Rebuilding the Deck

This year it was decided to embark on the ultimate renovation project…rebuilding the entire deck off the back of the house.  It was getting quite rotten in spots and after we tore it down, you can see it was even more rotten in other spots!  Here’s some photos documenting what was done so far.

July 8 – The deck as it was.

July 8 – The first day of tear down.  I think I made the mistake of taking up each board carefully and taking out/hammering each screw so that Sierra wouldn’t hurt herself on them.  It took me the entire day to get 75% of the ground level deck torn apart this way.  The next time I went to tear down the rest of the deck, I decided to take the faster method.


July 26 – Check out the rot under these boards!  I saw a few carpenter ants crawl out of there at the same time.  I think it’s very odd that this section had so much rot considering how much airflow it is getting.  I’m assuming it has to do with the deck being 15+ years old, me not sealing it every year, and ants.

July 28 – The old ledger board.  After some thinking, I decided to build a free floating deck in Version 2.0 of the deck so I took this ledger board off.  (Update November 7 – Vero’s Dad convinced me otherwise and we put a new ledger board back on.)

July 29 – The deck next to the hot tub.

July 31 – Vero tearing it up!

July 31 – Know how I was mentioning how I would find a quicker method to tear down the deck?  Yeah…this is quite the large woodpile that has accumulated next to the firepit.  Sierra doesn’t play in the back yard much any more unless under direct supervision away from this pile.  For the first few weeks of garbage collection, I had sawed them up into manageable pieces and left about 20 pieces each week.  However, a month later, I received a notice saying they aren’t going to take any more pieces due to it not being bundled and there are nails/screws sticking out of them.  I can’t blame them. 

July 31 – A diagram of the proposed deck.  There isn’t much changing other than we are extending the ground level portion for an eventual gazebo.

August 1 – Vero and I took the week off to work on the deck and left Sierra at daycare.  Muscles Palmer hard at work!

August 1 – Instead of pouring concrete footings, we decided to try out these screws that you put in deep enough to go past the frost line.  The only issue that we might encounter with these is the potential to hit a rock on the way down.  If you do that, you’re screwed.  So we pound a four foot piece of rebar into the spot first and if we found a spot which was too rocky, we just tried another spot a foot away.  Actually, I can’t remember having to change the spot too much.  Overall, it was a pleasant experience other than me smashing my finger between the rebar and the sledgehammer.  Ouch!  These screws will hold the posts that will hold the beams for the upper portion of the deck.  We figured we would put these in before we started the ground level portion.

August 2 – For the ground level, we decided to use deck blocks.  Still not sure if this was the best idea, but  didn’t want the deck to go past the bathroom window (seen here in the photo).  So we basically had six inches to play with which kind of eliminates the option of putting cantilever beams into the design.  So deck blocks is it.  Time will tell if it’s a pain to level these suckers out.  Here is Vero putting down the sheet to help with eventual weeds.  (Update November 7 – Still don’t know if the deck blocks will be great in the end, but we did have to build out the frame more so that the deck blocks don’t stick out as much.)

August 2 – Muscles Palmer makes another appearance!

August 2 – The screws after they were all put in place for the posts.  (Update as of November 7th- Turns out we didn’t use the three closest to the house…so Dad ended up unscrewing two of them to take back home to use on the carport!  He said they unscrewed quite easily.)

August 13 – Working on the deck hit a few snags with a bout of the flu running through the house and then we decided to redesign a few elements of the ground level deck.  Originally we were going to build a giant rectangle about 12 feet wide but then Vero pointed out that it would be smarter to go a full 16 feet long.  With that idea in mind, I needed to figure out how to get 16 foot long 2×6’s back home.  Rob’s truck was up to the task with a lot of straps!  Check out that overhang!  That thing was surprisingly solid.  (Update November 7 – It would have been good to know that Rona in Embrun delivers lumbers at $20 a delivery!  I found that out later on in the project).

August 19 – My setup in the garage to create the rim joist.  Let it be known that Mike’s framing nailer is the greatest invention known to man!!

