New Front Deck

At the end of summer last year, we got some water in our basement. Given that our house was built in the late 70s and the yard slopes down towards the house, it wasn't very surprising, but it did mean that we needed to get some drainage put in.

We used that as an excuse to do some long-delayed landscaping in our house. When we bought the house, the real-estate agent described the landscaping yard as having "potential", which is "agent-speak" that means "a blight on the neighborhood". We addressed it by letting the plants get more overgrown.

So, it was a total rip-out, including the front "deck". Here's what it looked like:

This design was the height of style in 1972, as was using substandard materials. You used fir instead of cedar because... well, because you just did. Note that the second board is broken out.

We had our landscape guy rip it all out. When meant we couldn't get to the door. Time passed, I did a few design sketches, we decided on one, and in late December I paid $372.30 for the priviledge of building a new deck. A nice deck, one that we could use and where you could walk between the boards with impunity.

After I got the footing holes inspected, it was time to pour the concrete. If you can put the beams on the ground directly underneath where they will ultimately be, you can pour around the connectors and be assured that things will line up perfectly. Here's what it looks like:

Note that you can actually see the house now, and that the door is about 4' from the ground.

Next is putting the joist hangers on the house. Our house has an ledger as a trim piece, so we attached that to the house joists with lag screws (required in earthquake country). And then the joist framework got put on top, and the second inspection was done.

And it looked like this:

The beams are 4x8s, and the joists are all 2x6. All the joist hangers are Simpson Z-Max, and all the nails are hot-dipped galvanized. The current crop of pressure-treated woods are very corrosive and if you don't use the good fasteners, they'll corrode out quickly. Stainless connectors and fasteners can be used if you're made of money. If you look closely next to the house, you'll see some black - this is grace's water shield membrane to make sure the water comes over the front of the joists. You can also see some extra 2x6 bracing on the main beam.

For sake of scale, the deck is 20' wide at the widest point.

Next was posts and decking. We used Trex in a 5/4" x 6" size so that we wouldn't have to do the yearly deck maintenance. Trex recommends 16" spacing on the joists, but I went down to 14.5" to line things up and make the deck a little stronger - the trex is a bit plasticky.

Trex is fairly easy to work with. The decking layout is a bit complicated - there is a "picture frame" strip all the way around the outside of the deck, and then the spacing has to line up perfectly so that the boards from the wide section near the house can transition seamlessly. I did this by measuring out the spacing and using chalk lines, which would have worked perfectly if the decking was really 5.5" wide, but some pieces were nearly an 1/8" wider. So, the spacing isn't perfect.

The picture frame went on first, and then the rest of the decking. They are all fastened down with FastenMaster's Trapease screws, which are color-matched and cut a perfect circle with every screw. I used my Makita impact driver, an absolutely killer tool. I built a jig to mark every screw location so it was easy to get them correct.

Oh, and the posts all went on first. The railing-size ones are trex, and there are some big ones that are made from pressure treat. They're all sandwiched between joists and attached with some hefty bolts. Here's it is with the decking on:

Next step was to build the arbor that goes on the big posts, all made out of cedar. I surfaced 1x8s on my thickness planer, finished them with stain, and then built boxes out of them (actually the second try - the posts warped considerably so the boxes had to get bigger). The cross pieces were made out of 2x12 cedar, and the top pieces out of 2x2.5" cedar. The high pieces got fabricated on the deck, and then we lifted it up slowly with some clamps to keep it from coming down. The remaining pieces went with a ladder, and the screw holes were patched with some bondo (used because it doesn't shrink).

Finally, it was time for railings. We had planned to use metal tubing, but my contact in the trades was not to be found, and the other fabricators I found were 12-16 weeks out. So, we went with cedar. I did all the fabrication in the garage, and then brought the pieces out and attached them to the uprights. The top board is a piece of Trex decking. I cut all the pieces, and then attached the mitered joints with pocket screws, and attached the top board from underneath. The railing pieces are 2x2 cedar, and the pieces they slot into are 2x3 cedar.

Which brings us to the final picture:

There will be lattice to hide the posts, and the slope down to the deck and the steps are only temporary - that will be heavily revised.

The total elapsed time was around 10 months, with a lot of rain delay and a bit of sun display.


Permit                               $372.30
Framing                             $700.00
Decking                            $2300.00
Arbor                                $ 600.00
Railing                              $ 350.00

Total                                $4300.00

That probably misses a few hundred dollars of incidentals.

Comments (2)

  1. DarkStar says:

    Nice work! It’s a real improvement, I like how it looks now. Maybe if you add some plants around (not too many). 🙂

  2. Matt Davis says:

    Beautiful! The "boxes" around the arbor posts make it look much more substantial than 4x4s alone…

    I love Trex- after using it on my last project, I’ll never use cedar again. The lack of required maintenance is completely worth the extra effort and cost on the underpinnings (and saw blades).

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