Day 15 – First Steps

We’re still waiting for permits.  That’ll be its own post.  In the mean time, I’ve been working on a few odd jobs that don’t necessarily require the approval of city hall.

2013-10-14 10.00.12

The starting point

As part of putting together our permit application, I called the city engineer to run down the list of things that do or don’t need approval.  Cleveland is pretty vague about that line.  Like most municipalities, it often comes down to taxes more than safety.  But the engineer was very helpful and his list of “that’s just maintenance, get it done” has been my to-dos while we wait.  My first major project then was to replace missing and damaged boards on our rear steps.  The back door of the house goes out on to a 4’x4′ deck with stairs down to the driveway.  When we got the house, the rear door was barricaded with some 2x4s and the rear steps weren’t operable.  We’ll need that opening to work for serious demolition time.

Like most things, the project seemed straight forward.  I would just remove the existing planks, cut new pressure treated lumber to the same size, and attach it in the same layout.  And like most projects it wasn’t without it’s hiccups.  The first issue being that once I removed the deck planks, I discovered that the brackets on each end of the joists were rusted out.  That required yanking those brackets out and replacing them.  (I’m pretty sure replacing structure ties now ticked this job over into that other category I talked about with the engineer, but once you’re in it, you’re in it).  The good news is that the structural wood itself is fine.  The posts and joists are weathered, but there was no rot, cracking, sagging, or other determinable damage.

2013-10-14 10.00.17

Such attractive trim

I decided to not replace the structural wood since it seems fine and at that point, I might as well just knock the whole thing down and start from new concrete.  It’s kind of nice to know that each of these jobs fits into a very large framework.  It keeps my tendency towards ballooning scope in check.

The second challenge came in grafting new wood onto old wood.  While the structure wood is okay, that doesn’t mean it’s not without some warping, shifting, swelling, or other minor changes that materials exposed to the elements will go through over time.  There’s also probably some amount of original craftmanship being less than stellar.  I’m not sure if it’s clear in the pictures, but if you look at the wood planks around the posts, instead of cutting single paces to size, they took scrap block and nailed it in to create a uniform rectangle.  Small pieces of lumber will inverably decay faster than big ones.  And as a result, there were little bits of twisted wood that needed to be yanked off.  So it’s no surprise that there were issues like the left side of the platform frame being about 4″ longer than the right side.  That makes what should be a relatively easy job of cutting down some planks, dropping them in place, and nailing them down, into a trickier venture.  My solution (right or wrong, who knows?) was to cut my boards, and then shave them down to progressively make up for the long side.  So instead of installing rectangles, I was installing slight trapezoids.  Then, after all the boards were in place, I went back with a sawzall and cut down my ends to make  them appear uniform.

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Rusted out hanger brackets.

That, plus a straight nailing pattern, gives the illusion of a nice squared deck.  It also helps that I did the wood around the posts in a single piece.  I had a similar problem building out the stairs that I tried to overcome with a combination of shims and board shaving.  I’m less happy with that result as you can feel the unevenness in the second step.  Not that they were even to begin with, and again, the only way to really overcome that would have been to rebuild from scratch.  Still, overall I’m happy with how everything came out and it’s good to actually do something in the property.  Up until now it’s mostly been making phone calls, taking meetings, and filling out paperwork.

Things I learned on the project:  1) How to pry off old, rusted brackets — sounds straight forward, but I had a damnable time with the first one and by the last one it was smooth as silk; 2) You can’t treat pressure-treated wood for 6 months — I had originally intended to seal the boards individually before installing them.  A conversation with the guy in the paint department at home depot and reading a few bucket labels reveled that the out-gassing takes a long time to dissipate and anything I would be buying now would just be a waste.

2013-10-14 15.45.57


2013-10-16 14.14.02

Finished project


About Nathan

Originally from central Florida (near Orlando), I've lived in the Cleveland area since 2008. When I'm not caught up in the life project de jure, I paint, sculpt, play games (mostly board games and video games), and run a small hobby import/export business.

One thought on “Day 15 – First Steps

  1. Pingback: Attaching Stairs to Your House Tips | How to Build a House


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