August 19 – Setting up the frame.  I was on a roll this day.  I was super excited by how well everything was working.  Let me put something into context…while I feel I’m a handy guy, I also have trouble doing things for the first time without some guidance.  There’s a ALOT of information on the internet to keep track of and sometimes it becomes a black hole of information.  That being said, after Vero saw the frame, she said “Nice frame.  So…why is it a full 16 feet long when we said we would make it 15 feet 2 inches?”  OH MAN!  I totally forgot about that.  I was pretty upset so I left the project for the day.  The next day I sawed off the joist and rebuilt the thing.  What a pain!  (Update November 7 – making the frame 15’2″ was a very smart idea in the end.  When we extended the frame to hide the deck blocks, we could still use the 16 foot deck board on both ends.  We would not have been able to do that if we had made the frame closer to 16 feet.)

August 26 – All was going good on a Saturday morning!  I was excited that it was a beautiful day out and the frame was looking to be quite level.  I was just making an adjustment to one last post and in the middle of my cut the blade on my mitre saw stops working.  I look up and there is smoke billowing out of the motor and there is this horrid burning smell!  I quickly look at my piece of wood wondering if that was what was burning, but nope.  It was the motor on the mitre saw.  AW MAN COME ON!  This project is definitely cursed.  Well, the mitre saw gave me a good life over the years of many renovation projects.  The rest of Saturday was spent going out and picking up a new saw.  LUCKILY Canadian Tire had a 40% off sale this week on a saw I couldn’t pass up.  Sure, Dewalt and Bosch are nice, but I wasn’t going to spend $700 on one when I could get one for $400 and would work well for me (fingers crossed!).  I set the saw up while Sierra slept on Saturday night.  I have to say there are quite some interesting improvements on the saw…it has dual bevel which I have always wanted when working with trim.  It also has less of a footprint in the back of the saw which means I can move it closer to the wall.  This is handy for when I park the two cars in the garage in the winter.

September 9 – The first ten foot section is nearly built.  I made some errors along the way that I will learn from.  Example: don’t bother cutting all your joists ahead of time, because they will come up short.  Also, I built it in a U-shape and then added joists and THEN added the rim joist to complete the frame.  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  Next time, build the outside rim joists completely and put a center joist and then add joists from that.  Also, we spent WAY too much time making sure the thing was perfectly level all the way along.  We should have got the joists in and then worked at leveling the thing with the deck blocks.  In the end, I would cut posts to put into the deck blocks (for the frame to rest upon) and later on in the process the frame would raise somewhere and I would need to redo some posts.

My helper.

September 17 – While the first ten foot section took a month to build, the second one took a weekend to finish!  We were stoked!  It helped that our neighbour Claude came over one afternoon to lend a hand.  He had some experience and passed along a few tips and also reassured us on a few things that I would have spent an hour fussing over wasn’t that big of a deal in the end.  I feel we are on a streak…it’s been incredible weather here in September…maybe a little too hot with days feeling like 40 degrees with the humidex!  But we haven’t seen a day of rain to hold us up in close to two weeks now.  The wood pile is slowly going down which is great to see as well!

September 20 – Here’s a tip.  When you go to Rona to pick up $500 in supplies, make sure you check to see if they will be having a tax-free weekend BEFORE you pick up the supplies.  I was at the cash after putting in my lumber order and sifting through the aisles of deck hardware and I spied a flyer on the counter just as I was putting my Visa down.  “Is that tax free weekend for this upcoming weekend?”  “Why yes sir.  Oh, I suppose I should have told you that beforehand.”  I returned everything to the shelves and decided to come back on the weekend to save a few bucks.

September 22 – My friend Claude (not neighbour Claude) graciously came over on Saturday to help out.  I went to Rona to pick up supplies and we settled in for hot work day.  Luckily we had shade for most of the day.  I’m not sure if it helped that we had a roaring fire next to us which increased the temperature by 20 degrees.  🙂  We were tackling the hot tub deck and I would say that for the most part, we didn’t run into many major issues.  Vero did note that we were smart to put the rim joist with the nail heads on it facing inwards so we don’t see them on the outside.  Yes….we were smart, or lucky on that one.  Honestly, I didn’t even think of that and I realized that we didn’t do it for two of the other sides so we’ll have to come up with some creative solution to make it look nicer.  Something to keep in mind for the next deck.  I’m pretty sure without Claude there it would have took a month to build that deck, but he was a great guide in squaring things up with posts, 2×4 and whatever else we could use to help us on our quest to make a square deck.  I was pretty excited after our successful day.

