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October 17, 2010
The posts go up, the posts come down

Russell undertakes one of many unproductive tasks this weekend – trying (but not succeeding) in installing screws for the stairwell treads

It has been almost two months since we last reported on the progress of building our mountain home. Gail came up for a few days during the week from September 14-16, mainly for an escape from the Bay Area. She did some more weatherproofing and began installing plates on the switches and outlets (required for our occupancy permit). Other than that, we have been busy with Labor Day and the start of the school year.

When we last left things, Russell and Steve had successfully installed 20 of the deck-rail posts. We should explain a little bit more how this was done. When Russell consulted the deck plans provided by Topsider, he noticed a contradiction. One document specified <3/8” x 7” long lag screws>, while another specified <3/8” x 9” carriage bolts>.

One schematic from Topsider calls for <3/8” x 7” lag screws>…

…while another calls for <3/8” x 9” carriage bolts>.

Russell was not sure he could find suitable carriage bolts or drill the necessary holes through the triple purlins. We were already familiar with lag screws, having used them successfully to anchor the exterior walls. So Gail secured 128 lag screws (at a cost of almost $150!) and we used them to install the posts.

Back in the Bay Area, we received an email from our friend and former inspector Dennis, who still checks on our work via our website. After congratulating us on our progress, he asked an innocent question: “Did you lag or through-bolt your posts on the outside deck?” Russell replied that we had used lag screws and explained why.

The follow-up email from Dennis a few days later was completley disheartening. “I talked to Bob [our current inspector], and he is going to require through-bolts with Simpson deck bracket.” Dennis’ next statement was rather cryptic. “It's not on your plans so you can argue the point if you want. He can't make you do it.”

Russell phoned Dennis to get an explanation. While current code specified carriage bolts, we were grandfathered in with our previously-approved plans. We could therefore argue and keep the lag screws. However, Dennis advised, if we did so we would be very unhappy in a few years. The lag screws would work themselves loose, and the aging wood would reach the point where we could no longer tighten them. We concluded that we should re-install all 20 posts.

Russell broke the news to Steve as they planned their next trip. One alternative would be to keep the posts up and simply add carriage bolts to the existing lag screws. The other alternative would be to take the posts completely down and replace the lag screws with carriage bolts. Steve, ever the easy-going friend, volunteered for the tougher job. “Three years from now,” he said, “how happy are you going to be looking at four holes in each post?”

So on Friday evening, October 15, Russell and Steve met up at the mountain. As usual, Steve had come up earlier in the day and worked outside. He was good for one night, while Russell was staying for two nights.

Saturday’s task was to remove 40 lag screws and 20 posts. With Russell and Steve working together, the work went quickly – it is a lot easier to take lag screws out than put them in. The only snag was a single lag screw whose head stripped and couldn’t be removed with the impact wrench. Steve will bring up a power bar next time to remove it manually.

The 40 39 lag screws, now slightly used. (Our hope is that we can clean them up enough to return and re-coup our $150 expense.)

(We have not bothered posting any photos of us taking down the posts. Oddly enough, they would look exactly like the photos of us putting up the posts.)

The deck posts, ready to be re-installed during a future trip. (Russell labeled each one for re-installation, as no two have their drill holes in exactly the same place.)

Steve stayed through Saturday afternoon to get more outside work done before departing. In total, he moved six trailerfuls of brush from the main road to woodpecker knoll (the southeast knoll), where he is building up a future burn pile.

Now alone, Russell started to catch up on small tasks. While nine finished treads had been glued in place on the stairwell, they had not been screwed into place. Russell drilled in a few screws from underneath before he decided that he wanted longer screws, which he didn’t have on hand. Another job that would need to be undone and redone next time.

Russell finally got some productive work done by installing three more finished treads on the lower flight. He has now installed all of the treads that have been cut and finished. The remaining treads include three that come off of the landings and one that will need to be custom-cut for the lowest tread.

The lower flight, before and after

Russell notched a small cut-out in the drywall to make the finished tread flush

With not much more to do, Russell departed fairly early Sunday morning. With our schedule settling down, we hope to get up to the mountain more often in the coming months. On the other hand, it also looks like the weather is about to turn for the worse…

No sooner did Russell install the finished treads than he had to cover them up for protection. Oh well, at least we have the photo of what they look like!


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