Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Two Level Deck by Necessity

I have to catch up to where I am on this deck. My wife and I had on old crappy patio off of our front door. It may have looked great at one point, but it had since heaved and turned into an ugly mess. We decided to build a deck over it, since a deck on proper footings shouldn't get out of level, and even if it does, at least it'll all be at the same out of level.

Our requirements for this deck were fairly simple. The location is in an inside corner of the front of our house.

  • We wanted the deck to extend to the end of each wall that made the inside corner. This ends up making it about 10'x22'.
  • We decided that a diagonal pattern looks good coming away from the corner, making a number of triangles with the house walls.
  • Wraparound stairs are ideal, as this is a deck no higher than 24" and we didn't want railing. It also just looks cooler.
We quickly tore up the old patio blocks and landscaping timbers to start the process. Our old steps to the door of the house were wood, so we figured we'd just tear those up as well. After that, it was on to designing the deck.

I used Lowe's, Home Depot's, and Menard's deck building tools, and found Home Depot's BigHammer tool to be the easiest to use. I ignored the result of the cost, since I'd be buying the wood cheaper than Home Depot sold it. I added a little notch in the very inside corning where my gas meter and line come into the house. It all looked very nice. I decided to do a ledger board against each wall of the house and concrete footings on the other end of the deck. I would have done a floating deck, but I wanted the deck to be solid and not affected by the frost in the winter. I went to the local permit office to submit the plans, and out of curiosity, asked if I could have done a floating deck, to which the answer was no. Since the deck is off of the main entrance to the house, I was required by code to have it attached to ledgers and set on 42" deep concrete footings.

I set a date on a weekend for my carpenter father to come out and help me get started. Before that, though, my wife and I tore up the wooden entry stairs. Underneath, where I expected to find framing, I found concrete steps. I had no idea how I was going to work around these and started to get a little cranky. My wife Cassie knows all to well how I get sometimes when things don't go as planned and I can't think of a solution. Fortunately, when my dad came by, he had his circular saw and a concrete blade. We cut one big line through those steps, bought an eight-pound hammer, and started hacking. Wear gloves for that part if you ever need to do it, although those will probably not entirely prevent the blisters. It also would have been a very good idea to take off my wedding ring, as I had some sizable blisters on either side of it after I was done. After a few hours of fun, the steps were gone.

The previous owners had also poured some concrete to fill an old whole into the basement of our house. Our house was built in 1880, and there was some black residue left on the inside of the basement wall, so my dad suggested that this was probably a coal chute. at one point, and the coal would have been shoveled into the brick fireplace (also filled in) next the chute. That was low enough that we just left if there, as the deck would cover it right up. We planned to notch the ledger board around it and under the water spigot above it. When we peeled off the siding, however, we found that the house rim was not at the same level off the front entry as it was off the living room and office.

We first planned on using concrete anchors and keeping the deck all one level. this forced us down even lower though, to where the coal chute actually did give us some issues. Therefore, to simplify the entire project, we just decided to make the deck two separate sections, one about four inches higher than the other. This enabled us to attach the ledger to the house rim everywhere using standard lag screws instead of concrete anchors. It also made it so that the longest framing member I needed was 12' instead of 20-22' as I previously needed. I still planned on doing diagonals though, and that required 16' decking boards, too long to fit in the back of my dad's van.

My dad left, and we later decided that to simplify everything, we'd just to decking boards parallel to the door. Our longest decking board was 12', and this made everything cheaper and easier. I still wanted to get started before the next time my dad was available, and I didn't want him to have to put off paying work to help me with my deck, so we order the lumber for delivery. This is generally frowned upon practice, since the lumber should be picked through to find the best pieces, but it's a deck, subject to the elements, and I figured it'd end up fine. I was very pleased when I sorted though the delivered lumber and found it to be mostly satisfactory. There were a few decking boards that were bowed, but the deck screws will take care of that.

