When your deck is damaged or aging, what should you do? Repair, replace or some combination?
We’ll explore these questions in the context of what one Connolly Construction Co. client did this past spring on a deck fronting Long Island Sound in Fairfield, Ct..
The Historical Context: Waiting On FEMA.
It has been two years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Connecticut… on October 29, 2012. It was the biggest east coast storm of all. Some are still cleaning up after it. And many are grappling with the main challenge: what to do to prepare for the next one.
While awaiting FEMA funding approvals to raise the first floor of her house 8 feet in the air and place it ‘on stilts’, our client elected to repair and spruce up the lower level (approximately 800 s.f.) of a 2 level deck damaged by Sandy. And she elected to install new decking material on the upper second level (approximately 600 s.f.) All was completed in time for summer fun in the sun.
Initial Evaluation Of Existing Conditions And Owner Objectives
Our first step (as with all projects) was to assess existing conditions and thereafter evaluate those in light of owner objectives.
In the photos below, you can see that the deck consists of 2 levels. The lower level abuts the sliding door entry to the ground floor of the beach house. As previously mentioned, the lower level is larger in area than the upper level, which spills out onto the beach. As can be seen in the photos, the elevation of the beach is above the ground floor elevation of the home, thereby channeling sea water into it during high water storms.
A “hump” had developed in the middle of the lower level deck. It was caused by the force of the ocean, which migrated beneath the deck substructure forcing it up in the air. Amazingly, most of the deck withstood these pressures. But in two or three areas of the lower level only, running from left to right (east to west) in the photos, the pressure was too much and the deck buckled.
The hump made circulation on the deck hazardous and seating and dining arrangements wobbly and uncomfortable. The hump had to go.
After opening up the hump and several other problem areas, minor evidence of movement and fastener “pull-out” were discovered in the framing substructure. And there was minor rot in four or five areas of decking material. Overall, the existing deck was in surprisingly good condition given that a hurricane had blown through it and the ground floor of the abutting house.
The owners’ main objective was to get the deck into a more useable attractive condition for summer enjoyment, both by the owners and by short term renters scheduled for occupancy at the end of August.
The Conclusion: Repairing The Lower Level And Replacing The Upper Level
After collaborating on a number of different courses of action (including the lowest cost one of simply repairing the hump and delaying all other work until all construction related to raising the house ‘on stilts’ was completed), the homeowner elected to repair and restain the lower level, keeping the existing 1 x 4 deck boards in place. And she elected to replace the existing 1 x 4 deck boards on the upper level with unfinished 1 x 6 IPE, allowing the new boards to weather into a dull grey silvery color. Old boards removed from the upper level were used to patch and splice into the existing and repaired pattern of 1 x 4s on the lower level. Excess scrap left over from removing the old boards and not used for lower level repairs was cut into lengths specified by the owner and recycled, to be used for future fabrication of beach furniture.
Discovery: Several Deck Boards Removed To Take A Closer Look Prior To Demolition.
Portions of the Upper Level Removed To Furnish Material For Lower Level Repairs
Framing Damage And Related Repairs : More Nails, Screws, Scabs and Leveling.
Almost Done IPE Photos
Once the framing on the upper level was repaired and ready to receive new 5/4 x 6 IPE, the work
was sequenced as follows: center portion first, eastern side second, western side last.
Problems Identified During Construction & Remediation Tips
The old deck was built pretty well. And the planters around the perimeter of the deck structure seemed
to protect it pretty well when hurricane Sandy blew through. A couple of shortcomings were noticed with the original construction. If you can avoid these when you hire someone to build your deck, you’ll end up with a better deck:
- Common nails were used infrequently in lieu of galvanized or stainless steel. The commons rusted and disintegrated thereby losing all fastening properties. Always use stainless (or equal) fasteners! It’s always worth the extra cost. And make sure to police this every day when under construction.
- Some, not all, joists rested directly in contact with the ground. Fortunately the ground was fast draining sand. While there was no evidence of rot or insect infestation from this technique, it is not best practice and is in violation of code in most cold climate jurisdictions. Keep the joists off the ground.
- Deferred maintenance, particularly with paint and stain on the deck boards, resulted in rot in several spots. Don’t defer the maintenance. If you do, it will always cost more to fix it.
- In 3 or 4 areas, deck boards were not supported well by the substructure. In 2 or 3 spots, it was missing, thereby leading to “cave-ins” of the deck boards in those locations.
- There was no ventilation to facilitate the drying out of the deck boards and substructure. The underside of the original deck boards were sopping wet due to their attempt to dry out through the top surface of the boards. The topsides of the joists were also soaking wet. The deck assembly was so wet, the deck boards had swelled together butt tight so there was no spacing to facilitate drying.
On the new installation, the owner elected not to install a venting system in the vertical rim joist elements. She elected to space the new deck boards 3/8” +/- apart in hopes that this gap would be large enough to always ensure ventilation through the top of the deck surface, regardless of future swelling conditions. Always ventilate the deck assembly: substructure and boards! It and any finishes will last longer if you do.