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  • Writer's pictureK Monk

Building a new DECK this Summer? A few thoughts from a PRO

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

Building a deck can be one of the most satisfying projects a homeowner can tackle. Nothing is sweeter than having a BBQ and some beers with your buddies then on a deck you built with your own hands. In this article I will discuss a couple key points that can make your project that much better!

Think Longevity

If your like most homeowners and are building with wood than the best and most economical wood to use for a deck is pressure treated. This product is considered the best as the lumber is treated with chemicals to provide great protection from the elements, from wood ingesting insects and from fungal decay. A properly built deck using pressure treated wood could last 40 years or more.

However this product is not fool proof! One thing I see many people do that will reduce the lifespan of your deck, is not addressing the exposed cuts properly. Let me explain: When looking at a piece of pressure treated lumber, you will see that the outside is coated and protected by a solution. This solution usually contains a combination of chromium, copper, and arsenic. When the manufacturers produce pressure treated wood, they use a vacuum along with the chemical process to remove as much air as possible. The goal is to drive the chemical solution as far and deep into the wood as possible. Hence, the "pressure" part of pressure treated.

Why would that matter to us? Well, when you cut into the wood, you are now exposing the raw, untreated wood fiber's to the elements as the wood is no longer fully coated. This can cause accelerated decay. Using a stain or a product like 'Cut N Seal' will protect the exposed portion and re-seal any exposed wood. It takes more time but its worth it for a long lasting build.

Another thing you can do is cover all the tops of your joist with strips of tar paper or some type of weather resistant barrier, such as, Joist Guard. The reason for this is to prevent standing water on the tops of the joist (that will make contact through the spacing of the deck boards) to work its way into the boards over time and weaken them. We usually use tar paper because its a good product, cheap, and black in color so it won't be noticeable through the deck boards.

Fasten it Properly

Giving proper attention to the fastening of a deck is sometimes overlooked. Never use screws to build the structural components of your deck, unless they are designed for that purpose (i.e. structural screws like GRK's). 3 1/4" nails are usually sufficient for most applications, with lag bolts or GRK's used for tying in major components like ledger boards or beam connections. Another note: use galvanized nails when fastening pressure treated lumber.

Screwing down the deck boards might seem pretty simple but there are a few things to consider:

  1. Don't screw too close to the edge of a board or you risk it splitting. If you have to do this for some reason it is best to drill a pilot hole.

  2. Try to drive the screw so the head is flush to the board or just a hair under. Do not "bury" the screw in the board. Why not? because if you do, you just made a place for water to collect (essentially a small hole), which can weaken and cause rot to the board over time.

As well, incorporating metal brackets by companies like Simpson-Strong Tie can make your deck much safer and last a lifetime.

  1. Use joist hangers when attaching the joists to a ledger board.

  2. Using hurricane ties can counteract the uplift forces on a deck (like wind loads).

  3. Use metal ties and brackets to assist with strengthening guardrails and handrails.

Use Screw Piles

When building in Central Alberta, screw piles are the Cadillac of support. I usually use a company called Techno Metal Post. They can be put in very quickly and accurately, you can build on them right away, and they can go down way farther than the frost line without excavation.

Most jurisdictions stipulate in their code that holes must be dug to a minimum depth of 4ft. This is based on the assumption that frost won't really go past this point. However, this is simply not true and frost can go much further into the ground than expected. Especially is this the case over a long, cold, Alberta winter. The result could be a foundation that heaves.

Screw piles typically go down at a minimum of 7ft in normal soil, but in unstable conditions extensions can be used to get to whatever depths are needed for the proper load bearing (going further than 7ft is probably overkill for a simple deck). This gives more piece of mind that your new deck isn't going to start heaving any time soon. A single helical screw pile can hold 20,000 lbs and up, more than enough for your deck.

In conclusion, building a deck can be a rewarding and enjoyable project for homeowners. It provides an opportunity to create a space for relaxation and entertainment, and there's something special about enjoying the fruits of your labor on a deck that you built with your own hands. However, to ensure the longevity and durability of your deck, it's important to consider some of the things we discussed.

By considering these key points - thinking about longevity, fastening properly, and utilizing screw piles - you can enhance the quality and durability of your deck. Ultimately, taking the time to build a deck with these factors in mind will provide you with a long-lasting and enjoyable outdoor space for years to come. So grab your tools, get creative, and embark on the journey of building a deck that you can be proud of.

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