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All decked out

By Staff | Jun 22, 2012

You know how you sometimes toss something together just to get by for a little while? You need it now so you do a slapdash job, telling yourself that you will soon redo it good and proper.

And you know how “soon” sometimes turns into 18 years? Well, that’s what happened to me.

Nearly two decades ago, we added an addition onto our house. A new entry point meant that we needed a new set of steps to gain access to said entry. Either that, or we would have to hone our high jumping skills.

So I hastily cobbled together a set of steps and a small landing, using my patented quick-and-dirty carpentry method. I promised my wife that I would build something safer and more substantial soon. You know the rest of the story.

It got to the point where the old steps were no longer trustworthy, so we began to make plans for their replacement. And as all homeowners know, the most hazardous part of any home improvement project is mission creep.

My wife and I both enjoy outdoor living spaces, so why not make the new steps more than just steps? Why not make it an honest-to-goodness deck?

As we discussed deck plans, things quickly spiraled out of control. Why not include a pergola? Or a roof? And wouldn’t a gazebo look absolutely cute at that one end?

Before we knew it, such things as water slides and rollercoasters were being discussed. That’s when we knew it was time to dial things back.

We finally settled on a simple, modest, plain-jane deck. (Note to local zoning board officials: we did not exceed the number of square feet that would trigger the need for a building permit. So there.)

I knew this would be a project that would require some assistance, so I enlisted the help of our son, Paul.

Paul and I were discussing deck plans when the topic of post placement came up. Paul, who works in the world of high technology and is one of the smartest people we know, began to scribble complex equations that triangulated precisely where the posts should go.

He tried to explain the process using such terms as “square root” and “hypotenuse,” but I understood none of it. He could have just as well been speaking Swahili.

My wife and I eventually went to a home repair mega-store where our thoughts and desires regarding the proposed deck were fed into a computer. We walked away with a huge credit card charge and a hernia-inducing sheaf of papers. Included in said papers was a nifty computer-generated rendering of our new deck, along with some crucial measurements.

One day we came home to find a pile of lumber and other assorted materials sitting on our lawn.

“What’s all that?” asked my wife.

“Our new deck,” I replied.

“Some assembly required,” she observed wryly.

“Batteries not included,” I added.

Paul and his pal, Jason, came up one weekend to help deck out our house. At my wife’s insistence, we rented a power auger to drill holes for post footings.

The problem is, the auger had an uncanny knack for finding rocks. And in each and every hole. Nothing makes you empathize more with gophers than lying on the ground with your arm up to the shoulder in a hole, your nose pressed into fresh earth. (Note to building inspectors: yes, we drilled the footings to the proper depth, defined in the building code as “at least halfway to China”.)

I then hand-mixed concrete to fill the post holes. Concrete is deceivingly heavy; a tiny bag that looks as though it should weigh perhaps 10 pounds tips the scales at 60.

My muscles screamed in protest as I refilled the holes we had so arduously excavated. If man were meant to mix concrete by hand, God would not have created cement trucks.

Next, we framed up the undercarriage of the deck, a component technically known as the frame. Mistakes inevitably crept in, although none that will be noticed by anyone other than the builders. (Note to nosy inspectors: we overbuilt the snot out of that frame, so don’t bother stopping by.)

We finally began to secure the decking, a process that involved installing approximately 50 million screws. All that repetitious motion induced aches in muscles that I didn’t even know I had.

At long last, and after expending several billion man-hours, we were able to sit upon and enjoy our deck.

“This is really nice.” said my wife. “You guys did a great job”

“I’m too tired to do anything but sit here,” I replied. “I guess you could say this is our pooped deck”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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