Before & After: Rebuilding a Deck

July 24, 2010 | by Ethan (email) |

Before and After 2010 greenI love this week’s Before and After because it shows us a really dramatic deck transformation. Michael from Better D.I.Y. had an old, rotting deck. It was dangerous and liable of collapsing at any time. Michael took the time to research decks and rebuilt it from the ground up with a stunning result.

For being this week’s Before and After winner, Michael gets a $50 gift card to Lowes, Home Depot, or Amazon. Plus, we will also make a $100 donation to Habitat for Humanity in Michael’s honor. Check out this great story and this week’s Habitat Quick Fact.

A Better D.I.Y. Deck

This past spring my wife and I tore down the original deck that was attached to our house. It was 8×10, large enough to fit a table and chairs but no grill and not much else. While this isn’t a reason to tear down a deck, the rotting wood, untreated lumber and Carpenter Ant infestation really put the proverbial nail in the coffin (or in this case – the deck).

It was really bad. I am thankful that the person that previously built it did not attach it to the house for many reasons.

  • They used untreated wood and sat it directly on the ground, thus creating a feeding area within easy reach of the wood eating insects.
  • Supports (if you can call them that) sat directly on the ground, not below the frost line (which would be fine for a free standing deck, but not when you use wood not rated for ground contact)..
  • After the Carpenter Ants ate through the main supports (2×12), they sistered some 1×6 blocks on the bottom of the supports. Which provides no support, but gave them an area to paint and “look” nice.
  • I was really scared that it was going to just fall apart that I never let anyone on it except myself. The only thing holding it together was the 2×12 decking boards.

Here are some pictures of deck and destruction. That lean is not supposed to be there. If you look in the background, you can see that the insects have gotten to our fence as well (a future project).

Before Pictures and Deconstruction.

My philosophy is to build it right so you only have to build it once. This means going above and beyond “minimum code”. I really dislike the idea of attaching the deck to the house through the use of a ledger board, but because of the concrete pad (2” thick) attached to my house, it will be more trouble and work to build it freestanding. If I cut up the concrete, then I could create a problem with water in the future which the concrete holds back. If I make a hole large enough in the concrete to put my concrete form (12” diameter), then water may get around the seam where the old concrete meets the new form; thus creating a possibility of frost heaving or other problems in the future.

That leaves only 1 choice of ledger board. After reading this article entitled “Don’t Build Decks that Rot” , it gave me a great idea of using composite decking as blocks for my ledger board. This would create a drainage point as well as keeping the ledger board away from the house by about an inch but still providing the structural strength of a ledger board. It also gave me the idea of using a roofing membrane on every joist and at the post connection to prolong the life of my wood structure.

I also downloaded quite a bit on code for deck building. This includes span charts, joist sizing, beam sizing, etc… Can’t forget about the StrongTie handout for deck building connections that has all of the connections with pictures and uses.

AWC Code
Multi-Level Decks
Strong-Tie Deck Fasteners

The Lowe’s Deck Designer is GREAT for an overview and parts list. It allows you to do some great designs for decks with multi-levels and then shows you what your deck will look like with beams and everything. It was great and saved me a lot of time. Of course I tweaked the design a little bit and played with different joist sizes to see if the Live and Dead Load changes.
Lowe’s Deck Designer (Need Account) .

We removed the electrical and water spigot until we have reinstalled the ledger board.
We removed the vinyl siding and cedar siding and then the sheathing After that, I saw the inevitable it seems for my projects. Carpenter ants decided to eat out some of my rim joist. I prayed that they didn’t cause too much damage. Luckily they only ate out about a 2 foot section of the rim board. They never touched any floor joist or even the sill plate.

I removed 6 feet of the rim board and replaced it with a PT board. I used (3) 3/8” Lag Screws per floor joist to secure it. It shouldn’t go anywhere J. I then put some Ice & Water Shield over the top of that.

We dug our 3 sonotube holes with a post hole digger 4 feet deep, 12″ wide and laid 6 inches in the holes. We put in our sonotubes and used 5000 psi concrete. We waited a couple of hours for the concrete to start curing before we could put our ½” x 12” anchor bolt into the form.

