Saturday, 31 March 2012

Runaway Deck

Dear Joe,

I have a deck which we converted to a screened room off the back of my house.  The deck was here when we bought the house and we closed it in about five years ago.  Over the last couple of years I have noticed the deck begin to pull away from the house.  It has been getting progressively worse each spring.  I don’t know what to do to stop it or how I can fix it, or if I can fix it.  I would appreciate your insight on this matter before it comes completely off the house and falls down taking my nice screen room with it.



Quite a problem you have on your hands, Will.  This is one of those things that if not taken care of could significantly damage other parts of the house, so in order to mitigate the damage, we need to act quickly and repair the problem or at very least stop the worsening of it.

The first thing you’ll want to check out is how the frame was attached to the house in the first place.  This should tell you why it failed and then you can go about planning how to reattach it properly. 

Once you have ascertained the anchoring problem, the real trick will be getting the deck back into its original position to allow you reattach it.  Short of backing a truck or tractor into it, you will have to be patient and employ a system of jacks, or ratchets in concert with a few well-placed blows from a sledge hammer.  If this doesn’t work, then using a bit more horsepower may be your only option, but I am going on the record as saying I don’t advise it.  Chances are you will do more damage than good.  But if you use your tractor or such as a stationary object you can then jack against it thereby having maximum control over the manipulation of the deck.

Once it’s back in place, you’ll have to get under there and install all the necessary anchors and joist hangers that were probably left out the first time.  No less than 24” apart, preferably 16”.  Now while you’re under there, do a good visual inspection of all the framing members, the footings and the grading up to the house.  You can take this opportunity to true up the main beam by shimming at the footings or deck blocks, making the deck nice and straight again.  You’re down there now, might as well do it, unless of course you like crawling around in the dank dirty space under your deck.

This Counter's Tops

Dear Joe,

I want to replace my out of style ‘90s green countertop with something a bit more stylish.  I was hoping to upgrade to something more durable than laminate but cost is an issue.  Also my backsplash is tiled and was wondering the best/cheapest way to renew that too without the cost of tearing out the whole back wall and redoing it from scratch.  Any suggestions would be great. Thank You.


Well Liz,

Thank you for the great question.  Just replacing your countertop can give the entire kitchen a new lease on life.  I would also suggest freshening up your paint colour while you’re at it, with a colour that complements your new counter. 

Well, if you’re budget conscious, you won’t beat laminates for style, and affordability.  There are some gorgeous patterns being put out now which look like the most expensive natural stone tops at a fraction of the cost.  I would definitely suggest going that way.  You can liven up a plain laminate countertop with a solid wood or corian edge colored to compliment the rest of your kitchen.

As far as cost goes, expect to spend a minimum of five times the cost of laminate for any natural stone, engineered stone, quartz, concrete, and solid hardwood.  These are premium finishes which, and there’s no getting around it, carry a premium price, But having said that, there are deals to be had for the most careful shoppers.  

One way you can have the benefits of real stone is to install a stone tile in the place of your current counter.  Simply remove the old counter, install a sheet of ¾ “plywood and glue down your granite marble or slate tile.  A nice small grout line works best, and now you have a real stone countertop at about a quarter of the cost.  It won’t fool anyone into believing you dropped a fortune on the real thing, but you will get the look and all the benefits of working on a real stone work surface.

On your backsplash you have a couple of choices to hide the dated tile without the costly rip out.  You can tile over any previously tiled surface provided it is sound and clean.  Make sure you install the appropriate tile edge to finish it off.  You can also paint the tile if you use a bonding primer which will adhere to the glaze and allow you cover it with the paint of your choice.  Embossed tin, steel, or plastic panels can be glued right over top to add some old world charm on a shoe string budget.

Hole in the wall

Dear Joe,
How do you patch a large sized hole in drywall and make it smooth and look like the paint was done at the same time as the rest of the wall? 

Angela,   Port Alberni, BC

Sent via FaceBook.

Thank you for the great question.   First thing we have to know is how large is large.  Tiny is like a nail hole up to about ½” diameter, small is ½” diameter or larger, medium about the size of a doorknob or larger, and large would be bigger than a dinner plate.  Tiny holes can be filled with a couple coats of drywall compound or spackle applied smoothly and sanded.  No other steps required, just prime and paint.

Small and medium holes can be patched easily with a small piece of drywall  of any thickness.   First  square off the hole with a drywall saw.  Now cut a patch  2 – 3 inches larger than the hole.  On the back of the patch, scribe the dimensions of the hole with equal spacing all the way around.  Now cut the back paper along the lines, fold and peel off the gypsum core.  This should leave you with a patch the perfect size which has a paper flap all around the front.  Now you simply apply drywall compound around and inside the hole and apply the patch.  Large holes will require some bracing using a plywood strip along each edge.  Simply screw it to the back of the drywall and allow it to overhang by half.  Now cut a patch to fit inside the hole and screw it to the braces.  Now you can cut the patch in the same fashion as above with the paper flap or you can use drywall tape to mend the edges.
Now after the first coat has dried apply a second coat over the entire patch expanding out 8 -10 inches all the way around.  Third coat will be expanded out another 8 – 10 inches .  This is where the blending is really going to make the difference between the patch you can see and the invisible patch.  We can pretty well detect any deviation in the wall over 1/8” to the foot so keeping the patch tight with a lot of pressure on the trowel and using as little compound as possible is very important  and will result in a much cleaner finish.  Once everything is dry sand and be sure that you feather the patch around all the edges.   Do this by shining a light oblique to the wall. This will illuminate any high spots that will become apparent when the wall is painted.  Sand them smooth and wipe down the dust.
Now when you prime you want to expand out another foot or so all the way around.  Now your baseball sized patch has grown to about three feet but should be invisible if you have done everything right.
Painting is now straight forward provided you have some left over from the last time you painted.  If you do just paint two coats over your patch and you should be good to go.  If you don’t, then you will have to have more mixed to the same recipe as the old color.  The problem with that is the newly tinted color, even though the code is the same as the last, will not match the old paint exactly.  So to overcome this you will  have to paint the entire wall, from corner to corner.  The color will be close enough that you won’t be able to tell that it changes at the corner but stopping in the middle of the wall will leave obvious color, gloss, or texture differences.

