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Deck Construction

From The Ground Up

The first step in a deck project is achieving a solid design(but that’s another subject) but the first step in deck construction is preparing the site.  This usually means removing any existing deck or patio and checking the house for areas that need repair.  Ledger Rot Damage

It’s not unusual for us to find rot and even insects where the old deck was attached to the house.  In most cases, the rot can be address fairly easily from the exterior of the house.  Even the damage seen in this photo was able to be fixed and the ants exterminated without delaying our schedule.

Once the house is prepared the next step is to ensure that the ground under the deck will slope away from the house to ensure good drainage.

A Strong Foundation

Decks are typically supported in one of two ways. The first method is to build a freestanding deck that is supported on both sides by concrete footings, the second method involves supporting one side of the deck with a ledger board attached to the house. The freestanding method is necessary when the house structure at the deck construction location is not suitable for supporting the deck but it is more time and cost intensive than supporting the deck on a ledger. Large decks or ones with complex layouts may involve a combination of both systems.

Most of our deck footings are concrete piers set to extend from the ground level to 42″ below the surface with an appropriately sized footing at the bottom. The footing serves to spread out the weight of the deck and, because it extends below the lowest possible frost depth, prevent the deck from moving due to frost heave. The footings are an incredibly important part of the deck’s construction and design.  A poorly made footing can settle, heave or even tip if was incorrectly made and installed.

Framing

The first thing most people imagine when they think about deck construction is the frame and it is a big deal.  The first two steps set the stage but the framing is what determines the style, shape and durability of your deck.  The Deck Construction Framingframe typically consists of posts, beams, bracing and joists.  Very high, and very low, deck construction can require different techniques of supporting the beams.

We use pressure-treated southern yellow pine for all our framing.  It is a strong, durable, safe and plentiful material.  Even with with the pressure treatment it’s important to properly build the frame in such a way that areas that can collect moisture and debris are avoided, or sealed if they cannot be avoided.  As you can see in the first picture on this page, moisture collection can cause serious long term problems.  We have a four step flashing process to keep moisture out of the ledger to house connection.  In fact, we go FAR beyond the current code requirements for deck frame treatment and protection.  Several of the decking products we use have much longer lifespans than traditional wood decking that we take every precaution to ensure that the frame will last as long as possible.

The final element to our deck frame construction is the hardware.  In the humid, wet and salty environments of southern Rhode Island and Connecticut, metal fasteners are a particular challenge.  We use galvanized hangers brackets with a rating of G185 and hot dipped fasteners to ensure that they will remain structurally sound for the life of your deck.  In some extreme coastal areas we will recommend stainless steel connectors.

Decking

Decking is usually everyone’s favorite design item and it is our favorite element as well.  We offer several different decking materials to choose from and each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as preferred fastening methods.  Capped composite decking is usually installed with a hidden fastener system.  Hardwood decking, such as garapa or ipe, can also be installed with a hidden fastener system or it can be installed with exposed screws or with screws that are plugged with wood dowels after installation.  Cedar and pressure-treated decking are typically installed with standard decking screws.  All of the decking screws we use are stainless steel.

Railings

Railings are the most diverse area of deck design with dozens of materials and a near infinite variety of configurations to choose from.  Most systems rely on 4×4 posts that are integrated into the frame during the deck construction and railing sections that are hung in between the posts.  In some systems, decorative sleeves are used to cover the posts and other systems utilize surface mounted posts.  Systems can be made from composite, pvc, aluminum, vinyl, wood or stainless steel, or any combination of those.  We don’t recommend coated steel railings systems in this area as there is a high corrosion risk with the salinity from the ocean.

The Finish Line

Many decks don’t require any finish to be applied after construction.  Man-made materials retain their original color and the more durable woods will last for decades without any additional finish.  These woods will naturally turn a nice silver color if left alone.

Applying the right finish can preserve a wood’s natural color or even change the color of a softer wood.  Cedar and pressure-treated lumber will both accept a number of stain colors while the natural color of ipe and garapa will be accentuated and maintained by UV resistant oils.