For those that are interested in soup-to-nuts information. Here is the information needed to submit for a permit to add the deck to the house. I have removed all information distinguishing location and address, but you get the idea.

You need quite a bit of information. Then there are the fees. My city charges .01 times the cost of what you are building. In the case of my deck, the cost of materials is $2500, so it is a $25 permit fee plus a standard $25 application fee.

We installed the first 2×12 where the ledger is to be installed as a spacer board to bring the wood up to the same level as where the vinyl siding currently attaches. On top of that we installed ice and water shield. We went up about 12-18”, even behind the vinyl siding and down about 12” below the bottom of the sill plate just to keep things tight. Don’t see a need to cut off the bottom, it will be behind the deck anyway.

On top of the ice and water shield we installed vinyl flashing. On top of that we installed composite decking spacers every 16” on-center.

Then we attached the ledger board. We used 5” LedgerLok’s in a staggered pattern.

I have never had to pull a permit for a deck before. I hadn’t realized that the first inspection was after digging your post holes…OOPS! Lucky for me, the inspector was VERY understanding and just made me dig down the side of one of the posts to verify depth. He approved my posts on Tuesday and so we are officially ready to go! The next inspection will be at the completion and then hopefully we get the Certificate of Completion!

This weekend, it actually started to look like a deck!!

Next, I ran a string to a batter board so that I could figure out the height of my post. I leveled the string with a string level and then measured down 22 3/8” which was the actual distance of my 2×12 joist and 6×12 beam added together. The first 2 posts were almost the same at 5 5/8”.

I originally was going to go with the composite decking, but decided upon cedar. I found some at the local big box store for $1.22/linear foot! Nicer looking than composite, safer than Pressure Treated and naturally insect repellant. Of course, that means maintenance, but sealing the deck every year is not that difficult. I can roll it on relatively easily.

I refuse to use anything but vinyl railings because painting every spindle is ridiculously time consuming…and pressure treated railings are more likely to splinter and I don’t want to worry about that with children…even if they don’t use Arsenic/Formaldehyde anymore.

We cut the 6×6 posts and attach them to the post bases. Then we stack the first half of the beam and cut it to length (about 12 feet long). Then the 2nd to be stacked on top of that one. Then we use ½” x 12″ lag bolts to tie the beam together. Then we do the same for the 2nd half of the deck at about 7 feet long. We ice and water shield the posts and attach the beams to the posts. We then cut 2×6 boards to keep the beam from rocking front to back. The beam is SOLID!

We attach the joist hangers at 16” OC (on center) along the ledger board and hang the joists and cut them down to size We attach our Rim Board with ¼” x 3” lag screws. We install the railing posts with 2-Deck Post Ties per post. We install ice and water shield on top of our joists, square up the stringers and block the sides of our posts to reinforce the connection. The final thing to do before we were finished framing was to install our dryer vent. It is located in the middle of the ledger board, so we had to use a 4″ hole saw to cut a hole so that we would still have our dryer vent.

We finished half of the decking boards. We started in the middle of the deck. You are probably wondering why. Well, we were going to start on one of the ends, but we couldn’t tell if the board was straight. I am more worried about the board looking straight to the eye, than of it being square.

So, we started in the middle at the middle post and it looked perfectly straight. The problem we ran into is because it is wood, as it dries it warps, bends, etc. We started with the straightest board we could find. Then we used clamps to persuade the other boards to stay straight. We had to do some minimal shimming to make the boards even.

The problem with the clamp is that we started overtightening it and causing our spacers (8d nails) to cause impressions on the sides of our cedar decking. We used some laminate flooring spacers which helped, but they kept getting stuck. We finished about 5 rows in about 5 hours…not good progress at all!

So, I decided the clamps had to go and since they are 4 foot clamps, we were going to reach their limit very soon. I use ratchet straps in the truck all the time to tie things down, so I figured it was worth a shot. I set up 4 straps across the length of the deck and we ratcheted the boards down and it worked like a charm. Plus, we didn’t have to move the straps which moved things along quite nicely.

