When we first saw the house, we knew the the front deck needed to eventually be replaced. It was haphazardly slapped together. None of it was compliant with current code. In fact, virtually every aspect of it was in violation. Aside from that, it wasn’t much of an eye pleaser. Despite all of that, replacing the deck was initially way down the list of stuff to do. In fact, possibly years away. That all changed when we discovered the damage it had caused to the house by (a) being level with the sliding doors, and (b) being constructed with zero flashing or any type of barrier whatsoever between the deck and the house. The result of these two deficiencies was snow melt coming directly into the house and rotting one of the rim joists directly under one of the sliding doors. In order to rectify this situation the deck was going to have to be as least partially deconstructed to access and repair the affected area. Upon making this discovery, it was not a difficult decision to just get rid of the existing deck completely, fix the damage and build something in its place that did not harm the house, was build to code, and that was better looking. The latter most objective being the lowest bar.
Where I grew up, people built their own decks all of the time. No consultation with the local municipality. No nothing (i.e. similar to how the former deck on this house was apparently constructed). In this jurisdiction it is a bit different (at least it is now). Building a deck is something that requires a permit, and it is pretty strictly enforced. The code is also a bit wild, given the drastic variance in temperature in this area.
Anyway, I made some rudimentary plans for the deck for the permit. After a couple of hiccups, we got them approved. The biggest hurdle was going to be digging the footings. Code in this area requires that any exterior structure affixed to the house needs to have footings that are minimum of 4 feet deep because of the frost. There was no way that we were going to be able to dig 12 holes that were all 4 feet deep. The Earth up here is so rocky, it would take a month just to dig one 4 foot deep hole by hand. We were lucky enough to find someone with a mini excavator to help us out on this leg of the job.
So Britt and I measured out the spots for the posts, and marked them all before the excavator arrived. A day later, we started digging. It took the better part of a day to get all of the holes dug. I spent all Friday evening mixing concrete and pouring footings. It rained all night and into the next morning. Some of the holes had started to collapse from the rain. So as soon as the rain stopped, Britt and I sprang to action and started setting posts.
By Saturday afternoon, it had dried out a bit, and we were able to back fill a enough of the dirt by hand to keep everything in the right spot, but leave it open enough to get inspected before we really buried the posts.
We were glad that we spent our Saturday on this project because it rained again for basically the rest of the weekend, and the holes continued to collapse around the set posts. We were able to get the posts inspected on Monday and finished back filling the holes the same day. The next trick was sourcing lumber. Most of the pressure treated lumber sold in this area comes from Canada, and apparently the supply chain had been severely disrupted by COVID. It didn’t help that everyone and their brother chose the summer of 2020 to rebuild their deck, since they were working from home anyway. I was able to round up enough lumber to build the beams and most of the floor joists. But I came by it in a hodge podge manner that at least keep the project moving.
We installed the ledger with a mix of timberlok lag bolts into the rim joist of the house and threaded bolts through the foundation. The main reason that we had to do it this way, was because the height of the new deck was going to be about 7 inches below the threshold for the sliding doors. We also installed very robust flashing between the ledger and the rim joist. For the beams, we did double 2x10s on top of the posts, attached with Simpson brackets.
One wrinkle caused by dropping down the deck height to avoid snow melt from coming into the sliding doors, was the door to the crawlspace (the small door through the foundation in the photo above). I thought for a long time about how to account for this aspect of the house. The options were to either make a smaller entrance to the crawlspace, or else step up the deck in that section. Being that my 6’4″ frame already barely fits through the existing door, I decided to step up the deck in that section.
Once I was finally able to get the lumber to complete the deck, it sailed along pretty quickly. I finished all of the decking and the railing in about 3 afternoons. We designed the deck with two staircases, both six feet wide. The width was inspired by how difficult it is to navigate things like furniture up narrow stairs. Since the slider on the front of the house is the easiest way to get large objects in and out of the place, we made a nice wide staircase to facilitate. The other stairs lead into the side yard, directly to the wood shed.
The front stairs took me almost an entire day to build. The biggest challenge was digging the footprint for the landing. As mentioned- it’s so rocky up here. It took me forever to get it to the right depth. Then another forever to get it all leveled out. Once I got that out of the way, it went pretty smoothly.
The stairs on the side of the house went much more quickly because not nearly as much excavation was required. All in all, the deck took about three weeks to build. Here is a gallery of the finished product:
[All photos by Jake]