Monday, January 13, 2014

Deck #2

As stated in the previous post, this series of posts is working backwards, from most recent jobs to ones farther back in time, so this isn't the second deck we built, but rather the second to the last one we built.

It is also the other half of the project shown in the previous post, but on the opposite side of the sun room mentioned in the post prior to that.

This smaller deck was in really sad shape, with stair stringers rotting out, a poor, above-ground block footing which was sagging, and a tree too close, creating even more moisture to help the rotting process. Where it was anchored to the house, no flashing was used behind it, and it was starting to cause damage to the sill of the house, plus it was only nails and deck screws holding it up. 

Below, you can see some of the rot as we took it apart.

You can see in the picture below how it was starting to rot out the siding. The only way to fix this was to extend the new deck far enough to be able to cut out and/or repair this portion.

To repair this section we again had to cover the entire sill with flashing and wrap it around the corner.

Where the bad siding had to be cut away, we had to fabricate the flashing to go around the edge of the good part to protect it.

There was a total of three small trees, two of which probably came up wild, but only the bigger one had to be removed. We anchored the back end of a 2-ton hand winch to one of the larger trees near the fence line and literally winched this third tree out of the ground...roots and all.

With the larger of the three trees out of the way, it was beginning to look better already. The other two may have to come out eventually, if they get too big, but for now, they provide some shade and a better visual appearance to the entire scene.

The new deck was designed so that the new stairs would extend to exactly where they needed to go, on the end of the existing slab of concrete, saving us from having to pour a whole new slab. The corner post was positioned the same way as the ones on the previous deck, with laser accuracy for centering, and dug to about 20 inches deep. The post anchor was set over an imbedded foundation bolt and then the new post was anchored to the new post base. The other two baluster posts were bolted into the deck and the outer stair stringer, with plenty of cross-blocking behind it to keep it straight.

As mentioned in the previous post about the larger deck, the stairs and railings were installed using those same methods.

For those astute enough to wonder about how I do my top steps, I do not lean the stringers against the front joist as most builders do. That requires the top step to stick out beyond the deck and makes for an unsightly installation, as well as making it more difficult to match the railing to it. To do it right, it would require an additional baluster post at the front of the top step as well as the one in the corner of the deck. That just makes more work and expense.

Instead, I attach the stringers to the back side of that front joist, and the underside of the deck. Each stringer is lapped across extra bridging pieces, and bolted in from the sides, or else leaned against other bridging pieces (depending on which way the joists run) making them impossible to ever come loose. That way, the first step is the "real" first step down, and only one baluster post is required to match up the railing properly.

As with the other deck on the opposite side of the sun room, the deck boards were installed at 45 degrees, except these were run the opposite direction of the ones on the other side.

As always, every joint is properly mitered to fit the exact angle needed, whether it be around a corner or downhill at the railing. Joists were covered with special tape before the deck boards were installed, and post tops were covered with tape before attaching the top rails. Railing spacing is per code as mentioned in the previous post.

In addition to everything mentioned before, even hand rails have a code of their own, which requires them to be no less than 2-1/2 inches wide, with 2-inches clearance behind them (so you don't get your fingers caught while ascending or descending the stairs). In other words, they must be "grippable" their entire length, so you can wrap your fingers around them, and they have to be a certain height from the front of the stair treads. Using the same 2 x 8 as a continuation of the top rail of the deck does meet the code for hand rails!

For further information on how to properly build a deck as we do, read the post before this one, as well as follow up with any future posts. And if you have any questions, please leave me a comment and I will answer as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you were able to gather useful information.

Deck #1

For lack of a better name we'll just call this deck #1, but that number is actually in reverse, as this is one of the last decks we built...not the first. It was actually part of a pair of decks on the same house, but on opposite sides of the sun room mentioned in the previous post. At some points, work was happening on both decks at the same time, but to spread things out, we'll discuss the larger deck first.

