What a difference a deck makes

We have a deck!! After two really long years, we finally have a deck, and no longer have a 3 foot drop off out our back door! We did the planking the day before the 4th of July, and as we’ve been pretty busy, I’m just now getting around to sharing it. But hey, better late than never!

As of my last post, we had finished the framing and then painted the frame so that spots of red wouldn’t show through. We decided to start planking at the front edge of the deck so that we would have a full piece there. We weren’t sure what we’d end up with on the other end, but figured a partial piece was better against the house.

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The planking was pretty self-explanatory. First, we installed our one piece than runs perpendicular to the house. Then we butted the rest of the planks up to it. We used all 12′ pieces for the main part, so we didn’t do any cutting for that section. We’d lay a piece on, push it up against the surrounding planks, I’d mark where the screws go (because I’m anal and they needed to be perfect!), and we’d screw it down. Some planks were a bit warped, so Andrew pushed on them and held them in the right position while I screwed them in. (We used these countersinking, polymer coated star-drive screws from Lowe’s in green. The polymer coating is supposed to make them last longer, and the star drive made them so easy to use! Even I could do it, with the help of our new Dewalt drill!)

On the right side of the door, we ended perfectly with a full plank! Woot!

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Unfortunately, due to some warping of the pieces (and the deck probably not being perfectly square), we ended up with a small gap on the other side. But that was easily filled by ripping a long piece and hammering it in.

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Like I said, some of the pieces were a bit warped, as is to be expected with lumber. The pieces are never perfect! We tried to adjust as we went and straighten them out as much as possible, but if you really study the deck from certain angles, you can see that a few of the planks are curved just a tad.

Because of that, the end of our other side didn’t line up perfectly. On that side, we started against the house and tried to line up each one. If you look closely in the picture below, you can see that they’re just the tiniest bit off.

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But from a distance, I really don’t think it’s noticeable! I’m an uber perfectionist, but I tried really hard to let go of some of the imperfections! Besides, this is our first ever deck building experience. Not too shabby for beginners, if you ask me.

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The next step was filling in these empty spaces next to our future railing supports.

2014-07-105It took a few tries, because we were so used to using our awesome self-drilling screws, but these pieces were so small they had to be pre-drilled. We had to add pieces around 3 of the supports, but on one (below on the right) it fell right in the middle of the plank, so we were able to cut out a hole and slip it over the top of the 4×4. Win!

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Those pictures show it complete with the apron, which I’ll get to in a minute.

We also made sure there was a tiny bit of overhang on each side so that we could come back later and cut a straight line with the skill saw.

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Using a chalk line, we marked a straight line along each side and made the cut! And here’s what those same sides looked like after installing our apron pieces! Pretty, huh?

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We made two chalk lines on the diagonal section, one for the cut and one for where to put the screws. Cause yeah, we’re picky like that.

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The apron for the front was a bit more tricky, though, because a few of the blocks were sticking out past the outside joist piece, especially this first one. It was pushing the apron out further than we wanted and creating a gap between the apron and the outside deck plank.

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Andrew notched out a bigger space for the first block by making a bunch of cuts with the saw, and drilled two holes for the bolts to fit into so they wouldn’t push the apron piece out.

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Then he made a really shallow cut along the back, and then another cut along the side to make a notch for the blocks. (I know this looks kinda dangerous, but those blocks held it very securely, I promise!)

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Here’s the finished notch. After a few adjustments here and there, we got it to fit really snugly against the joist and the first plank so there were no gaps! To install the apron pieces, we just used 3″ screws to secure each piece to the outside joist. We also screwed each apron piece into the one next to it.

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And here’s the finished result, albeit a bit messy. The apron just makes such a big difference, in my opinion. It makes it look finished, clean, and (hopefully?) more high end and custom.

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Here it is all cleaned off, complete with a grill that we got for free with the purchase of an elliptical! Really, true story.

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We bought the elliptical from Craigslist and the sellers needed to get rid of the grill, too, so they threw it in for free! Because I always want to eat bbq’d meat after working out! Teehee.

But we weren’t done yet…there’s always more to do! The next step was to prepare the deck for staining, Of course, if we’d known that you have to wait sometimes up to 2 months to stain or paint treated lumber, we might not have done this step right away. First, we sanded off all these pesky little stamps with our orbital.

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I think we ended up with about 15 that were showing, and they wouldn’t clean off even with a strong cleaner like TSP. Then we used the sander to go over each screw hole, just to get rid of the possibility of splinters. And while I was at it, I went ahead and sanded the whole deck with a really fine sand paper. It really brightened the deck and made it feel so much more smooth. You don’t have to sand with new lumber, but if you’ve got the time or the will, it’s not a bad idea!

