All Hands on Deck

 Terry Pommett
Here's how to buildan outdoor room that will weather the weather.

Decks make more sense in coastal locations than just about anywhere else. Spending time outside is the whole idea, isn't it? You want the views, the salt air, those sunset breezes.

Decks can be a bargain, too, since they expand your living space at a fraction of the cost of adding rooms. But plan and build them right. You know our mantra: Coastal weather, with its wind-driven rain and withering sun, will make you pay dearly for sloppy construction.

You'll learn specifics from your local building codes, which determine joist placement, rail height and spacing, and more. You should tailor the design to your needs and to the site: Is it going to be just you and your chaise out there, or do you need it for big parties? Are you considering the sun and prevailing winds on the deck side of your house?

Here are deck dos and don'ts:

If you get winter snows, resist the temptation to make your deck flush with the door opening. You might save a step down to the deck, but you'll invite built-up snow to melt and seep beneath the door. I like a drop of at least 3 inches.

Keep supporting posts off the ground, and anchor them securely. Even if you use pressure-treated wood, you want to minimize the chances for moisture buildup and rot. So use the pier system, which means pouring a concrete pier into a hole dug deep enough to penetrate the frost line. The top of the pier sticks up 4 to 6 inches above the surface.

Secure support posts with a stirrup of galvanized or zinc-plated straps tied together, both for stability in high winds and to prevent moisture buildup. The stirrup, embedded in the pier top while the cement is still wet, forms a shelf that secures the post to the pier yet allows air circulation and moisture-draining space between wood and concrete.

Create a drain system between siding and deck. Attach your deck so no water can penetrate through the house's outer skin. The key is the ledger board, which is the horizontal support for the deck on the house side. Ideally, it's bolted or lag screwed straight through the siding to the sill structure of the house. At the very least, you need flashing that extends up the side of the house behind the siding and folds over the ledger board to direct water downward and away from the house. But here's a simpler and better way: I use spacer blocks of sill seal to create 3/8-inch drain gaps between the siding and the back of the ledger board. Sill seal is a compressible, oil-impregnated product used to seal the connection between a concrete foundation and the frame the floor joists sit on. I cut enough sections to tack blocks 8 inches wide by the height of the ledger board every 24 inches or so along the back of the board. Then, I lag screw through the ledger board, sill seal, and siding into the structure of the house. As the board is snugged up to the siding, the sill seal compresses and bonds to both the siding and the board. The gaps between the blocks allow water to drain beneath the deck.

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