Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Beautiful Deck

This post was written by Michael, and photos were taken on his iPhone 7:
I'll write my own version (with a lot less details) and Canon pictures soon.

  A while back when we bought the house, it was a small dream of mine to have a nice deck or patio outside of the screened in patio for us to throw parties, entertain guests, and just be able to relax in the cool evenings that Florida has to offer.  I didn’t want to build something that would be lifted off of the ground since I didn’t want to see over my 6’ fence into my neighbor's yard.  I started to brainstorm and though a paver patio would be nice.  The bricks would look nice and it would add a nice touch to the house.  However, when looking into the cost of the pavers and the amount of pavers I’d need for the size deck I wanted, I quickly thought maybe it wouldn’t be the best decision.  I kept thinking and decided that I'd make a ground level wooden deck. So I sat down and thought about the best way to go about this.  I’d have to build the deck off the ground so the moisture and water drainage wouldn’t affect the deck over the course of how many years.  I did some research and created a plan for the project. 
Here is the back of the house before we started the deck project.
   I started work on the deck on December 20, 2016.  I began by staking out the size footprint I wanted for the deck.  I had already picked out the furniture I was wanting and made sure I staked that out as well in the areas I wanted it.  With some neon string (which Sasha continued to blindly trip over) I marked out everything and stepped back to make sure that’s what I was wanting.  Once it was all measured out properly I began by digging up the perimeter leaving some extra space to work.  Let me tell you this was truly some backbreaking work.  I took a few days carefully removing all of the sod and saving that for later as well as all of the dirt that came with it.  I dug down about a foot all around and started to level out the ground.
Started with the stakes in the ground to the desired footprint.  I started to dig down and remove the sod and dirt.
The sod and dirt completely removed.  You can see our sprinkler lines running through the platform. 
I had to be careful not to hit them.  
 Once the ground was level I packed all of the dirt down until it was firm all around.  I then measured out where my concrete pylons were going to go.  I had bought some 8” tubing from Lowes and some concrete made for deck pylons.  I dug down an additional 2’ for each pylon and placed the cardboard tubes (already cut to size) into the holes.  I made sure each tube was level and filled the tubes about 4-5” with multi-purpose concrete gravel.  I rechecked the tubes to make sure they were level and filled in dirt around the outside of the tubes and packed it down.  Once the tubes were secure and level, I mixed up the concrete and poured it into the tubes.  I made sure each tube had a little more concrete than needed.  I read that you want to make the tops of the concrete slightly beveled and rounded (like the top of a ball) so water won’t puddle up and rot the wood away over time.  I carefully sculpted each pylon to a nice soft edge and once the concrete got firmer I placed my 4” metal pylon brackets in.  I made sure each bracket was level before moving onto the next.
Leveled out the dirt with a slight natural grade and raked the dirt to an even finish.
Freshly packed dirt.  Still had to go back to fill in a couple of areas and pack them down.  
Dug the 2' Deep holes for the pylons.
Leveled out the pylon tubes and inserted the gravel and prepared them for concrete. 
Another shot of the tubes ready for concrete.
Concrete is added and the metal brackets are in place.  Just waiting for the concrete to dry for 24 hours before using them.
  After 24 hours of curing time with the concrete, I moved onto laying down some heavy weed cloth.  I made sure the ground was clean of any roots and debris and laid down about 400’ of heavy weed control cloth.  Rachel and I then moved onto cutting the wood for the legs of the deck.  I bought 12’ long pieces of 4”x4” pressure treated wood.  We measured out the overall height of the deck including the decking and cut the legs to length.  We constantly made sure the legs were level and in square.  I constantly had to cross check everything because the ground had a natural grade to it so the legs looked like they sloped up as the ground sloped down.  It looked wonky for a few days but then it came to look right.  Lol.
Heavy weed cloth was laid down and holes for the metal brackets were cut to allow for them to come through. 
Got all of the 4"x 4" wood cut and screwed into the brackets.  As you can see it doesn't look level but that is because of the natural grade of the ground vs the deck level.  
 Once the legs were screwed into the metal brackets that had been embedded into the concrete pylons, I started work on the decking frame.  I built the frame out of 2”x 8” pressure treated wood and bought 12’ sections at a time.  This cut down on price, but man were these heavy.  I cut each piece according to the dimensions and attached it using 3.5” exterior decking screws.  Once the exterior frame was made I continued to connect each section doing a grid pattern.  I knew before I started this, which ways I wanted my decking to run so I made sure that the joists were spaced evenly and crossing each board making them structurally sound.  Once all the joists and cross beams were securely screwed in I started building up the bottom lip of the deck.  Because the deck was level and the ground wasn’t I needed to make sure that the bottom of the deck would be sealed from any dirt and possible cave-in situations.  I cut extra boards (the same I used for the framing) and screwed that into the base of the deck adding a backing to the inside of the deck.  Once that was complete we (my friend Brian helped from this point on) filled in the boarder with dirt and packed that down.  Once the dirt was packed and was checked for caving in issues, we moved onto cutting the decking. 
Getting the frame made.
The frame is almost done a few days later.  Had to go pick up a few more boards to fill in some areas.  
Another angle before I picked up more wood.
  I decided to go with the standard pressure treated wood decking.  I knew I wanted to stain the deck so I wanted to make sure it was natural wood so I would see that beautiful warm wood color.  I bought 2.5” tan decking screws for the top and these bad boys were fantastic. Brian and I decided we wanted an “organic” pattern to the deck and didn’t want a traditional repetitive staggering of the wood.  Not only would this make it easier to just cut and screw but also it gave it a much more natural and interesting look to the project.  He cut the boards and staggered them as I followed behind screwing in each board.  It was nice that any smaller pieces we could use to connect a few joists together and give a more organic look.  We made sure each board had a start and finish on a joist and would share that joist with a new board.  We didn’t want any “floating” sections to break over the years.
Test fitting some boards and getting the overall look we were going for.
Screwing down the boards one at a time.  Trying to keep up with Brian.
Decking is all complete and needs to be trimmed.  
  Once all the decking was attached we marked out the angles and left a little bit of overhang (about 2”) for aesthetic reasons.  We marked out cutting line using a chalk line and with a circular saw cut the excess wood off the sides.  I will say it was at this point that the deck started to look pretty professional.  I was actually surprised.  LolOnce the decking was all cut and finished we moved onto landscaping.  I knew ahead of time what I was wanting as far as plants went.  Since this deck was “ground level” it wasn’t going to have a railing however I did want to make a nice “railing” around it using some shrubs.  I bought a few Podocarpus plants because they are very easy to trim into any shape and they will end up growing into each other creating a wall-like shrub.  I then bought a few Leyland cypress trees that were planted around the corners of the deck.  I will keep these “trees” within 6’ tall by trimming them.  We threw some red mulch down and embedded a 12’ 4”x 4” pressure treated pole and cemented that into the ground at the end of the deck.  This pole is for the support of the string lights that were next on the list. 
Finished cutting the sides of the deck off and started to lay out the landscaping.
Finished getting the landscaping done and the furniture on the patio.
Another angle.  Sorry it's a bit dark.  We worked hard into the night.  

