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June 15th 2013 Blog
On 6/15/2013 I started working on a project for Dona Sartin, who lives in Warden, WA which is just a few miles South of Moses Lake, WA. Dona fell on her back steps last year in the winter and wanted to eliminate the possibility of that happening again. Because of the distance involved, we will only work on Saturdays until it is done.

The steps into the back door were about 5' wide and a total of about 28" tall. The risers were about 7" and the treads were about 8". And it was solid concrete. It had to be taken out for the new deck to fit properly to the house.

There were also some sidewalk sections that had sunk and were creating tripping hazards, so they had to be taken out too. The first Saturday, we started out with a pair of sledge hammers and a big iron pry bar. We got most of the sidewalk sections broken up and loaded into a trailer. One section, out of all of them, had some re-bar in it and defied our efforts.

The thought of those steps was overwhelming. I hit the bottom step with a 16# sledge hammer and it rang like a bell! We were tired of using sledge hammers from the sidewalks, and dreaded the idea of using jack hammers, so I wanted to try something else. I had heard of a non-explosive chemical that could be used to break up concrete, so I did some research and settled on a product called Dexpan. The demo's on the video's looked good and I ordered two 11 pound packages of the stuff. The hardest work we would have to do was to drill 1.5 " holes 90% of the way through, 8" apart. Ray did most of the holes and we got ready to mix up the Dexpan. We were all very excited at the thought of that big concrete step breaking up with the Dexpan. We poured the slurry into the holes and started putting tools away, after all it was going to take at least 7 or 8 hour for the Dexpan to do its work. Pretty soon things started to go wrong. The Dexpan started to blow out of the holes, and by the third time it happened we started to figure out what we did wrong. In our excitement and fatigue, we had forgotten to stir the slurry after it was in the holes, leaving air pockets evidently. Out of all the holes we drilled, only two didn't blow out. Our disappointment was running high.

The next weekend, we tackled the steps again, this time with 90# jack hammers. After a long day, a lot of it was broken up, but a big hunk was still there. I got a call from Lark yesterday telling me that Ray had spoken to someone he knew at church, who has a front end loader. The fellow offered to come over with the equipment and help out. They were able to pull the big hunk away from the house and move it out of the way. We are all very happy about that! Now construction of the deck can begin.


I had wanted the deck to be free standing from the house, so I designed a foundation layout with nine support points. We decided to attach the deck to the house with a ledger board as well because of the erosion problem of the soil. So, plans are supposed to be flexible, and I try to be as well.

Richard, at the age of 24 is one of the most talented and masterful craftsmen I have ever met. His range of skills in the construction industry is amazing. He is in his third year as an electrician apprentice, but he has been working since he was 10 with his father, who himself is a master builder.

We left early and had breakfast in the car as we drove to Warden. Once we arrived, Richard and I started laying out the positions of the piers of the foundation. We dug our holes about 24" deep and began to fill them with concrete and position the 4x4 elevated post base. The digging was easy, the concrete mixed well and we were done in a couple of hours, so we had plenty of time to just sit and visit with mom.


Richard and I left early this morning, the lumber had been ordered earlier and Ray had picked it up, so it was waiting for us. The first thing we had to resolve was relocating the dryer vent. It was right where the ledger board would be against the house, so it had to move. I had asked Lark to have some extra vent parts there for us so we wouldn't have to stop to go to town. Ray and Richard took over the vent issue, so I focused on getting ready to start framing the structure. Richard suggested we simply move the vent down from it's present location by about 8 inches, and that seemed like the best solution. He drilled a hole and had enough slack in the vent hose to move it to the new hole and inserted the vent tube and cover. It was almost done in five minutes! Richard put screws into the cover to secure it to the house and it was done. We started with the 4x4's in the elevated post base used to level the deck. We got those cut to the right height and set post caps on top of each those. Next we cut and placed the 4x6 beams and using tech nails and a palm nailer, attached everything together. We were very careful to establish our lines and make sure everything was square and even as we went. We brought the joist over and started laying out the header boards. I like to face nail as much as possible, so we pulled everything back far enough to get the framing nailer in and attached all the joist on that end. We pushed the assembly into place against the house and using 6 3/8" x 6" galvanized lag bolts, attached it to the house. So, at this point the new deck was supported by 3 4x6 treated beams, the first one, one foot from the house and a ledger board secured with lag bolts. This deck is going to be very strong, If I do say so myself. We checked our square again and finished installing two rows of blocks. We installed the 4x4's for the hand rail posts and secured them with strong ties where possible. By this time it was getting late and we were at a stopping point, so we headed home.

The next step is getting the Trex ordered.


The Trex is here, and so are we. Ray, Richard, and I started early in the morning and by early afternoon we had the deck and the stairs covered. I had spent time in the last couple of weeks planning and building the steps the way I wanted. I had decided on an 18" tread with a 5" riser to ensure that the person using them would have an easy time even if their hands were full. It took some time and figuring, but I got a good solid set of stairs built and installed. Now the handrails.


Richard had to work, so he is not with us this time. Ray is occupied and will not be here until later, so I am on my own installing the hand rails, at least to start. I laid out the pieces to get it organized and figured out where I wanted the upper and lower rails to be on the posts. I covered all of the posts will sleeves and laid out the height of the upper and lower rails. I attached the upper and lower brackets and cut the rails to length. The infill kit and balusters went next and were done quickly. Now I just had to do it again, 7 more times.

Now the deck is done for the most part, we will install some white vinyl lattice and some tread pieces for the steps, and it is done.