To begin, this job was supposed to have been started earlier in the summer, before the heat arrived. But we were so busy with previously scheduled work that we couldn't get to it until July, and by then the temperature was in the upper nineties, and it felt as though the humidity was, too.

The supply truck dropped off the load in the driveway, and around here, nothing is ever easy. Very few houses in this area, especially around the lakes, have direct access to the back yard, where most decks are built. Therefore, it is necessary to hand-carry everything around to the back of the 90+ degree heat.

And if that weren't enough, the material NEVER comes stacked in the order in which you are going to use it. The largest planks, for the joists, always seem to be on the bottom.

The area for the new deck was an odd shape. It was fairly square from the room extension on the left, up to just past the patio light. From there, it angled back about 20 degrees, over about 4-feet, and then followed the angle of the sun room. You'll notice, that we hadn't yet installed the new windows in the sun room, but those were discussed in the last post. A piece of siding had already been replaced by the owner, and this is where we started removing the sill fascia board to expose the sill behind it, to make sure there wasn't any hidden damage there.

The new deck had to be designed in such a way as to meet all the unusual angles, and end up with a stairway coming down onto the flagstone patio shown in the picture above.

Before we begin to build any attached deck, the preparation work has to be done...something that many amateur builders never think about. The very first thing is to protect the sill of the house, which requires that flashing be installed against the sill, extending up under the siding at least two inches, and extending down over the sill at least an inch. A ledger should NEVER Be installed over the fascia board!

Where there was an access door, the flashing had to be trimmed around and over it to allow drainage. Any seams where the flashing ends overlapped were covered with a special rubberized tape that will never dry out or let loose. The yellow wire was our extension cord, which was plugged into an outlet in the crawl space. 

After the sill was protected properly, we attached the ledger boards. And as per code, they are attached with TWO 1/2-inch lag bolts for every linear foot of ledger. To avoid conflicts with the joists, we marked the joist locations out ahead of time, and then installed the ledger bolts between the marks. 

We have seen so many decks installed improperly, some with only deck screws holding the ledgers in place...even on balcony decks...where if it ever let loose, people would be seriously injured. Please pay attention: deck screws only have a sheer strength of approximately 125 pounds. By the time you add the weight of the deck, and then figure the maximum number of people who could potentially be on that deck at one time, there is NO WAY that deck screws are going to hold all that weight!

Not only are such building practices ignorant and irresponsible, but the contractors who build such things could never survive the potential lawsuits over injuries resulting from such ignorance! Not only the contractor but the homeowner as well, could get sued by his guests over such an accident!

Our decks were designed according the the standard building codes, and even beyond! We always figured the maximum load that could be on them, and built them accordingly. Things like holiday parties, graduation parties and other things can add tremendous strain to decks. Imagine a graduation party with 30 kids out there dancing on your deck, bouncing up and down with forces far beyond just dead weight! Could your deck withstand that? Think about it!

Code also says that the frost line in this part of the country is 19 inches deep. and yet I see decks built time after time on nothing more than temporary pier blocks, like little pyramids. Ground shifts even when it isn't frozen, and before long those temporary blocks are going to move, and cause the deck supports to become out of alignment and become unsafe to hold their rated weight, or even to pull away from the building.

Our building policies have always been that anything attached to a structure should be built with the same methods (or better) than the structure itself! That means properly sized footings to support the weight of the deck and it's potential occupants. We used 12-inch diameter Sonotube forms dug to the required depth to meet or exceed code. 

All forms are laid out with either string lines or a laser, and centers are within a quarter-inch of being "dead-on" with the centers of the support posts to be installed. During the pouring of the concrete, we install L-shaped foundation anchor bolts into the concrete at the center point. The concrete is built up slightly (about a half-inch) in the center to allow for rain to drain off, while the edges are always kept to ground level to allow easy mowing over them, so that no extra trimming needs to be done. When ready, we attached heavy galvanized commercial post bases to the bolts, which serve the purpose of holding the bottom of the posts to the concrete footing, as well as to allow water to drain away from the bottom of the post rather than wick up into the grain. This greatly extends the life of the support posts.

