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May 19, 2006
Haul the decks (Fa la la la la)

Russell prepares to move several dozen 15' composite boards from the ground up to the second story

By the end of April, we still believed that the rain had not yet finished for the season. Although we had re-opened the overall site for construction, we had not yet re-opened the second-story floor, which was still covered with black plastic. However, our friend Steve convinced us that we were doing more harm than good. With the black plastic in place, the second-story floor would have no way to dry out, and any accumulated water would do more harm than if we just left it uncovered.

So on May 1, 2006, Russell made a trip back up to the mountain, with Gail joining him for the first day. Gail’s priority was to uncover the second-story floor. Sure enough, there was a lot of water accumulation. Gail discovered at least three sections where the sub-floor had actually weakened and sagged. These sections will ultimately need to be replaced. Fortunately, once the plastic had been removed, the floor began to dry out immediately.

The second-story floor, sans plastic

In addition, we continued to prepare the five sections where decks would be installed. Although Russell and Steve had previously installed all of the joists, there was still additional prep work to be done. Together, Russell and Gail manually hauled and lifted several dozen 15-foot long planks of 1x6” composite decking material from the ground to the second story. We had only hauled about half of them before we were completely exhausted. But it would be enough material to begin work.

Gail, exhausted, with several dozen composite planks... and a wet floor

One last task before Gail departed was to check the rat situation. We saw further signs of activity, but there were no rats to be seen. We set out two boxes of rat poision.

After Gail departed, Russell stayed alone for the next three days to continue work. Last year, one of Russell’s less-than-brilliant ideas had been to pre-install all of the deck joist hangers. He figured that with the hangers already in place, it would be a straightforward matter to cut the joists themselves and simply drop them into place. However, when Russell and Steve actually did this several weeks ago, they discovered that all 2x6s are not all uniform. As a result, there were numerous areas where the top of the joist was 1/8” higher than the top of the adjacent purlin. Several dozen joists would need to be filed down before we could lay decks on top of them.

Back home, Russell had asked the local Orchard Supply Hardware store for the best tool to do this. Instead of a plane, they recommended a plane rasp. Sure enough, this tool worked rapidly and efficiently; and on May 2 Russell spent the day bringing the joists and purlins fairly level (at least where it counted).

Joists and purlins, before and after levelling

Russell had also noticed that although he and Steve had installed all of the deck joists according to the instructions, there was still nothing to support the decks at the upright post beams. So he improvised a solution, nailing additional 2x4s at every section all around the upright posts.

Extra 2x4s had to be installed near the upright posts, where there were no joists to support the future deck

By May 3, Russell was finally ready to begin installing the composite decks. He started with Joss’ deck (the eastern section), mainly because it was in the shade. The 15’ composite planks were not long enough to span the entire length of the deck, so Russell made a slight herringbone pattern, per Gail’s request.

Using 3” all-weather decking screws, Russell discovered right away that he hates square-headed screws. After suffering through numerous broken screws and stripped heads, Russell changed to Phillips-head screws, which worked much better. By the time Russell departed on May 4, the main part of Joss’ deck – as well as half of Cameron’s deck (on the north side) – were in place.

The main part of Joss' deck

It would be several weeks before work continued. On May 17, Russell and Steve returned for a weekend. By now, the site was a bustle of activity, with electrical line, phone line, and water line crews all working around each others.

The rats were also active. Not only had they devoured the two boxes of poison that we had previously set out, they had also completely devoured the two boxes that we had left on the shelf. Luckily, we brought more poison. This time we set out four boxes.

For deck construction, Russell took the task of measuring and cutting composite planks, while Steve took the task of installing screws with a power drill. Russell then used a skill saw and a Sawz-All to trim the ends of the installed planks.

Russell cuts composite planks to size
Steve installs them (Note the 1/8" washers. Each plank had to have a 1/4" gap; we used the washers to create uniform spacing)

Russell uses a skill saw to trim the ends of the deck sections

In addition, Steve (being a glutton for punishment) single-handedly moved the several dozen remaining composite planks from the ground up to the second story. Russell didn’t have the heart to tell him that we probably wouldn’t need all of them.

After three very productive days of work, Joss’ and Cameron’s decks were completely installed and trimmed. The remaining deck – consisting of three contiguous sections – had the main planks installed. But the rest will have to wait for yet one more weekend.

Steve and Russell, on Joss' completed deck


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