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August 29, 2010
Decks redux

Russell installs deck planks for the first time in four years

On August 5, our substitute inspector paid a visit to our mountain home construction site. In addition to signing us off for another six months, Dennis gave us some advice. Noting that we are working on several things simultaneously toward our occupancy permit, Dennis suggested that we take advantage of the sunny weather while we still have it.

“I would be outside as much as possible,” he said. “Stop working on the stairs. Finish your deck railings instead. You need those before you can get your occupancy permit, and you should do that while the weather is still good.”

There are certain tasks that are so far off our “radar” that we don’t even think about them. The deck railings have been one of those tasks. We hadn’t done anything on the decks since Russell and Steve first installed them four years ago in the summer of 2006.

It was time to dust off the cobwebs (from the decks and our brains) and revisit the decks. The first task was to find the instructions for the railings. Our specifications called for wire cable railings – as opposed to wood – to maximize the panoramic view. Russell found the instructions in a file folder of old documents.

The second task was to find the composite 4x4 posts for the rail supports. This was more difficult. We searched the grounds, the gazebo, the shed, the inside of the house (both upstairs and downstairs) and our yard in the Bay Area, and couldn’t find 10 of the 16 posts. Gail was ready to declare that someone had broken into our property and stolen them, when Russell discovered them under a tarp near the septic field in a pile of other lumber.

The van, loaded with composite deck posts

After our last mountain trip, we drove the posts back down to the Bay Area. We wanted to drill holes in each post where the cableswould pass through. Gail’s sister Debbie was kind enough to let us use her late husband Steve’s drill press. Unfortunately, the press was designed for 2x4s, not 4x4s. Russell began each hole (seven per post) and Gail finished them with a hand drill.

Russell started each cable hole with a drill press, to ensure they were all straight. Gail finished with a hand drill.

On Friday, August 27, we drove the perforated posts back up to the mountain. We were joined by our friend Steve, who was happy to forgo a weekend of grounds keeping to help Russell begin installing posts. (The way Steve figured it, the sooner we had deck railings, the sooner he could sleep on the deck without being afraid of rolling off the edge in the middle of the night.)

The process did not go as smoothly as hoped. The first challenge was that we had never actually installed composite decking all the way out to the exterior triple-purlin support beams. Because the beams were considerably warped, we had left a gap. Looking at the situation, Russell decided that these gaps should be filled in. Furthermore, it would be better to fill them in before we installed any vertical posts. So Russell spend Saturday morning finishing the five deck sections. (Steve was just as happy to have some time for his beloved trimming and spraying.)

A deck section, before and after the last plank is installed at the outer triple-purlin

Russell and Steve finally began the process of installing posts on Saturday afternoon. This was where we encountered the second challenge. Because the exterior triple-purlin support beams were warped – and because the support posts would attach to these support beams – we couldn’t get the posts to install completely vertically. We did the best we could, using shims when possible, but the end result was some posts that bowed inward or outward.

The same deck view with the outer posts installed.
We used shims where possible to make the posts more vertical.

By the end of the weekend, Steve and Russell had installed the four outer posts in each of the five deck sections. The only mishap was when Russell’s impact wrench slipped and dinged up Steve’s hand.

Russell and Steve install the deck railing posts, using an impact wrench for the first time in years

Meanwhile, Gail’s intention for the weekend had been to continue weatherproofing the outside of the house with bitumen and trimwood. Unfortunately, the first thing she did on Saturday morning was to lift some stair treads and completely throw out her back. She ended up taking it easy for the weekend, although she did muster up enough energy to rebuild and waterproof the water tank shed.

Gail used old shingles (from the gazebo), scrap wood and leftover insulation to rebuild and waterproof the water tank shed on the east side of the house

The water tank shed, before and after

We have completed one step towards installing the deck railings. The next step will be to install the side posts. These will be trickier because Topsider’s specifications include a configuration that our inspector does not recommend. We will need to take some time to figure out a solution.

The current state of the mountain home: 20 deck posts installed, 12 more to go!


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