   Once the landscaping and the pole were in place I needed to wire the string lights up.  I bought some of the new “commercial” string lights Lowes started to carry.  They were cheaper than ones online but were still more expensive than the consumer lights most stores sell, but will last a lot longer.  These string lights had a heavy-duty electrical cord and a nice rubber socket connected to rings to hang the lights. You can find the link for them here:

    I bought some 3/32 stainless steel wire with stainless connectors to use as my guide wires from the pole to the house.  I strung up 5 guidelines from the pole to points on the house.  I made sure these were nice and taught before hanging the lights.  I used black zip ties to hang the lights to the guidelines.  This gave me the ability to move and shift the lines once up if I needed to space them out.  Once the lights were hung I needed to move an outlet from the house exterior wall to the pole.  I should have done this before adding the decking, however, it wasn’t that much of an issue.  I used exterior rubber conduit and exterior waterproof boxes for the electrical.  I ran the wires from the exterior outlet under the deck and to the pole.  I wired up a wall outlet using a half-hot method.  I wanted the lights to be on a dimmer because with 5 strands of lights they can get a bit bright.  I wired the bottom outlet to be used only with the wall dimmer while the top outlet would always be on.  I wired everything up and gave it a test.  It worked beautifully.  This video helped me a lot when wiring a half-hot outlet:

Got the dirt and the sod cleared and the lights wired.  Isn't it so pretty? =)

   Once the deck was finished and the lights were up we added our patio furniture and the grill and called her done.  I am so excited to have this build completed.  We finished the deck on January 8, 2017 totaling a 20-day build, not counting my days working Grinchmas at Universal.  So overall I am very happy with the results.  I still have to stain the deck but must wait a few months for the chemicals and moisture to evaporate from the wood.  I think we are going to go with a redwood/ cedar wood color for the final stain.

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