I needed to dig and pour footings, which I did with a post hole digger from home depot. I didn't spring for the fancy fiberglass handled one, since I hope not to dig many more posts. I dug four posts in all, one of which had a large rock in it which I could not extract, but the inspector confirmed that it was low enough to just pour over. I loaded up 8 80-pound bags of concrete into my '97 Saturn SL2, enough for two holes, and drove it home. Cassie mostly mixed the first two holes worth of concrete in our wheelbarrow using a metal rake. She was very good at this, so maybe working with concrete is in here genes, as her father does stucco work for a living. We poured it in and pushed the bolts for the footings into the wet concrete. The next day we did it again with the other two holes. We had to load up 8 more 80-pound bags into the Saturn. We couldn't do it in one trip, since 1280 pounds would have been too much for the car. 640 pounds made the Red Rocket look like the my old Taurus with shot suspension (though I still loved that old "Green Bastard.") I mixed up the concrete this time around, and it didn't quite tun out as well as Cassie's, but it was fine.

The next step was to cut the 4x4 posts to set on the footings. I put the 8 foot post into the first Simpson Strongtie post-to-base connector and hung a 2x6 joist from the joist hanger opposite the post. Making sure the joist was level, I marked a line on the post where the bottom of the joist met it. I had to measure 7.5" down from that to account for the beam. I used a square to mark a straight line and cut if there. The only mistake I made here was that I once cut the line where the joist met the beam instead of 7.5" inches down, but that was easily fixed. Four of those and that was done.

Now onto the beams. I needed a 10 foot beam for the higher part of the deck and a 12 foot beam for the lower part. I used 2-2x8s nailed together, three 16d nails every 16 inches, on each side. Hopefully that's overkill. Then I just set them into a post-to-beam connector from Simpson Strongtie. They're the only brand the Depot has, and Menards only has USP, but surprisingly little is rated for treated lumber.

For the joists, the raised section of the deck went smoothly. I used 10d nails to get them into the hangers, and 16d nails at an angle from the joist into the beam on either side of the joist, referred to as toe-nailing. The lower section of the deck has a ledger board which sat at an angle like this / instead of this |. I had to cut off the ends of the joists at the proper angle so they would sit level against the house.

I needed to attach the 2x6 rim joist on the end opposite the door, but I also wanted stair stringers every 16 inches. I figured I'd save some nails and use 4 16d from the rim into the end of the joist, 3 of which actually held the stringer connector in place as well. I finished out the stringer connectors with 5 1.5" joist nails each into the rim joist. On the side of the deck where the rim joist was just an end joist, I used leftover material to add bracing behind each stringer connector.

Cutting the stringer was a huge pain in the ass. I used a deck stair calculator (google it, I used several). These don't tell you exactly how to draw them on, but I figured it out after staring at the 2x12 long enough. I drew a temporary line with the square on the board where the rise was 6.5" and the run was 10." I then shifted the square at that angle until I got the end of the board, measuring the top run at 10" from the end of the board. I did stringers that were flush with the framing, since I only used 2x6 rim joists, and I'd have to do some extra work to drop the top step down. We set the bottom of the stringers on the patio blocks that made up our old patio, but we need to level them out and fill around them with dirt so that they don't add to the height of the bottom riser.

And that's where we are now. I'm getting the framing inspected tomorrow, which is necessary because the deck is too low to be able to see under when finished, and it'll have wraparound stairs anyway, so we can't see under them. I hope that goes well, and if it does, we'll throw on the decking Thursday and Friday, maybe into Saturday, and stain over the weekend.

Here's a pic without the stringers near the driveway.

Something about this really makes that porch look crooked too, which it is slightly, but not as bad as it looks. the old owners left us that sheet too, so we threw it on the deck so we could temporarily get into the house easier (and so Cassie could tan). 

Here's another picture without the stringers for fun.

And another in progress picture.

Well that was a long post. Thanks for reading and check back later for more progress later!

If you are looking for art to hang up in your residence or to give as a gift to that special person, check out my wife's Etsy page at etsy.com/shop/ArtistiCass. They're priced way too low for original oil paintings of that quality, so get them before I convince her that!

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