Deck preparations

We are finally beginning to prepare for our new deck! I can’t express how excited we are to be at this point. Let me give a little history, because after 2 years even the most loyal reader (aka my Grandma) would have forgotten the sequence of events. Our deck used to look like this.

First, we had a group of friends help us take off the planks (in April of 2012!). We thought we would just remove the planks so we could regrade underneath, and then sand, repaint and reinstall them. Hahahaha, oh, how wrong we were… (gotta laugh so I don’t cry).

But then we realized the structure had been severely compromised by termites. The deck always felt really sturdy, so we were surprised. But also surprised that our deck was still standing! All the supports looked like this, or worse. Eek!

That’s what you get when you put wood directly in the ground! So we took the whole thing down! Fast forward two years later, and we still have no deck! We weren’t necessarily being lazy, we just couldn’t figure out how to solve our water and drainage issues, and we had to make room in the budget for these fixes (especially the new gutters!). But yesterday I shared about the drainage trench we dug and some other steps we took to help solve the water problems.

The next step was to protect our crawl space from any water or dirt getting in during a heavy rain. In order to start the re-grading, we had come up with this temporary solution since we had to raise the grade against the house, making the level of the dirt slightly higher than the crawl space vents.


Not exactly the appropriate fix, but it worked for a while. Due to some re-configuring that we’re going to do of our deck, this vent on the left will be under the deck, so we had to do this step first. We found these crawl space vent covers at Lowe’s.


They’re pretty heavy duty metal and exactly the right size, so even though they’re a painful $20 a piece, we had to do it. Not the most fun $60 purchase ever. (We bought 3, 2 for vents near the deck and 1 for a vent in the back of our addition.) Andrew caulked the inside edges, and we’ll secure them using concrete screws.


Another issue we had to solve was how to retain the dirt on the other side of the deck. Our whole yard is in levels, and this middle level is the path. We want it to be tall enough that there’s only one small step down from the deck. Previously, this was retained with a railroad tie. Super cute, huh?

But just like our deck supports, the railroad ties were rotted and an invitation for termites and roaches to live in our backyard. We got rid of all of them (cost us $40 to dump them since they’re “toxic waste”), and settled on a small concrete block wall using extra red blocks we already had. Much more durable than wood!


Typically each row of a retaining wall is offset from the previous row, but these are hard to break where you want them, so we figured it wouldn’t matter on such a small wall. Once the deck is up, we’ll figure out what to do with the gap on the right.

We also had to build a wall on the other side. There was a very similar wall here before (thought not nearly as neatly done), but it had to move so we could dig our trench (which is directly under it.)


My awesome hubby had this wall done on Saturday before I even got out of bed! Waking up to this was a great surprise! Maybe next I’ll wake up to find a deck?! Lol, just kidding, Andrew.

As you can see, the frame for the deck is up, though! We did that before this second retaining wall so we could be sure to start the wall in the right place. We did that a few weekends ago, and oh my gosh, what a terrible phase of the project!


The first step was figuring out where the two corner support posts and cinder blocks needed to be. This is way easier said than done. We spent a whole Saturday just getting that part of the deck put back together! We’ve had these cinder blocks in place for a long time (They also replaced railroad ties. Again, we wanted to go with durable, long-lasting options!), and we thought they were in about the right spot to slip the corner 4×4 supports into the first hole on each end…and they were, about. Just not exactly.

So we picked them up, dug out behind them, and moved them back a tiny bit. Remeasured. Dug some more and moved the block again. Remeasured. And so on. In the sun and the heat. Miserable! Once we had the end cinder blocks exactly where we needed them for the 4×4 supports (we used the old joist pieces as a guide for where they needed to be), we moved the rest of the block wall to be exactly in line with them.


Next, we filled in the two corner holes with cement and positioned our corner pieces in the holes. The support on the left of the picture below didn’t need to be straight, because we’ll be cutting it off below the deck planks. The other one, though, is the only piece that is both a deck support AND a railing support, so I leveled it about 100 times as the cement was setting.


Once the corner posts were set, Andrew mortared between the rest of the blocks. After letting that dry, we filled the holes with rocks, pea gravel, and then cement over the top. We don’t want them to be a den for spiders or other nasty critters!


The next step (which, spoiler alert, we’ve already started!) is getting the joist pieces installed in the middle and installing the other three 4 x 4s for the railing.

Now let’s talk fun stuff, like colors and design! Originally our deck was a 10 x 12 rectangle…like so.

Fullscreen capture 6252014 30800 PM

How do you like my awesome floor plan, complete with blue and white checkered tile? Haha. Must.Destroy.Tile.

It’s not the smallest deck in the world, but by no means large. The space wasn’t super functional since the door took up almost one entire end, so we wanted to extend it a little to gain as much space as we could. Here’s the plan for our new deck. We’ll extend the deck to the edge of our house, and then angle the front end of the new part of the deck along the pathway (it will actually cover some of the red block wall).

Floorplanner - Midland - Google Chrome 6252014 31155 PM

We also wanted to keep the deck from feeling too closed in, so we’re only going to do a railing along the left side and part of the end. In front of the railing, I’m planning to do an L-shaped bench (the railing will be along where the bench is in the diagram below).

Floorplanner - Midland - Google Chrome 6252014 32741 PM

As far as colors go, we were planning to paint our deck because the boards were already painted and not in great shape. We were hoping to use Behr Deckover (a really heavy duty paint formula designed for damaged wood), but we’d have to buy new wood for the extension anyway. Plus, our previous “deck planks” are actually 2 x 6s, not deck planking (which is thinner, and therefore cheaper.)

I also forgot to think about the fact that our deck boards have been sitting on the ground in the elements for an additional 2 years (in an easement behind our house). I hadn’t seen them since, and for whatever stupid reason, assumed they’d be in the same condition as when we put them there. Yeah, not. We could NOT have painted over them! The paint was in such bad shape! (That red piece in the picture below was previously a plank. See all the peeling paint?)


So instead we’re using those pieces for some of the additional supporting pieces we need (they’re still very sturdy, just not pretty), and we’re going to replace all the planks with new deck planking!

This means we have the option to STAIN!! Woot! We picked up some Behr samples the other day and tested them out. The first three from the left are semi-transparent stains (Pewter, Valise, and Cordovan Brown), and the last is just a regular walnut stain.


At this point we’re leaning towards a semi-transparent. It covers more flaws while still allowing the grain to show through, and it’s also supposed to last about two years longer than the transparent stain. We’re loving the dark Cordovan Brown!

Oh boy! It’s finally starting to feel real! With each step, the projects seem to come together more and more quickly! Hopefully, before you know it, we’ll have a deck!!

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3 Responses to Deck preparations

  1. Jaime June 26, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    So exciting!!! Can’t wait to come grill out and have Margs out there!!

  2. Sarah June 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    I agree! Go Cordovan Brown! Love it the richness of the color!

    • Arielle June 28, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

      Yay! We do, too! 🙂

      – Arielle