Always appreciated when my mentor in life can come and show me how things are done!  Note that the only time he had a hammer in hand was for this photo.  

September 23 – All that was left to do on Sunday was to put a couple of beams in and lay some joists.  I have to say it’s way easier to build a deck with beams instead of a ground level deck where you have to hold the joists in place.  With a beam, you just set the joists on top of them and they are like an extra set of hands.  Vero and I were blessed with a napping baby in the morning so we managed to put in two beams using deck blocks and these adjustable pylex…thingies.  What’s the term for them?  Brackets?  We didn’t even need to cut any posts because there were only three inches in between the pylex bracket and the beam. 

Vero adjusting the beams.

After lunch, Duncan showed up to lend a hand and we put in the rest of the joists.  I started running out of nails at this point not realizing how many nails 2×10 joist hangers take so we ran into Rona to pick up some lumber and supplies for the upcoming week, while saving on the tax free weekend once again!  There are some 12 foot deck boards I’m eyeing up currently as they are 50% off.  I’m not really ready to put deck boards in so I’m not sure if I would be jumping the gun just to save a few bucks.

Duncan lent his construction expertise to the project.  He’s currently working under downtown on the Light Rail Tunnels for the O-Train.  Awesome!

It’s definitely been another productive weekend.  Vero’s parents are coming up in two weeks so hopefully we can finish up the upper patio door level deck when they come up.  That will be the tricky one as there are some angles involved.


October 7The cavalry arrived in the form of Gaetan and Danielle.  They came down for Thanksgiving weekend and it was a good time to tackle the toughest part of the project; the upper deck with multiple angles.  I picked up all the lumber we needed on a stormy night at Home Depot (because Rona closes at 6PM in Embrun!).  I had to make three trips into the store as I was running solo, but the lumber was solid and made it home safely.  (Update November 7 – Yet again, I wished I would have known about the $20 delivery charge ahead of time!)

Gaetan making sure everything lined up.

Honestly, I thought the upper deck would take the entire weekend but I was surprised to see that we finished it on the Friday!

She’s a beaut!

That left Saturday for us to finish up the rest of the frame next to the hot tub as well as finish up all around.  It was quite the rainy day but it didn’t matter…the end was in sight!

That’s a long deck you have.

Around the air conditioner.

Foreman Sierra coming to inspect the work.

October 14 & 15 – We spent the weekend putting some finishing touches on the frame to get it ready for the deck boards.  I put some iceguard paper on the hot tub deck and I’m not entirely convinced that it will be a benefit.  I think I’ll just keep it on the hot tub deck and leave it off the other decks and use it as a science experiment to see if it made much of a difference to guard the joists from water damage.  Vero spent the Sunday putting in blocking on the lower deck. 

It took many months but Phase I of the project is pretty well done!  The frame is built and next up is figuring out what guard rails to install and then put the deck boards on.  That’s another design challenge that we didn’t spend too much time thinking about.  We do have an issue where the ground level deck has one side where it’s a foot long drop to the ground and the other side is a two foot drop.  We were originally hoping to put a step around but we’re not sure if that’s possible considering the difference in height from one side to another.  We’ll have to figure that one out!

The race was on to see who could put the most screws in the fastest.

Working hard before the snow hits

November 7 – Well, I would say we are pretty done Phase 2 of the project which was to make sure we could get to the hot tub before the winter.  Mom and Dad came up last week and we spent the week doing what we could.  We put down boards on all decks while figuring out how to build the stairs.  I had put posts up the week before the arrived.  We are really happy with how it stands as of writing this on November 7th.  It could snow tomorrow and we would be satisfied.  We still have a few boards to put down but we are talking about a dozen boards.  In the spring it will be time to move to Phase 3 of the project which are all the finishing touches.  The guardrails, the fascia, the lattice, the step down to the lawn.  A lot more work to be done in the spring but at least the majority is done! 

November 11 – The final day of the year to work on the deck boards.  Considering some snow had fallen it was time to get as many down as I possibly could!  Man, it was cold working and cutting the pieces and I ended up having two non-square ends of the deck.  Ah well, a problem for next year!

My little helper

I remember this morning to be quite cold and I had to crawl under the upper deck to screw in boards on the lower deck.  At least I got a new parka to keep me warm!

