Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wrapping it up

The final inspections for the building and electrical passed on Monday. Most loose ends are cleaned up. My dad and I installed a storage cabinet to contain the toys and hot tub supplies. Baby gate is painted to match the railing.

It's still kinda hard to believe it's done. This has been a dream for several years. I'm so glad we decided to make it happen early this year. Now, we have the whole summer to enjoy it. Chris and Ryan did a great job. I couldn't be happier with the outcome of this project.

A photo gallery from start to finish follows...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Finishing touches

We're getting close to completion now. Just a few things left. My dad got the fans installed, and we got all the posts and beams painted. Chris and Ryan finished up their final task: installing the railing.

A few weeks ago, I had to decide on the railing we should use. It took me several days to find a railing I was happy with. Since the rest of the deck is essentially maintenance free, I wanted the railing maintenance free as well (so, no cedar). But, most iron or aluminum railing didn't have a flat top cap where you can sit your drinks, and I didn't really like the look of composite railing. I finally found an aluminum railing with a flat top cap. And, it's made by Hansen Architectural right here in Hillsboro. It's a great looking rail in matte black. And, it's very sturdy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


The electrical inspection passed yesterday, which gave Chris and Ryan the go-ahead to install the cedar ceiling boards.

I'd spent the previous weekend pre-staining the cedar. I figured staining them at waist level in the garage would be much easier than wielding a brush overhead on a 9' ceiling. I had a good system going in the garage. Throw three boards up on the sawhorses, stain, then toss 'em over on the drying rack.

The deck boards and railing are composite and aluminum because I want a no-maintenance deck. Since the ceiling boards are not exposed to any weather, I decided on this tight-knot cedar. I'm glad I did. Check out this shot of the ceiling:

Sunday, May 3, 2009


If I had to identify the most challenging part of this deck design, it would be the gazebo. The reason is it shares two posts with the main roof structure. This requires it to overlap with, and be placed slightly below, the main roof.

Toward the end of the design process we lowered the main roof structure. This forced the gazebo roof too low, not leaving enough head clearance over the entry to the staircase. After much thinking on this, we decided to solve the clearance problem by cutting the staircase back into the deck area a few feet. So, by the time your head is near the gazebo roof, you've already stepped down two stairs, leaving plenty of room to avoid a headache.

You can see the stairs cut back into the deck in this picture. Originally, the top of the stairs would have aligned with that white post.

All along, it was hard to visualize what this gazebo would look like. I am very happy with the way it turned out. Seeing a design come to life in a physical building is very cool.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deck boards begin

Last night I came home to a lot of progress on the deck board installation. Chris and Ryan got about half way and expect to finish today.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I spent the morning installing 8 light fixtures and 2 fan supports. In the afternoon, my dad and I got everything wired up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trusses and sheeting

The last few days have been very exciting. After the posts and rim joists were done, 23 2x10 deck joists went in.

Due to a few of the footings being a little off the intended measurements, two of the treated 6x6 posts had to be notched at the base connector. I didn't really like the look of it, and was concerned about having to treat the notched part. Most likely it was not really an issue and the posts would last 100 years, but I tend to get a little crazy with the most minor details. I knew I'd better ask Chris to rework the posts, otherwise I'd lose sleep over these stupid notches. It was a borderline unreasonable request, but he fixed them up how I wanted, with no complaint. It was the first real test of the builder-client relationship, and I am very happy with the outcome.

Trusses arrived on a truck, with an 85-foot crane, which hoisted the 7 trusses over the house and onto the roof beams of the deck frame.

It only took about 6 hours to set the trusses and get the plywood sheeting on the roof. This thing is really starting to take shape now. It looks about how I envisioned it. It is big and may take some getting used to. Of course, it will look much better once the roofing and finish work is done.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Framing, day 1

The lumber load showed up around 8:30 this morning. Shortly after, Chris and Ryan arrived and started the framing.

These guys made it look easy. Just a few hours later, all the posts and rim joists were set.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The pour

I was working away this morning when messenger popped up... "Honey, there's a concrete truck in front of our house."

Yessss! Progress is becoming regular now. Concrete was poured today. Nine 20" diameter footings.

When I got home, I went out to take a look. There had just been a rain storm, so there was a half inch of water standing on the fresh concrete inside the forms. Apparently, this isn't a problem.

Tomorrow: the first lumber load arrives.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


After three months of thinking about and planning this project, there is finally actual work being done by other people in my back yard. Nine holes have been dug for the footings. It's amazing that only one of them intersected with a sprinkler pipe. Concrete forms should be going in the holes very soon.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The wonder of craigslist

I'm getting ready for Chris and Ryan to start next week. First step: tear off the old deck. They'll be doing most of the work on this project, but demo work is right up my alley. So, I decided to just dismantle the thing myself. The physical work would do this ol' keyboard jockey some good.

I figured I'd have to make a couple dump loads with the truck to dispose of the old deck. Just as I was getting started, I thought, "I should put an ad on craigslist." I snapped a pic with the phone and mailed it to myself. Went inside and posted the ad: FREE DECK MATERIALS.

Ten minutes into the tear down, my phone was ringing off the hook. One guy took the deck boards, and another guy took the rest. I mean, they took it all: deck boards, framing, posts, and even the old rotten railing. The best part is I didn't have to load the debris in my truck and pay to take it to the dump. Two nice guys came and took it all away.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I got it!