We definitely would have waited on the cleaning step had we known we couldn’t stain right away, but we didn’t, so we cleaned it using Behr all-in-one wood cleaner.

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This is a good idea whether you’re staining new or old wood, previously painted wood, etc. It eliminates “mill glaze” on new lumber (though there is some debate about whether or not this really exists), oils, residue from paint or stain strippers, dirt, etc. to ensure that the wood is ready to take stain.

First, wet the surface of the deck. You can use it undiluted for especially soiled wood, but we diluted it with water in a 1:1 ratio. Then we rolled it on using a very high nap roller. The instructions say to keep the surface of the deck coated and wet and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes. We had plenty of extra, so we just kept rolling for about 15 minutes.

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Then scrub the surface. We used a push broom for the most part, and I used a 3m scouring pad (seriously my favorite!) for a few especially dirty areas. And lastly, we thoroughly rinsed the deck with water. It is advised to protect your skin, though, as the product can cause irritation. Just to be safe, I wore nitrile gloves while scrubbing.

And it looked so pretty once it dried! So clean and ready to be stained!

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Except, not. We found out after cleaning the deck that it’s recommended that you wait up to 2 months to paint or stain new treated lumber. Why, you might ask? Well the treating process can be summed up as this: forcing chemical laden water into the wood using high pressure. Hence, pressure treated. As such, there’s way more water in the wood than would naturally occur from rain or a spill, and so it takes way longer for it to dry out completely. If you don’t allow it to dry, it could ruin the newly stained or painted finish as water continues to seep out. Boo-hoo.

We certainly noticed this when installing the planks. They didn’t really feel wet to the touch, but on certain planks, water would seep out around the screw as we drove it in. One test is called the sprinkle test. Sprinkle water on the wood, and if it beads up and doesn’t soak in, it’s still too wet.

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Water is still beading up on our deck, though in some areas less than in that picture above. Just to be certain, we ordered a moisture meter (which should be here today!!!) so we can test it. It needs to be below 13-15% in order to stain.

So, for now, our deck will have to remain unfinished. It kind of makes me want to cry, except that I’m just so relieved we finally have a deck!

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In the meantime, we’re going to work on installing our railing and steps, and hopefully a custom bench to go up against the railing! We also have lots of other little projects we can work on now that the deck is complete (i.e. screen around ac unit, fix grade to hide cinder blocks, paint patio door, add plants around ac unit, etc.) In short, still lots to do!!

Check out our other deck posts:

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4 Responses to What a difference a deck makes

  1. greg March 5, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    Hi! Really inspired by your DIY Deck building experience. I’m about to build a deck here in St Louis and was wondering about how much your deck cost you to build? Hoping I can construct this myself and make it look as good as yours. Keep up the excellent work!

    • Simple House Expressions March 10, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

      Thanks, Greg! I’m sure you can do it! 🙂 After you asked this, I realized I never really added up the final cost so I dug out our receipts and did the math (which is why I’m responding several days later. Oops!) Here is the detailed breakdown: http://www.simplehouseexpressions.com/2015/03/10/deck-budget-breakdown/

      The total cost was about $557. We didn’t have to buy any lumber for the frame or joist pieces, though, because our old deck planks were 2x6s and we were able to reuse those as joists. Let me know if you have any questions!

      -Arielle

  2. Tyler March 25, 2016 at 8:11 am #

    Deck looks great, just wondering how that Behr stain is holding up now that some time has passed?

    • Simple House Expressions March 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

      Hah! Funny you should ask…TERRIBLY. The answer is terribly. SO frustrating. In some areas it looks great, but there are quite a few boards that started peeling less than a year later, and before that a few of the more curved boards that held water longer had a lot of mildew on them. If we tried to clean them (very gently, of course) bits of stain peeled off. Honestly, though, I don’t know what other stain we would have used. A transparent exterior stain offers minimal protective qualities, though it doesn’t peel so badly. A paint would likely have peeled just as quickly. Other brands of semi-transparents have awful reviews, as well.

      We know we did far and above the expected prep work, so maybe we could get our money back, but it wouldn’t fix the peeling, the sadness (*tears*), or the inevitable long days of powerwashing and sanding ahead (maybe in couple more years!). 🙁 While we like a stained look, next time we’ll definitely let the wood weather and simply waterproof it each year or bite the bullet and buy composite decking!

      – Arielle

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