By the end of Phase 2, I calculated the charges to our credit card to be around $6,331.

April – Well, the winter wasn’t too hard on the deck, but it wasn’t kind either.  I was sitting in the hot tub one night and while looking the upper deck, I realized that it had heaved upwards quite a bit near the step going from the upper to the hot tub deck.  Hmm…not sure what is going on there.  After the spring thaw came, it went back down into place so I’m not sure if either a) we didn’t put long enough Pylex screws down…we put four foot screws and I found out from Marty that the frost line around Ottawa is six feet.  So that could be the issue and may come back next winter as well b) I see that the upper deck is screwed into the lower deck.  I’m wondering if there is a problem with attaching non-floating decks with floating decks.  I mean…one of them is supposed to float so in theory if one floats up, it would push the other one up at the same time?  Something to ponder over a beer.

Note how one deck is attached to the lower deck

May – May meant that Sierra’s birthday was approaching fast so it was time to try and make the deck relatively safe.  The first mission was to figure out how to put boards down on the two ends where the frame wasn’t square.

Who will ever notice?  Probably Dad.

Essentially this all boiled down to a lot of patience and thinking on how to cut a deck board on an angle.  In the end, we succeeded on both fronts and I have to say we are happy with the results.  Hey, are we perfect?  Heck no.  But did we do the best we could do with the knowledge we had?  Yes sir, we did and we did a good job at it.  So, the frame isn’t square which means a deck board had to be cut on an angle.  I won’t be staring at it when a beer is going down my throat.

My favourite part about cutting this board was that we spent a lot of time marking a chalk line and cutting it carefully (sidenote: I had to return the Mastercraft skillsaw last year.  It didn’t even last the season.  This was the first time I was disappointed in a Mastercraft product.  I ended up buying a Dewalt skillsaw and have no complaints so far) but when we put the piece into the empty spot, it was cut too much!  I was cursing and staring at it for awhile wondering how I could go wrong.  I could sense Vero’s disappointment on the back of my neck.  After 15 minutes I figured I would remeasure everything and go and cut a new piece. It wasn’t until I returned to the sawhorses that I realized that when you cut a board in two pieces, you should take the proper piece back with you!  Ha ha.  I had a good laugh at myself after I put the other piece into the empty spot and it fit like a glove.

It’s all about the angles

The other end of the frame had a different issue.  We didn’t have to cut a deck board on an angle, but we needed to make sure the frame didn’t stick out from underneath it.  This involved cutting a 4×4 on an angle so it tapered off at one end.  This was an interesting exercise in cutting two separate 4x4s and making sure they aligned.  It was tough but it did the job.  I think we are realizing that carpentry doesn’t have to be an exact science (but that doesn’t stop us from trying!)

Vero making sure the cut ends were properly treated.

May 18 – Vero’s parents had a few days to spare before heading to Spain so we managed to put up all the rails on the upper and hot tub deck in one day!  We were quite excited!  It’s amazing what four people can accomplish once they have a system in place.  It did take Vero and I a bit of extra time to figure out what to do with the rails on the stair handrail but after a few hours (and the help of Elise babysitting Sierra for the morning), it was done!

Boy, a deck sure looks nice before it turns grey!

I think we’ve purchased everything that needs to be purchased at this point so the revised total for the cost of the deck is $7,842.  However, we haven’t even thought of what type of lighting we will add onto the deck.  I’m not even sure if we should include that in the costs of an actual deck construction.  We do have to purchase some fascia and lattice for around the deck so I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up around our budget of $10,000.  Let’s be honest here folks…we didn’t really have a budget…we were just hoping it would come out to around $10K!

At this point, I have to say that I’m not sure if I we would ever undertake a project as large as this ever again on our own.  We were definitely burnt out by the time the winter hit and we both weren’t looking forward to starting up work again.  Our spirits are definitely up after the successful weekend of installing the rails though and at the time of writing this, we know that my parents are coming up in June which will probably finish up the bottom steps and the rest of the rails and we can sit and think about the lighting options and the fascia/lattice.

Another note…it took way too long to cut and burn the old deck boards.  We ended up renting a UHaul trailer for $40 and went to the Limoges Dump for $70.  We should have done that at the end of the year last year instead of having a pile of wood just sitting there all summer!

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