Deck Failure, Repair, and Retrofit

25 07 2014

Bad ending to a BBQ!

As a Renovation contractor, I handle the demolition phase myself, allowing me to see the  mistakes that caused a particular failure and learn from them.  Decks are no exception, and are unique in that many homeowners install them as DIY projects because they seem simple and easy to accomplish on a weekend.  With decks, what the typical homeowner doesn’t know can injure or kill someone.

Common mistakes begin at the existing structure.  I see weak ledger-to-structure attachment, missing flashings, ledger attached over the the siding, weak or inadequate railing systems, and general lack of structural framing technique.  Because it’s a weekend project, it typically doesn’t get permitted or inspected, and the flaw becomes a ticking time bomb.  Factor in the height of a second or third story deck and you get my point.


Simpson’s Ledger-to-Structure Tension Connection Detail. Note the “Interior” work required.


View looking up at a ledger tension connection and tension connections for a guardrail post.


View looking down at tension connections for multiple guardrail posts in a corner.

In 2009 the International Code was updated to include deck construction standards to eliminate failures that ended in a fatality.  By code we have standard fastening dimensions, spacing, patterns, and tension details which make so much sense when you put them into practice.  The Simpson Strong-Tie company was instrumental in manufacturing connectors that make practical sense in applying the new code.

In nine out of ten decking projects I simply retrofit the existing deck by replacing any rotted wood, tightening it up, and tensioning it tight to the original structure.  This includes a lot of structural metal hardware, galvanized fasteners, and stainless steel screws.

Finished deck, PVC "Ipe" decking, Mahogany posts and rails, Stainless Steel cabling.

Finished deck, PVC “Ipe” decking, Mahogany posts and rails, Stainless Steel cabling.


Waterproofing Showers, Tub Surrounds, & More

7 10 2011

It’s time for a current (2014) update on this subject.  Over the years I’ve used almost every available system to build waterproof showers, tub surrounds, and floors.  My motivation has always been to use the most advanced, labor-saving products and methods available.  My customers have come expect it.  The substrate or “backer” material needs to be structurally sound, waterproof, easy to install, and adaptable to different configurations.  In short, it needs to hold my confidence no matter the application.

Abandoned Methods – I no longer use some methods by personal preference.  There is just too much room for error using these methods.  These include PVC liners, mud-set pans, rigid plastic or ABS pans, cement-boards, fiber-cement-boards, open-cell foam-boards, waterproof coatings, and styrafoam/fabric/thinset systems.  All of these products can be installed, waterproofed, and can offer a decent finished product.  However, they involve multiple steps, considerable weight & labor, and extreme attention to ensure a waterproof system.  The temptation though, is that they can be less expensive.

4x3x8 shower preped using Wedi

4x3x8 shower preped using Wedi

Current Method – After becoming a “Wedi Certified Installer”, I have been using this system exclusively for the past ten years.  “Wedi” is a closed-cell foam-board with fiberglass mesh and a thin layer of thinset on both sides.  This material is waterproof throughout it’s entire thickness.  It is adhered to the sub-floor using thinset, joined using Urethane adhesive, and secured to walls using mechanical fasteners. This system combines the drain, sloped-pan, wall, curb, and floor components into one continuous unit.  It is adaptable to any imaginable shape and size.  It boasts a ten year waterproof warranty,
and it should outlast the wood structure.  This system is extremely lightweight, installs quickly, and the labor savings and warranty are worth every penny.   I have the utmost confidence in the “Wedi” system, and (knock on closed-cell foam) have had no call-backs since moving to this method exclusively.


4x3x8 shower complete

The Lesson – Even with advanced systems, you still need to know what you’re doing in order to installed them correctly.  You have to learn how each system protects your structural wood components from moisture damage.  Don’t skip any steps, especially waterproofing the joints and fasteners, and leak-testing the pan.  I’ve always said “you can’t beat a guy at his job“.  So If you doubt your ability at all, hire a professional who has confidence in the systems he builds with every day.

John Weber,

New Tools

23 11 2010

In recent years, innovations in construction tools have seen a quantum leap.  Someone recently asked me which new tools had made the most significant impact in my renovation projects?  My response was “Artillery Tools, Fein Multimaster, and CST/Berger Laser Tools”.  The first two are sometimes considered expensive, but that’s by people who don’t yet own them.  Lasers range in cost, and you get what you pay for.

