I'm in the midst of working with a small crew on a pretty good-sized residential project, and today we finally got a big chunk of the job buttoned up. I think we've spent about a week on demo, a week rebuilding an exterior wall, a week building a roof structure and a week rebuilding a 2nd story deck; we've probably lost a week due to rain days as well.
Anyways...the 2nd story deck...it's essentially the genesis for this entire project, as its construction back in 1989 was definitely not done properly. Or, maybe it was and a subsequent patch job wasn't. It's hard to say, but what we did know for sure - up front - was that any time it rained, water was getting into the rear section of the house, from pretty much the top of the 2nd floor wall down to the 1st floor, and a healthy portion of that water infiltration came at the the level of the 2nd story deck. Upon getting into the demo, we discovered that the decking and a large portion of the exterior wall had been replaced at least 1 time since the building's rehab in 1989.
What is shown in the above pic is the original deck, and plastic the homeowner put up to try to shield the house from water until any repairs could be made. When we first started pulling up deck boards and removing siding from the house, we discovered that 1, the flashing used to do what the plastic essentially did was minimal at best and the wrong stuff to begin with (it was valley flashing, which is sort of like glorified foil), 2, replacing the deck boards - whoever did it previously - without replacing the flashing meant the existing flashing had about 100 holes in it from the set of screws used to attach the first set of deck boards (any guess as to how well flashing with 100 holes in it works?), and 3, the decks's structure was a construction fiasco.
The original deck structure had 2x12 joists @ 24" centers, and considering that the deck is somewhere around 19' long, that's a looooooong distance to span 2x12s on 24" centers. I'm guessing the existing deck, in its initial state, had to feel pretty "bouncy" with any real weight on it. At some point, somebody came back in and added 2x6 "joists" (a 2x6 doesn't make for a very good joist over any real significant distance) in between the original 2x12 joists, but they pieced them all together so that instead of a single 2x6 running the entire 19' across the length of the deck, the installer used several short boards and pieced them all together. Given the location of the joints, lack of any double beams, small size of the additional joists, etc., I'm not sure the 2x6s added a whole lot in terms of any real support.
Lipstick on a pig, really.
The existing deck had a drain system on the underside of the joists, and a few electric fixtures in the ceiling. Those had been flashed and caulked in, but if you check out the above pic of the caulk catastrophe...that's kind of how everything was done. If you're using that much caulk, for anything - ever - you're probably not doing things properly. And the pic with the flashing kind of sums it up: wrong material, destroyed condition, and the end result is water infiltration and rotten sheathing.
The original scope of work was to simply replace the deck boards and railing, but given how sketchy (and rotten) the existing framing was, we tore out everything other than the existing ledger board and opposing rim joist. We then added some masonry anchors to the ledger board, installed new 2x12 joists @ 16" centers, and lagged the rim joist adjacent to the back wall of the house to the house itself. We also doubled up the rim joist - so, (2) 2x12s - that the new roof is attached to. That gave us a stable base to work from.
After rebuilding and resheathing the exterior wall of the house we caulked everything in and installed the proper flashing at the deck-to-house connection. From there, it was deck drain time.
See that roof there? We built that too, but that'll be the topic of a different blog post. And don't worry, she got a little messy and dirty during deck construction, but with a little effort on our part - and some rain - she cleaned up pretty well.
Anyhow...because the clients wanted a finished beadboard ceiling on the underside of the deck joists, we opted to use a Trex product for the deck drain system. It's a pretty straightforward system and installation, but it proved to be challenging. The system isn't much more than some kind of pvc/plastic/?? (I really don't know what the material is, but it's kind of like the stuff used to make gallon milk jugs) and a LOT of butyl tape and caulk. Don't know what "butyl" is? I don't either, but if you can imagine a substance that's equal parts chewed gum, taffy and headache, that's it. It's CRAZY sticky, which is good - that means it'll work well - but it's also something where you kind of get 1 shot to get it where you want it, and if you miss, there's no undoing it.
The installation amounts to unrolling the pvc/plastic/?? stuff, stapling it to one joist, creating a trough, stapling said trough to the opposing joist - making sure the trough slopes to the funnels/downspouts that come with the system - and then caulking and taping all the seams. There's a little more to it than that, but that's the gist of it. A smarter person than myself would have started the installation at the house and worked towards the roof, but that's a story for another day.
Once we had the deck drain system installed and everything flashed sufficiently, it was business as usual: build a cedar deck. We used 5/4 cedar deck boards for the decking, 4x4 cedar posts with cedar 2x4s and 2x6s forming the railing, and black aluminum balusters.
The whole thing turned out pretty well. Once we get the underside buttoned up with the beadboard ceiling, it'll hopefully be a very, very long time before somebody has to get into any of it...and wonder how much of a small fiasco the deck reconstruction was at times. Overall it was a pretty fun component of the job, and the last leg of the work - the decking and railing - was really easy. On projects like this we always kind of joke about how nobody down the road will ever know the aggravation that comes with rebuilding bad construction, or fixing problems that never should have existed, or installing seemingly simple systems - like the deck drain - that aren't quite as easily installed as the manufacturer would have you believe...but that's OK; when the end result is solid, level, looks good and does all the things it's supposed to, all the little fiascos along the way seem to be well worth the time involved to deal with them.