A curious thing happens to large flat expanses of building materials, something which few builders think about. They often design decks, carport roofs and other structures to support the weight that will be "on" it, and yet they forget about the affects of winds coming up underneath it. We have seen first-hand many patio and carport roofs, as well as some decks that were caught in tornadic winds, and flipped up over the structure to which they were attached, simply because the builder forgot to anchor them down!

In this part of the country we are subject to tornadoes. In other parts of the country it can be straight line winds. It is a statistical fact that most people are killed or injured by flying debris. We can't stop all of it, but by building according to standard building codes, it can stop "some" of it. The less that comes loose, the safer our customers will be.

Once we start framing, we will often use a double outer joist as shown in the next picture, with not just two, but FOUR bolts anchoring them to the support posts. Think about it: if a ledger requires two bolts every two feet, why would an outer joist be expected to get by with only two bolts for up to eight feet of length? It's mathematically impossible! On the other hand, you just don't have enough room for that many bolts on a 4-inch that's why we double up where we can!

Joists are sized according to standard building code for the type pf wood was well as the span between supports. Different woods have different strength characteristics and all this information can be found in many building manuals as well as online. All it takes is looking for it and reading it.

Joists are then anchored with galvanized joist hangers of the proper size and with the proper fasteners...or when that isn't possible, with coated deck screws placed every two inches of joist height, from both sides of the joists. And just as importantly, we covered the tops of ALL horizontal surfaces with the same special tape that we applied to the flashing. This assures that any water that "wicks" in between the deck boards and the joists will not just set there and rot the joists, but drain off. Deck boards can easily be replaced, but if joists go bad, it usually requires a whole new deck. With our system, you can change deck boards several times before the joists themselves would go bad, thereby extending the life of the deck to as much as 50 years or more.   

Even the tops of posts are covered with the special tape, especially where top rails have to be joined, so that no water can seep down into the grain and rot the post.

Bridging (the braces installed between joists to prevent warping) are also installed when the span requires it (again by code) and those pieces are also covered with the special tape.

As always, angles are measured accurately (to within half a degree) and pieces cut to exact angles to fit with the structure to which they are attached. Shown below is the junction where the main frame has to change directions and become flush with the front of the sun room.

On this deck, the stairway had to be recessed into the deck so that it would come out at the right place on the flagstone patio below. But we did not rely on the flagstone to support the stairs. We always poured a flat slab of concrete at the bottom of our stairs for the bottom of the stringers to set on. Also, on anything over 3-feet wide, we always used three stringers for extra strength...not just two. All of our stairs were engineered so that no riser was more than 7-inches in height, nor the tread any less than 11-1/4-inches deep, and with equal spacing from the first step to the last.

Railings were always custom cut to fit the exact dimensions and angles required, while maintaining the spacing required by code for safety. Any deck surface that is more than 30-inches above grade at any point requires a railing, and that railing must be such that a round sphere of 4-inches in diameter cannot pass through it or under it, nor a sphere of 6-inches in diameter fit through the railing at the corners of the stair risers and treads. Too many small children and animals have been killed or injured because of thoughtless people ignoring these rules!

Although there are many styles for railings, they should all look professional, with properly measured and mitered corners. In this case, the customer wanted a railing that was wide enough to set drinks or plates on, for when they entertain, so we used 2 x 8's for the top rail.

All wood on a deck should be installed with the crown up. The crown is the "high point" of the board when laying flat. If you look at the end grain, and it looks like a frown, then you have the board right. If it looks like a smile, that is wrong, as the board can warp with a low center and trap rainwater on it, rather than draining it away. We often run across boards that are cut from near the center of a tree and the grain changes direction from one end to another. If that happens, we try to use the board where it can be cut to shorter lengths, so the grain can be turned the proper direction.

Spacers should always be used under the center of any section of railing over 6-feet. Besides normal sag from the weight of the railing, you never know who might decide to sit on the railing. Without proper support it can stretch the ends away from the posts and cause it to give way and possibly injure someone.