Artillery Tools have saved me time, money, and wear & tear on my body.  They are a comprehensive, well-engineered system of pry-bars, fulcrums, extension handles, and comfort grips that add power, height, reach, and comfort to the age-old science of leverage.  They reduce my demolition time from days to hours every time use them.  Where I used to deploy a crowbar with one inch of leverage travel, I now deploy an Artillery bar with eight inches of leverage travel.  Instead of removing material in small pieces, I remove material in full sheets.  Invest in a set of Artillery Tools, and you will never pickup a traditional crowbar again.

The Fein Multimaster saves me refinishing costs by limiting collateral damage, and by simply doing a better job than most similar tools.  The Multimaster is the original vibrating multi-tool made by the Europeans.  I use it to cut, scrape, & sand, in tight places, between surfaces, and flat against surfaces where no other tool will do such a clean job.  The only con is the high cost of replacement blades.

CST/Berger Laser tools are made in various configurations to meet different applications.  Most of the laser tools I use are either self-leveling, or are used where leveling is not required.  They save me tons of time in layout.  I use a spinning laser to set grades and elevations, a right-angle laser to set floor patterns, a cross laser to set wall patterns, and a plumb laser to transfer floor to ceiling points.  The only con is replacing batteries every now and then, not bad.

John Weber

The Classic Boathouse

27 04 2010

I am currently rebuilding a classic boathouse on Lake Oswego.  The original structure was built in the 1966 and the sun-deck was improved sometime later.

The chimney and fire-box were crumbling due to the corrosion of internal steel supports.  The sun-deck, papapet walls, and mansard roofs had failed due to a combination of dry-rot, water damage, and carpenter ants initiated by a lack of waterproof membranes,  poor building envelope practices, and time.

Debris removal was handled with a twenty yard dumpster floated-in on a barge.  The deck surface was removed, along with the parapet walls, mansard roofs, soffits, and 40% of the sub-decking.  This filled the dumpster.  The remaining structure was treated for dry-rot and carpenter ants prior to the introduction of any new lumber.

The sub-deck was patched, and the parapet walls were re-framed slightly higher to meet code.  The mansard roofs were re-framed, and the deck was furred and sheeted to achieve a drainage slope.  The chimney was demolished down to middle of the fire box, and rebuilt with a new flue liner and arched masonry supports in lieu of steel.

Corrective measures included ventilated wall and roof assemblies, waterproof membranes, and drainage planes to minimize moisture accumulation.  The parapet walls and mansard roofs were vented using screened blocks and soffit vents at the bottom, and ridge vents at the top.  The cedar shingles were further protected with a “Cedar-Breather” drainage plane, and the parapet siding with a “Hydro-Tex” drainage plane.

Tune-in to see the finishes soon.

John Weber

Solving Flooring Failures

3 03 2010

I recently returned to one of my favorite resort areas (Black Butte Ranch) to update some finishes in a cabin.  One of the items was replacement of an old vinyl floor which had failed (not my installation).

Floor coverings fail due to a number of factors; defective product, poor installation, incompatible substrate, temperature & moisture fluctuations, structural stresses, etc..  Usually, it’s a combination of these that seal the demise of a floor covering.

This vinyl was cracked, pealing up, the seams were too many, and had separated.  It came-up way too easily upon demolition, as if something had caused the adhesive to fail.  Underneath it, the installer had replaced the particle-board underlayment with a very well installed plywood underlayment (nice job).  It’s difficult to be sure just what caused it to fail.  The failure was worse near the entry, leading me to believe that moisture and/or temperature may have contributed to the failure (snow drifts against the door and sits for long freeze/thaw cycles, causing moisture & cold to wick under the door’s threshold).  The bond was better in the center (traffic path) and under the refrigerator.  Expansion and contraction, along with moisture (wet mopping) may have caused the seams to fail (moisture enters the assembly via unfinished & uncaulked base boards and cracked seams).  I measured the moisture content of the plywood at a consistent six (6) percent, which is dry enough by industry standards.

