters that Alex can’t climb, although, not for a lack of trying. Not only have we removed Alex’s ladder, but we have helped modernize the look of the deck. Gone are the heavy rustic log balusters, in are the sleek black powder-coated iron balusters. Add in the cocktail rail, and life is good. The aesthetic transformation is impressive.

The color of the deck. After some debate, the Clamshell (medium grey) camp won out arguing that contrast was better than trying to match the color of the house and failing. Combined with the black railing, it looks sharp.

Gallery

Deck: Reassembly Part 3

The deck is heading towards the home stretch! Part 2 of the deck reassembly covers many of the repairs (and then some) that the upper deck needed. New band board was put in along with joist hangers (that were nailed appropriately).

What was truly revolutionary were the StairLok stair brackets (purchased from Deck Superstore). Trex does not recommend an unsupported span greater than 16 inches for their product, which is an awful narrow stair. Our stair widths were 36 (lower to upper deck) and 40 inches (ground to lower deck). After some research, we opted for StairLok because they are easier to build, stronger, and use less material than traditional stair building methods. The gallery describes the process for building the stairs.

Preparation: Remove decking, watch rotten post fall away when railing is removed (see Demo post part 3)

Critical Tools: Stairs – carpenter’s square, screw gun, StairLok brackets, 2x4s, screws, chop saw, tape measure

Decking – Healthy amount of patience, well developed curse word vocabulary, screw gun, clamps, jig saw, circular saw, railing jig, level, nail gun, level, tap measure

Skill Level: Advanced/Expert. If you don’t know what you are doing, things will get ugly.

Tip(s): Check the step frame with a carpenters square. The brackets have a tendency to rack. Confirming that the stairs are square saves a ton of headache during the install.

Use a stop block when numerous pieces that same size need to be cut. Check to make sure the block hasn’t slid at regular intervals in the cutting process.

Set up an assembly line: pre-cut all the stair frames and cross bracing. Then start building. Nothing slows a process down like having to constantly switch tools.

Gallery

Deck Demolition: Part 3

With demolition parts one and two complete, along with the subsequent reassembly (one and two), the focus is fully on the stairs to the hot tub pad and the decking around it. Any hope that just perhaps this section of decking was done correctly was quickly lost. It was quickly evident that if this deck had been built in a more humid environment, it would have rotted away a dozen years ago. Even with the low humidity in Colorado, rotten spots were still found. Three cheers to the dry Colorado air. Enjoy the gallery of face palming construction decisions by a previous owner.

Critical Tools: Circular saw, pry bar, hammer, drill, pliers, knee pads, Sawzall, end of day margaritas.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Tip(s): Don’t use scrap wood to build a deck. Even if the scraps are a ‘good deal’.

The spacing between decking boards allows water to drain and air to circulate. Without the air circulation, the chances for rot are greatly increased.

Choose two of the three – good, fast, or cheap. Previous owners chose fast and cheap. Don’t be like the previous owners.

Gallery

Deck: Reassembly Part 2

So now that we have discovered the extent of the poor workmanship on the deck framing, it is time to repair the hazards and make this deck safe. Replacements included rotted support beams, an undersized beams, and improperly cantilevered joists. It is likely that the framing was not constructed fully from pressure treated lumber.

Check out the gallery captions for the nitty gritty details. Check out deck reassembly post 1 for information regarding the Trex installation. No Trex RainEscape here.

Preparation: Remove decking, curse at the unknown person(s) who built this portion of the deck

Critical Tools: Healthy amount of patience, well developed curse word vocabulary, screw gun, clamps, jig saw, circular saw, railing jig, level, nail gun, level, tap measure

Skill Level: Advanced/Expert. If you don’t know what you are doing, things will get ugly.

Tip(s): Step back to help see the forest for the trees. Some challenges are easily solved once it is determined the perceived problem does not affect the end goal.

Take the time to plan everything out. This will save so much trouble down the road.

Don’t go cheap on the materials. This is not the place to be a penny pinching skin flint. Don’t purchase your materials for some guy selling scraps of wood out of the back of his pick up. Buy real lumber. Pressure treated lumber.

Gallery

Deck Demolition: Part 2

With Part 1 of the deck demolition and rebuild complete, we get to see what structural disasters are hidden in part 2. How can we be so confident that this portion of the deck is not structurally sound? The most visible symptoms is the drooping corner and the improperly cantilevered boards.

Once the decking came off, the situation was worse than originally thought. Check out the gallery below for great pictures of rotted boards and improperly done construction. This deck was permitted and it is hard to believe it passed inspection, a score and four years ago. It is amazing the deck didn’t collapse long ago. Time to do things right and repair this shoddy work.

Demolition went quickly using technique 3 described in the first demolition post. Tips described in the previous post also apply here.

Critical Tools: Circular saw, pry bar, hammer, drill, pliers, knee pads, Sawzall, end of day margaritas.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Tip(s): Don’t step on boards that have been cut with the circular saw. This will result in a painful trip through the deck.

Gallery:

Deck: Reassembly Part 1

What is demolished must be rebuilt. At least that is the logic for the deck – we need somewhere to drink our margaritas. The first two parts of the deck to be demolished and reassembled are the front of the house and the side to the kitchen door. These were thought to be the easy portion of the deck repair until the struggles of demolition were encountered (see demolition post part 1). Once these two sections are done, the deck will be over halfway done area wise and about 25% done work wise.

In the planning for the future part of the deck reassembly, Trex RainEscape is being installed under the decking along the front of the house. This system redirects rainwater and snow melt from dripping under the deck. So if you have grand plans to have a dry outdoor living space under your deck in the future, spend the money and install the system when you first put down the new decking.

We made the decision that we wanted the decking to run in the same direction, instead of running parallel to each side of the house. Front of the house was no problem – one small section of joists was replaced; the new joist orientation is perpendicular to the original. This was done there would be something to secure the decking to in the direction we wanted. The larger problem was the side deck up to the kitchen door. The joists ran the wrong way for the deck direction and did not need to be replaced. The solution? Blocking, nailed in perpendicular between the joists.

Railing is by Fortress.  It is iron with 4 layers of black powder coat. Here’s to hoping it lives up to its name and keeps Alex in and isn’t too damaged with multiple Tonka dump truck crashes.

Preparation: Remove decking

Critical Tools: Screw gun, clamps, pry bar, jig saw, circular saw, railing jig

Skill Level: Intermediate

Tip(s): Like with tile flooring, get your first board right. Everything else builds off of this board and if it isn’t square, the problem will only amplify.

Eat your Wheaties for breakfast. The Trex boards are heavy.

Trex boards may need to be trimmed slightly so they end at the center of the joist. Unless your carpenter was Jesus, the joists may vary slightly in their on center measurement.

Create a bracket jig. Saves from measuring posts over and over again to ensure proper bracket position.

Gallery