In the case of these decks, the owner wanted the boards in something other than the usual "right-angle" design, so we installed the boards at a 45 degree angle, which adds extra visual interest to the looks of the deck. 

In order for the frame to accommodate the angled deck boards, it had to be designed in such a way that it didn't end up parallel to the deck boards. You can see that transition in one of the photos above, before the extra bridging was installed.

The finished stairway not only fits in well with the deck, but is visually appealing as well as solid and code compliant. All corners are mitered, and spindles wrapped with even spacing so as not to disturb the "flow". On nearly all of our railing designs we prefer to keep the spindles outside of the support posts, so that they can "flow" on past without having to have to the spacing readjusted every time it meets a post. This is a much more attractive way of finishing off a properly designed deck.

In our next post, we will discuss the smaller of the two decks on this property. Both were built using the same techniques and design, but it had a few challenges along the way. Stick around.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Custom Building Windows...Part Four

In the first three parts of this series, we have covered everything right up to the final painting of the custom built windows on the outside. Now it's time to go inside and finish the White Pine telescoping frames that we built. And by finish...I mean stain and finish. "Then" we'll get around to installing them.

As mentioned earlier in this series, the interior stain was a special blend previously chosen by the homeowner. All we did was get the numbers off the old can and order another gallon of it. It's not always that easy! We pre-cut all the trim pieces, and then laid them out across sawhorses in the garage. It was still early enough in late summer that we could leave the doors open, and they dried quickly. Everything from the interior frame parts (on the right) to the casing (one of which is second from left) and the stop (far left) was made ready before installation. 

The last thing to be applied was two coats of latex Polyurethane in a semi-gloss finish. Before the new inside trim could go on there were many places where drywall had to be repaired from removing the old sill and overhead shelf. Then it had to be primed and painted before the casing went on. For safety, we went ahead and installed the interior frames and glass stop, otherwise the only thing holding the glass in was the caulking, and a good gust of wind could have pushed it inward. Safety ALWAYS comes first!

In the process of finishing up the inside trim, we also had to change out the old trim to the new trim color, which meant going up and over two patio doors leading into the sun room that were jambed tight to the wall at each end. The previous trim had been butchered up because the installer didn't know how to do it, so we fixed it as it should have been. 

We also added a new extra wide jamb to the one opening leading to the kitchen. The dark trim is the kitchen side, which hasn't yet been changed to the new color. You can see the new trim around the entry door and windows in the sun room.

We also custom built and installed a new oak threshhold for between the kitchen and sun room. We always fill all nailholes, and apply a specially colored filler to our trim. Leaving nail holes is equivalent to not finishing the work!

This concludes our custom window building project, and the associated work that went with it. We hoped you enjoyed seeing the kind of work we used to do.

What a difference the new windows the amount of light let into the room, in the much improved views, in the general looks of the place, and the increased value to the home!

In the next set of posts, we'll talk about the two decks that were added (actually the smaller one you see out these windows was just rebuilt, whereas the other one was totally new). The decks were finished prior to the window job, because we needed a place to stand to work on the windows!

Actually, as we finish writing these posts, there will be a few other decks shown at other locations. If you have considered taking on a project like this yourself, and have any questions, please feel free to comment below and ask me. I will be glad to help you by return comment or email, free of charge.

Custom Building Windows...Part Three

In parts one and two, you saw what the job entailed, how the windows were designed and built, primed, pre-painted and installed...well, OK, at least one of them. The next five of them were not over a deck, so we had nothing to stand on to reach the tops. The whole front side of the room had bushes in front of it, so maneuvering a ladder and having to run up and down all the time was not an option. But we had already made the answer for this during a previous job. 