After much ado, I've got my permit in hand. For a total of "only" $400, I've got a fancy yellow sign that says it's OK to build a deck on my own property. Now the real work can begin.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two weeks out

I called the county today and talked to the engineer assigned to review my permit application. He told me he wouldn't get to my application for two weeks! I about had a heart attack. I was speechless. It's hard to know what to say to these people that have power over you. I pleaded my case that this is a simple project and asked if he could fit it in between some of his bigger projects. I mean, it must take about 10 minutes for him to sign off on the plans. I didn't push it though. The last thing I want is to piss the guy off and have him sit on the application for another two weeks just to spite me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Getting the site ready for action

I'm getting antsy. I really want this deck finished before baby #2 arrives in May. So, I burned off some steam by clearing several bushes out of the way. I want the concrete guy to have a nice clean area to start digging out the footings. This side view shows some stakes where the posts will be. And, you can see the air conditioning unit's new home here at the far end of the house (nearest end in the photo).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Permit application

After several weeks of designing and tweaking the designs, I took the plans to the county office to submit a permit application. Several separate departments are required to review the plans. Now that the economy has slowed, they're pretty idle. With nothing better to do than wield their power over homeowners, they act like you're building a nuclear reactor in your back yard. And, every time you turn around, there's another $150 fee for some bureaucrat to look at the application for two minutes. Two months after initially contacting the engineer, I've got the plans submitted. Now we wait.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First meeting with the builder

When I first imagined this project, I figured I'd do most of the work myself (with a lot of help from my dad). But, I soon realized that instead of working on the deck every evening and weekend through summer, I'd rather barbecue on the deck through summer.

Thus, plan B was to have my builder friend Joe do the majority of the work. Unfortunately, it turned out he was really busy starting on a new job. So, I needed an alternate contractor that could do the job well. I thought about old friend who I knew was in the business...

Chris (Performance Plus Contracting) and I talked on the phone, and a few days later, he and his partner Ryan came out to see the site and review the plans. These guys seemed really dialed-in and had several good ideas for the construction. They set off to get some cost estimates and I went off to get the permit from the county.

Monday, March 9, 2009

3 inch hole in the side of the house

You know the project has really started when there is a hole in the side of the house. It's a pretty small hole in this case.

When our house was built, the air conditioning unit was placed right next to the existing deck. That's way too close and makes it difficult to have conversation when you're sitting on the deck and the unit is running. We've always wanted to move the air conditioning unit far away, down toward the other end of the house. The new deck will force this issue since it's 16 feet longer.

I called up our good HVAC guy James from Faith Heating and Air Conditioning. He came by and disconnected the unit. Once the new deck is finished, he'll come back and hook it up in its new home. In the meantime, there's a 3" diameter hole where the unit's pipes went into the garage to the furnace. (I've since screwed a temporary board on the outside to keep the spiders out).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Hardware engineering

As I've mentioned before, the roof over the deck is up about 16 feet. It's a structurally significant addition to the back of the house. So, the first real step of commitment on this project was making contact with an engineer. I'm working with Joel from Stevens Engineering. He's been excellent from start to finish. From our initial conversation, he came up with a rough sketch. We refined it over the next month to get to the near-final plans.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Decommisioning the hot tub

One of the first preparatory steps is to get the hot tub moved out of the way. Once the deck is finished, it will sit, recessed, at the far end. For now, we've got to decommission it and move it out of the way. My dad came over to help me drain and move it. Moving a 2000 lb hot tub with only two people can be a challenge. We got the hang of it and had no problems using a dolly and heavy duty hand truck.

The hot tub's temporary home - out in the middle of the yard:

Moving the beast was only half the story. The 4" thick concrete pad was in the way of some of the new deck's footings. We got a diamond blade for the circular saw and scored the pad. Then I took out my frustrations with the sledge hammer. Luckily, we only needed to break up and dispose of half the pad. We took turns and made quick work of it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Getting started

I discussed the deck idea with a builder friend of mine. This deck will be 6' off the ground. The cover will be 16'. It's up there. The county would require plans and load calculations. My friend recommended an engineer.

So, I made the first call to the engineer back on Jan 15. Here's the picture I sent him describing what I wanted.

The plan is to have a 38x13 deck with a cover over the whole thing. Trusses will be built coming off the house, out 14'.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A plan hatched

When M and I moved into our house 6 years ago, we never thought about the fact that it has a south-facing back yard. We quickly learned that it is a problem if you have no shade. In the summer, its way too hot to enjoy "sitting out back". The existing 12x14 deck is raised 6' off the ground, making the sun exposure even worse. It basically bounces off the high back wall of the house and bakes you like you're in an oven.

In the winter, the low angle of the sun shoots through large windows into our main living area. It's a bright shock to the eyes, typically requiring closure of the wood blinds. Now we can't enjoy looking out the windows.

So, I'm not a fan of the south-facing back yard. Over the last 4 years, we'd discussed several options to create some shade. We never acted on it because we were afraid to spend a large chunk of dough on a house we might move from soon. The "what if we decide to move" question paralyzed us. This year, we resolved to do something and build the covered deck we'd dreamed about, to make the back yard usable. If we move, so be it. We're gonna enjoy the time we're here.