Once upon a time, the house I bought had a pool. An above-ground, 20′ wide, round pool. Previous owners (I’m told two-owners ahead of me) thought it would be amazing to have a deck off the house in the same size and shape as the aforementioned pool. I’m sure they also thought it would be radical to have a custom landing join the deck to the edge of the pool. The only evidence I have of this pool is a very sandy round area in my backyard, and this tiny Google Maps shot:
The pool was already gone when I moved in (thank god), but the deck, in it’s no-permit, unsafe-railing, and brick-red-stained state remained. It was located directly off the dining room, accessible via the sliding glass door. Check out the befores:
Originally, I hoped to just be able to strip the deck down and restain a neutral color. I didn’t know how to build a deck, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a team of construction workers to build me a new, prettier one. When that didn’t work, I abandoned my project for the winter, vowing to come up with a plan in the spring of 2010. That’s when I met the Lowe’s Deck Designer, and also when I started dating Pete (keep reading for how he got roped into this). I had this crazy vision of being able to exit both the sunroom door and the sliding glass door for deck access. I had envisioned being able to wrap a deck around the side of the house. And I hoped to be able to figure out a way to do it without any railings, because generally speaking, I don’t like the look and confining quality of railings. The great thing about the Lowe’s designer was that it let me play around and develop a design that would work. There were a few cons to the designer software, mostly related to ordering the correct amount of lumber, but I’d still recommend the product to other DIY’ers. Here’s the on-screen plan it produced for me:
You might ask – “you’ve never built a birdhouse, how can you build a deck?” – well, maybe in a moment of while trying to woo me, Pete chirped up claiming (although he denies it to this day) “I’ve built decks before, we can do this.” So, I recruited him and abandoned all other ideas of hiring help from ServiceMagic to build my deck. It wasn’t until further into this story (right about when I had tons of wood delivered and laying in my driveway) that he made a comment about having no idea where to start and “OH BOY, what are you talking about? I never said that?”
My stance through this whole thing was that we could do anything and that I wasn’t worried because I knew it would come out great. That’s pretty much my take on everything home-related… I’m usually pretty confident in what I (try to) do.
As soon as the weather began to improve in April, I began careful demolition of the existing structure, and man, that was a good feeling. I started with the easy stuff – the bad railings practically fell down themselves, the floorboards gradually came up with the help of a crowbar and hammer. The frame literally toppled down once some of the girders were cut with the power saw (it was definitely not built with a permit), and the stairs went out by the curb. Pete wailed the 4×4 posts out of the ground using brute force. The materials that I did salvage were in good shape – the wood thankfully had no rot, and I was pretty diligent about removing and collecting all of the nails and screws that I could. Here are some photos documenting my progress:
We had two plans for that lumber:
The deck plan itself was mapped out on a self-made blueprint. I documented all measurements I could decipher, using the drawings to help visualize the size and configuration of each section.. Here are photos of the original blueprint:
Have you ever power-augured before? If no, don’t. Once the land in the backyard was cleared out, I rented a 2-man, gas-powered auger for Pete and I to use together. The holes had to be 48″ deep. I don’t even want to spend time writing about it because we both agree that it was so heavy, grueling, humid, and overall torturous, that it’s hard to re-live. So bad, in fact, that at one point, we brought in a car jack to help us get the machinery out of the earth, and I almost went to find neighbors who could help us out. We did it ourselves (and have new, never-before-seen muscles), but if I ever have to do it again, I’m paying someone, and I would recommend you do the same.
In any case, here’s what we ended up with after auguring:
The depth of the holes was approved by the city inspector, and we were permitted to proceed with next steps. A cement base beneath the frost line, followed by 4×4 posts went in over the next couple of days. Pete’s (legit) biggest concerns involved keeping the posts perfectly squared in the earth, and making sure we included ENOUGH posts/enough girders (since the last things we wanted was a deck that would begin to sag or bounce after a year). Everything worked out well (and we found that we actually augured more holes than we needed, god help me). I was even able to reuse two posts that were near the sliding glass door, basically planning for the new landing to replace the same space that the old landing was. Once the posts were in, we were excited to see the structure of the deck really started to take form. Girders went up with relative ease (and yes, they were level, and FYI, we used 2×10 beams), and the joists (2×8’ers) fell right into place with the help of hurricane brackets. This was thrilling.
Somehow we figured out how to do two levels of stairs – the first, from the doorways down to the main deck area, and then again from that main deck area to the ground. Success is attributed to lots and lots of measuring, and drawing different viewpoints on the blueprint I mentioned earlier.
Throughout the whole process to this point, we guessed at the sizes and quantities of materials, but diligently returned ALL extras (every extra box of nails, every extra hurricane, bolt, nut, and washer). There were times I would load 5 unused girders into the car and come home with 8 extra joists – it worked out very well, and we ended up with NO scraps.
The floorboards took a little bit of extra thinking – we ended up using a pattern of 11′ and 6′ 5/4×6 floorboards to get the job done. We alternated lengths interchangeably, so it looks like a perfectly natural surface (the plan originally had been to use all 16′ boards on a 16′ surface, but the deck ended up being 17′ wide… whoops… so we had to rethink that plan).
We had a little photo shoot part way into having the floorboards done, realizing that we hadn’t done a great job recording our progress:
Instead of using 5/4×6 boards as stairs, I upgraded to 2×6 boards. So far, no complaints – they feel stronger as a step than the floorboards did. Steps were designed to go around two of the sides of the deck (the third side, just a 18″ drop down to a cushy bed of transplanted Packasandra. The biggest issue we encountered with the stairs was the need to raise/re-grade the area leading up to the steps – I spent a long morning re-edging my gardens in order to produce enough spare soil to act as a base for the stringers.
Once the steps were all in place, we found a local person on Craigslist who was giving away spare soil – we needed a LOT to regrade the whole backyard to match up to the base of the deck, attempting to make the step from the lowest step into the grass minimal. Consequently, we spent all of Labor Day weekend hauling at least 10 Jeep loads of soil in buckets (we calculated 1,000 lbs per trip) to my backyard, and grading and tamping it into the vacant areas of the yard. Like post-hole-digging with a power-augur, this is another thing neither of us care to re-live, even though I appreciated not having to pay for soil.
While the grass was growing, we also began working on the pergolas. The added structures were required because I inherently knew that I would never pass final inspection without handrails by each doorway. Instead of adding basic railings to the side of the house, I thought bigger, I thought trellis, I thought beautiful pergola (the adventures of our construction, documented here). Pergola pictures of our work-in progress are posted, but final photos are to come:
In the end, what a incredible learning experience and beautiful final product.