Walls Come Down


I have a finished basement but would like to remove a couple of walls.  How do I know if a wall is load bearing.  I don’t want to do any damage to my house so I want to make sure that I don’t take out anything important.  Thank you for your advice, I enjoy reading your column each week.



Dear Joe,

Thank you for your support and I appreciated loyal readers like yourself.

If you are unsure a wall is carrying any structural load then you have already done the right thing: don’t touch it until you`re sure.  How to find out requires a bit of knowledge,  a bit of exploration and a bit of common sense.  Once you know what to look for and understand the way buildings are constructed you can easily identify most load bearing structures, be they walls, posts or other structural members.  In your circumstance, this is probably the easiest one to do.   Basements, generally, are wide open spaces when the house is constructed.  One main beam runs down the centre, dividing the house in two lengthways, carrying the load of the main floor and all loads carried by the main floor.  Since this main beam runs from foundation wall to foundation wall, its span is usually supported at two or three points, depending on the length of the house, by jackposts or piers which stand on concrete footings poured at the same depth as the foundation footings.  These are what hold the house up.   So a safe generalization can be made of most houses:  any wall which runs the length of the house roughly down the center, though not load bearing itself, will typically conceal two or more jackposts.  Typically basement walls are built around jackposts so you may find the wall you want to remove was built around a solid object which cannot be moved.  One way to know for sure is to do some exploratory drywall removal.  By cutting a band of gyproc  eight inches wide by the length of the wall, you will reveal all the mechanical and structural features which are concealed inside the wall.  Once you know, then you can go about planning which walls to remove and which must stay and where concessions can be made to leave part of a wall and remove some. 

Another way to go about exploring without doing any visible damage to the wall is with a flexible inspection camera.  Essentially arthroscopic diagnostics for houses, these cool little gadgets can sneak in through a hole the size of your finger and see everything inside the wall cavity.  Simply pop off a baseboard the length of the wall in question, with your stud sensor identify the location of every stud in that section of wall, drill a ¾” hole between every stud where the baseboard will conceal them once reinstalled, and inspect each space side to side and up.  You can rent one of these babies at your local rental location.

I hope this has been enlightening for you.  If you find yourself still unsure or have further questions, contact your favourite contractor.  They should be more than happy to give you a moment of their time and help you figure out the important information you are looking for and maybe make suggestions that will help you chart a course toward a successful renovation.

The Decking Debate

Dear Joe,

I am planning to build a new deck this summer.  I am not sure though, what kind of material I should build it out of.  I like the idea of the plastic boards but it sounds as though it’s quite a bit more expensive than wood.  What should I know before buying the stuff to build my new deck?  Thank you for your help.  Love your column,


Thanks K,
I am glad you like reading it, because I love writing it.
I also love building decks.  But when you talk about decking material, if you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different answers.   The first thing that you’ll need to know, and there is no argument here:  The structure of your deck will be pressure treated lumber…no question.  It will not be seen but will need to endure the most hardship of any other part of your deck,  damp, dirt, insects and heavy loads will all be factors that will wear and tear on the structure of the deck so it will need to be durable and imperious to the elements, pressure treated is that.

On top of that, you have choices for decking.  We’ll talk price first.  From least to most expensive you have: pressure treated, cedar, wood vinyl composite, and exotic woods.  Don’t even consider untreated spruce or pine as they lack the preservative qualities of the others. 
As far as longevity goes, the woods, properly maintained will have a life expectancy of between 15-30 years depending on the conditions in which they serve.  They should be retreated every five years or so to get the most out of them.  But no matter how well you maintain the decking, the service life of it will be dictated by the service life of the structure.  That being said, although the vinyl composite will have a service life of up to 50 years(though since it hasn’t been around for 50 years there is no proof of that, and this commentator has his doubts), its serviceability again will be dictated by the longevity of the pressure treaded structure underneath it all.  And yes, the composite also requires a pressure treated lumber frame as dimensional lumber with which to build the frame is not available in composite because of price and also the fact that it is not rigid enough to build anything out of.  It is only suitable for decking and trim, not loadbearing components.

Solid wood is the best and most versatile material with which to build anything.  People have been building with wood for thousands of years.  And though companies are always trying to develop a superior product, in my opinion, wood has yet to be outdone.  Its price, durability, rigidity, flexibility, renewability and workability make it make it my first choice when doing decks of any size or shape.  The only drawback that pressure treated lumber has, is its colour…that charming grey/green is limiting when you want to design a colour scheme for the outside of the house.  But, the idea of saving thousands whilst building with better material is often enough to get past the colour and if you’re really not happy with it, you can paint it or stain it after a couple summers once the moisture content has dropped to an acceptable level.