I had used some leftover lumber...a 4 x 4 vertical piece, and notched into it a couple of 2 x 4's which were all secured to each other with 1/2-inch carriage bolts. By using some ratchet straps to secure the top and bottom of the vertical 4 x 4 to the support posts of the room, and bracing it underneath with a scrap 2 x 4 so it couldn't slide down, we were able to make our own "outrigger"scaffold. With a couple of 2 x 10 planks on the top, it would easily hold two of us, and anything we would be able to lift.

Unfortunately, I only made two of them, so we worked on one set of windows and then had to move one of the supports to a different post to do the next two windows, but it was still better than a ladder.

Disclaimer: Don't try this at home! (Or at least not because I did it!) I'm sure if OSHA saw this they'd pitch all kinds of fits, first of all because it doesn't have a railing around it, and doesn't come with a support harness, and all that other crap they would want. But remember, I have been doing this for 40 some years, and short heights like this don't bother me. I am very careful when working on scaffold, and have never had an accident. For some people who can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you might want to surround yourself with a cage AND safety harness!

To get up and down from the scaffold, we did have to use a 6-foot stepladder, but that was easy enough.

With all the new window frames installed, it was now a matter of installing the glass.

Unfortunately, when they arrived, we were all so busy removing the temporary plywood covers and adding the glass caulking ahead of them that we forgot to take pictures, but let it be known that we used a special clear, non-yellowing, paintable caulking to set the glass. This was applied to the inside face of the glass stop around the frame. There's no need to put it anywhere else. When the glass goes against it, and it is pressed into place, it adheres to both the glass and the painted wood. Any excess that is squeazed out is best left to set a couple days, as it remains sticky a long time. When it sets, it becomes like a hard rubber seal. Then the excess can be trimmed off with a razor blade type scraper. The glass panels were set on rubber blocks to raise them off the bottom about a 1/4-inch. This is standard practice when setting glass like this, and again, knowledge of that, and to make provision for it, along with sufficient space around the other sides of the glass, is necessary when doing a job like this. One mistake in this area can cost hundreds of dollars in wasted time and materials to do over again! 

Only after that was done, did we go back and fill in the little "chair rail" blocks that were part of the continuous apron under the old windows. It didn't look right to leave them off, because they showed up in other places around the siding, so we cut each block to go between the new frames. Then we caulked around each window and over the top of all joints with a good grade of exterior painters's caulk, and then applied a last coat of paint to everything. Even though it is standard practice to use a drip cap (usually aluminum), slipped up underneath the siding above the window, so that it sets right on top of the top piece of casing (to drain rain off and prevent it from going back into the siding), it still needs caulking...especially at the ends.

What a dramatic difference the new windows make! The above picture is looking at them from the west, and the picture below is from the east side.

The new decks were also built by us, but we'll cover those in future posts. For now, we need to go to the inside with Part Four, and show you how the inside went together.


Custom Building Windows...Part Two

In part one we showed you how the custom frames were built, from the Red Cedar exterior to the telescoping White Pine interior frame. The next step was priming and pre-painting the exterior part of the frames.

As each frame was done, they were stood along the side of the garage to dry, with runners underneath to prevent picking up and sawdust off the floor.

While the frames were drying, we started the demolition work on on the sun room. In a couple of places, we had to remove electrical outlets and turn them horizontally, and move them to the bottom of the wall. Allowing for this prevented us from going all the way to the floor with the windows, but most installations have to do this in order to put the outlets where electrical code calls for them, if there isn't enough room between the windows. All of this had to be planned ahead of time. Also, you'll notice that there is a horizontal 2 x 4 in the bottom of the wall to serve as a nailer for the base trim. This isn't exactly normal building practice, but is actually a good idea that most builders don't think of doing. In order to cut the wall stud out, we had to get creative with working around that 2 x 4, the center stud, and even the electrical box. To do that, we had to cut some notched support 2 x 4's to support the other flat 2 x 4 that would serve as the lower sill of the window. These simply dropped into the opening, and were screwed in place with deck screws.

In some places we were able to cut out entire panels of exterior wall with the studs still attached.

Each opening was completely prepped before the new frames were set in place. The picture below shows the first one in. We actually built new decks for this place before the window job, so we made sure to leave the deck railing back far enough to slip the window casing in behind it.