Preventative Measures:
I caulked under the threshold of the entry door with Vulkem, a polyurethane product.  I then installed sill-seal foam as a perimeter expansion joint, and Ditra tile-backer to help isolate the installation from structural stresses.  The Ditra along with Kerdi-Band seams will prevent moisture from entering the plywood from above.  I adjusted the tile layout to locate expansion  joints on logical room separations, further isolating the system from structural stresses.  The expansion joints were constructed of foam backer-rod topped with color-matched, sanded caulk.

The lesson:

Resort properties, unoccupied for long winter periods, in climates which see extreme temperature and moisture fluctuations, provide a recipe for failed installations.  It pays to do your homework, select products and methods which help to withstand harsh conditions, and keep the thermostat on low, even when unoccupied.

John Weber,

Giving Back

18 11 2009

I recently had the honor of giving back, through my church (Willamette Christian Church). 

Our Mission Trip began with a request for volunteers with construction skills.  From there our team blossomed into a mixed group of skilled and non-skilled-but-able souls all desiring to give back in some way.  Initially, we all focused on the work involved, the tools required, and the physical hurdles ahead.  Little did we know that we were in for a much deeper experience.

We worked hard, at high altitude (7500 ft Mexico City), and out of our comfort zone.  We learned right away that our American emphasis on materials, fasteners, and techniques, would not serve us well in Mexico.  Our Mexican brothers freely taught us their method of laying brick, tying rebar, forming columns, beams, and floors, moving materials, mixing and pouring concrete, and all with simple tools, and very few fasteners.  Their methods were simple yet very effective, with the emphasis on labor.

We were housed and fed very well by our hosts Steve and Kay Carpenter.  We ate a lot of tacos with exceptionally flavored meats and lots of delicious toppings (I gained seven pounds, ouch).

Immediately we bonded as a team, working together like a well-oiled machine.  This seemed to happen effortlessly.  We were spiritually challenged every morning, and there was deep spiritual healing for some.  This group of Christian men opened-up to each other, became vulnerable, and formed deep and lasting bonds.  We will no doubt be venturing out again with a common goal to spread Gods’ love.  I feel I have gained family members, and am deeply grateful for everyone involved.  I thank our Team: Dale Anderson, Mike Black, John Kildahl, Mike Maxwell, Wes Miller, Gary Parkin, Brad Poyser, Pamela Ryan, Chris Yarco, & Gary Yarco.

I am also grateful to the Mexico City Team: Steve & Kay Carpenter, Hector & Rosie, Joy, Daisy, Casey, Tacho, Juanito, Benito, Horhe,  Jose-Louis, & Memo.

It was an honor to serve with all of you.  I was deeply humbled by our experience.

P.S. – Can anyone help me with the name of our other lunch cook (the lady in blue in the front row)?

John Weber

Outdoor Living Spaces

17 10 2009

Outdoor living spaces have been very popular in the past few years.  Here’s a look at one which involved a Sunroom Addition and an Outdoor Living Area.  The homeowner wanted to handle some of the finish work, so we took it most of the way, then stepped aside to let him save a few bucks.  We converted an existing covered  deck area into an enclosed room with a foundation, subfloor, walls, windows, etc. for relaxing in the winter (Sunroom).  We then added a post & beam structure with a hip roof to cover the new deck area for outdoor living in all seasons.  The new roof structure included two skylights to bring more daylight to the Sunroom windows.  The structure had to tie into the existing hip corner aligning on the left and intersecting on the right.  In addition to structural and deck footings, we poured a massive footing to support a new masonry fireplace, and a slab to support an existing spa in the opposite corner.

Week One

Week One

Week one, the deck was removed, temporary support posts were installed, the project was excavated, formed, and the foundations were poured.

Week Two/Three

Week Two/Three

Week two, the forms were removed, the new floor & walls were framed, sheathed, and wrapped.

Week three, the existing eaves were cut-back, the post and beam structure was erected, decorative hardware was added, and the roof framing was started.

Week Four

Week Four

Week four, the roof framing was completed, facia, roof sheathing, and felt paper was added.  The deck was framed and a temporary plywood deck was installed.  The masonry fireplace was started.

Week Five, doors and windows were installed, soffits were built, and the roofing and gutters were installed.

We’ll return in the Spring for a finished photo and hopefully a BBQ!

John Weber