We finally completed the decking. This totally transformed the deck into a new beast. It made all of the previous pain worth it. We finally had a 260 sq. ft platform to walk on. After finishing the decking, we moved to adjusting the stairs.


I purchased 100″ vinyl post sleeves because I knew that I would be able to cut them in half and therefore buy half as many. We cut them all at 43″ so they would all be the same height. Then we started unpacking the railings. Since the railings had been out in the rain the past couple of weeks, the labels were pretty much stuck on there. We spent an hour with goo gone removing the labels. We didn’t get them perfect because we didn’t want to be stuck doing that all day. We then started the first railing closest to the house so that we could make mistakes and they wouldn’t be as noticeable. Things went pretty smoothly from there and by 1PM we were finished the railings on the main part of the deck. We took a break for lunch.

Then we started the stair railings. Since I am obsessive about perfection, it took us about 5 hours to install the 2 stair railings…constantly making adjustments. Since this is finish carpentry, it takes me longer. This is the part that people will see no matter how much time and energy you spent on the subframe. If it looks funny, it will haunt me the rest of my life.

After completing the railings, I was happy with the deck.

Besides being safer since we have little ones; the finish height of the deck in some areas is 32″ so code says we need to have railings (anything over 30″). Since it was a holiday weekend, I waited until Tuesday to call the inspector to tell him I am ready for the final inspection. He comes by while I am at work and leaves. Tanya finds the paper inside the door.

It says, “failed”. The 2 reasons are:

  • Deck not adequately attached. Needs to be attached every 3-4′.
  • Stairs not uniform.

Ok…let me talk about #1. The ledger is attached every 16″ with (4) 5″ LedgerLoks as all of you know from my previous post. I e-mail him and asked him to clarify what he meant. He responds “Due to the limited angle for viewing I was unable to determine your means of fastening to the house.” And that he would check upon reinspection of the stairs. So…because you couldn’t see how the deck was fastened to the house, you failed it!!

Let me talk about #2. I knew the stairs were not uniform, but they are only off by 1″. I have walked them numerous times and I don’t see a problem. But I looked up the code and it says that the smallest rise to the highest rise shall be maximum of 3/8″ difference. Well…they are definitely not that. And I guess he needed to come up with something wrong with the deck to justify his position (just a little bitter*).

But there are only 4 stairs and to me they don’t feel that much off. But I don’t make the rules and when you pull a permit you are at the mercy of the inspector.But this whole thing could have been avoided (#1 and #2) by having a framing inspection. The most important part of the deck is the framing.

He would be able to:

  • Measure the spacing of the joists.
  • The attachment of the ledger to the house.
  • Fastening of joists to ledger and to beam.
  • Beam connection.
  • Stair uniformity.

So…although they aren’t going to change the way things are done, I think they would have much safer decks if they did a framing inspection.

Well…this past weekend we spent quite a few hours fixing the stairs. We chiseled the concrete about 3 inches by 5 feet so we could sink the stairs a little further. They are now only .5″ off. Hopefully he will say it is ok.

Well, I purchased the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) book. It costs $90, but I probably could have avoided this by having the code book easily accessible. It will be useful in the future. And since my city is still using the 2000 IRC book, I think I should be safe with whatever I do.

HERE Is the Completed Masterpiece (before the lattice work was installed). My wife and I love it. My wife, daughter and son use it daily in the summer.

Thanks from One Project Closer!

Michael, this is a really great story- full of information and how-to! Building a deck is a great project and re-boarding my deck is on the to-do list (maybe next summer).

Habitat for Humanity Quick Fact

From the HopeBuilder Page:

HopeBuiders are the foundation of Habitat for Humanity’s housing ministry. Through monthly donations, HopeBuilders provide Habitat with a consistent and reliable source of funding that allows us to plan ahead. When you join Habitat for Humanity’s HopeBuilders, you will join a special group of people reaching out each month to provide affordable housing for families around the world. Together, we can eradicate poverty housing and give families decent shelter and the hope of a better life.

Click here to learn more about the HopeBuilders.

How to Enter Your Own Before and After

Want to win $50 and help a good cause? Send your entry to:

Leave a Reply