As each frame was set in place and secured, we used a "sandwich method" to secure temporary plywood panels to the outside. We cut 2 x 2's the width of the window opening, and then screwed the plywood to the 2 x 2's. That way, we didn't create any new holes in the exterior trim that would only have to be filled and repainted again. We like to work "smarter", not "harder".

While all this was going on, we ordered the new one-inch-thick insulated glass panels from a local glass shop, and when we were ready, they came and set them in place for us. We didn't have to lift any of them!

In part three, we'll continue with this series on custom building windows, and show you how we worked on installation from four feet off the ground to the bottom of the frames. 

Custom Building Windows...Part 1

In the same house where we did the arch top doors, we had previously completed a custom window build. There was a sun room where there were eight single-hung vinyl windows, two on each end and four across the front. 

The owner wanted new full height thermopane panels installed, to have a better view of the lake. On the inside, there was a display shelf across the top of the windows, as well as an extra wide sill on the bottom, and all of that had to come off, along with the casing.

Before we could remove the windows, we had to have the new ones ready to take their place. No one makes windows like we needed, so we had to design and build them ourselves. The outside had to be rough-sawn cedar to match with the T-111 siding on the house, while the inside had to make a transition to White Pine for the custom stain.

I just happened to have an excess of 2 x 8 Red Cedar planks on hand, so that was the starting place for the new windows. Custom made sills had to be cut which included all the features needed, including a sloping outer surface, and inner dado for the White Pine to fit, and even a drip edge on the outside bottom (not yet cut or shown on the picture below).

We also ordered enough "1 by" Red Cedar to make the side and top pieces of the frame, plus the outer casing and aprons (the part under the installed window sill).

In the next picture, looking at the assembled bottom of the sill, you can see the drip edge slot near the front (upper) edge of the sill. The prevents rain from running back toward the house, and possibly into the siding, The white is standard painters caulk, which we applied to all cut ends of wood that "might" be exposed to weather, although that part was actually within the interior of the wall, and was only painted from the "ears" forward.  The picture below shows the outer portion of the frame, complete with the outer casing installed, and ready for the inside frame to be matched to it.

Because of slight variations which can be found in almost any walls, the inner White Pine frame had to be made to "telescope" into the Cedar frame. All of this had to be worked out on a plan of the window frame, done on the computer, before the first cut was made on any of the window parts. The picture below shows the bottom of the frame, with the outer glass stop installed and nail holes caulked, and then the inner White Pine frame telescoping into it.

The next task was cutting the inner glass stop, which can be seen in the next photo. Although this was all pre-cut, nothing was nailed in until the frame was installed in the window opening. At that point, the inner frame was fitted flush to the inside finished wall before nailing into the outer frame. As always, enough space was left around the frame to shim around it with wood shims to square it and hold it securely in place before nailing.

All exposed end grains that could not be primed and painted were coated with painters caulk, to seal moisture out. Below is a top left corner of one of the windows, showing where caulking was applied between the vertical casing and the top casing.

All eight window frames with inside trim were built like this and ready to install before any of the vinyl windows were removed. 

Custom building windows should not be attempted without the knowledge of all the components of a window, and why they are needed. There are certain angles that are pretty much standard in the industry for sill slopes, as well as knowledge of how all the trim parts fit together. Also, it takes the proper tools, which would include a large table saw and a power miter saw, as well as belt sanders, orbital sanders, power drills with special attachments and much more. Mostly, it takes a keen eye for design. You have to be able to visualize what the final product will look like before you even put the details down on paper or on a drawing program. Final dimensions have to be worked out, with the ability to add and subtract fractional measurements. Not everyone has those skills, and it takes time to learn them. Being able to use a drawing program of some kind with the ability to accurately scale the project really helps when putting final dimensions together, and making sure each piece fits with the other.

In part two, we'll continue with this window project, and show you the prep work involved before they could even be installed.