Before + After: Fixing, Rather Than Replacing, A Deck

Exhausted is not even the word for how I feel after the past couple of weeks, getting our deck repaired while my husband is doing the 9 to 5. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I decided that a Sabbatical was in order for me. Inspired by a piece I found on aSweatLife, " I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but this was going to be time to figure that out. I was going to pursue other interests, to work on things that I loved, to use that knowledge to inform my future path. The word gave me a way to communicate my experience in a phrase- “I’m taking a sabbatical,” but it gave me something else, gave me freedom. It shifted my perspective and solidified my understanding of what this chapter in my life was going to be. It was intentional time towards myself- for recovery, growth and discovery." While I'm still coaching, 2021 is all about getting the farm in order externally and finding new ways of generating income that have nothing, zero, nada to do with recruiting. What a relief! However, the mantra of productivity is ongoing in my life - checking things off lists, and the mixture of guilt and glee of working for zero dollars is an odd one. "Without a clear purpose or plan, leaving my job felt both immature and like jumping ship into a dark, terrifying abyss," the author mentioned. Yet I feel like, at 47, it's about damn time.

OK, so onto the Before + After that this post is all about...!

After 2 1/2 + straight years of fixing up this old farmhouse, it was time to start looking at the exterior. The garden will always be ongoing, but the structures outside needed help. So with that, the deck was on my radar. I'd spotted a rotting board and initially my husband and I thought that we could just use some wood filler and be done, and then just sand and stain it, right? WRONG. As soon as my mind turned to deck repair, the deck showed all of its issues almost all at once. The stairs were wobbling. The former owner had nailed in bits of roofing shingles in a 'path' to make it less slippery, clearly ignorant to the fact of what trapped water does to a deck that was painted - not stained/sealed - in an area of the country that gets 86" of rain a year. Big sigh. So with that, multiple areas of rot were spotted. And the aesthetic of the back deck was, well, super ugly. Rather than a standard rectangle, it jutted out in one area to accommodate the posts for the former 2nd story deck (which was in horrible condition and one that we long ago deconstructed, which I then used the wood to repurpose into raised beds) and had steps that were held up by none other than random cinder blocks and unsealed/untreated wood. So my optimism for a quick fix, like everything in this house, turned into a Mega Repair Project.

Here's what the back of the house and deck looked like when we moved in (the photos are from the real estate listing in 2018):

For new visitors to this blog, click HERE to see the exterior before and after of the siding, deconstruction of the upper deck (repurposed to make the ridiculously heavy 4x12 raised beds int he garden, woo hoo!).

The deck has never been a great friend to me as it is (considering when the contractors were here they left a board out while installing the new siding last fall that led me to falling through it and hurting it so badly I was diagnosed with accelerated knee osteoarthritis several months ago) so fixing it became my mission this spring! Let me tell you, doing this all with effed up knees is not the ideal situation, but you work with what you've got, so I made my own 'reasonable accommodations'. While my husband has helped with the belt sander on the wood, 95% of this project was mine, which is pretty cool to have completed.

Removing sections of rotting boards was a trip, and the jigsaw paid off big time. Family Handyman's article also made it crazy easy to understand how to do it. Since we aren't in the city anymore to get used boards from Rebuilding Center or Salvage Works, I had to send my husband to the lumberyard to pick up new 2x6 decking boards (fortunately we were able to use scrap for the cleats). With that, I added more vintage items to my Etsy Shop where the proceeds have completely financed the project (special thanks this week to the folks who bought my antique Thoreau books, my husband's skeleton belt and the silver dollar my dad gave me as a kid that is now worth $50)! The extra not-so-fun part? When replacing the very last board, the jigsaw broke mid-cut. Not the blade, but the actual jigsaw. No more Porter-Cable for me. I didn't want to spend another hundred just to do that, as I so rarely use it, so it involved some very delicate sawzall work. Oy vey!

The weird part that stuck out with a strange diagonal bit was then coming out, not just for aesthetics but because hey, the staircase was NOT ATTACHED to the deck AND the former owner had piled up plants and dirt against non-ground-treated wood so the diagonal connectors were rotting. Yeah, pulled 'em out by hand. Another monster eye roll, right?!!!! With the work ahead, it also meant transplanting all of our herbs to the front as they were packed in a foot-high pile of soil with - get this - PLYWOOD as the fascia. Rotted? Yes ma'am! But I will say, nothing like our beloved sawzall to make quick(er) work of the joists. Big gratitude callout? The joists were not rotten. WHEW.

I bought some 12' long 2x8 pressure-treated wood to use as fascia boards to cover the cuts (making a little old man in the parking lot of the lumberyard giggle while I inserted it inside my Subaru wagon lengthwise and tied it up - but hey, I'll take my 30 mpg over his truck's 13 mpg any day of the week!), which made a big difference in cleaning up the look of it - amen for the memories of having had a deck installed by my neighbor and ex-flame at my city house over a decade ago!

When pulling out the decaying stairs, I learned that the concrete path to them actually went several feet beneath them (my guess is there used to be a concrete patio before the current deck was built), which made it easier to prep for the next step...figuring out how to build new stairs.

Check out my rad new shirt to call out my philosophy - go to Shirts by Sarah for more! (listing photo)

Dude. Building new stairs was mind blowing. Because our deck height is - of course - not standard, I couldn't buy those groovy pre-cut stringers from the lumberyard and had to calculate everything. How I was a math whiz in middle school is beyond me because as soon as I graduated, anything geometry and up left my brain in a hurry. Buying the 2x12 and making the first cuts were...terrifying! Why? Because if you eff up the cut? A thirty dollar piece of lumber is then scrap. After reading a million different websites of insane complexity, I came upon this awesome YouTube video done back in '09 that not only is way easier to understand, but involved less wood. YES! Just my style...and the husband was very impressed.

The next step was to get all the boards sanded so I could stain. I'd contemplated deck paint, then read that in very rainy climates like ours, stain & sealer are way better at protecting the wood. I *really* would have loved to have just done a light sand and paint/seal everything, but this gal does NOT want to replace any more boards. When you have messed up knees, squatting or hand-and-knees work are not options (even with knee pads), so longevity was the key.

Rather than pay a big chunk of change for stain/sealer that had anti-skid incorporated, I learned you could buy the sand that goes in it for a fraction of the cost...then just stir it in. Rad rad rad. The most challenging part? Picking a time of day where the boards were both dry AND not in direct sunlight. Which basically was 10am to 12pm then 6pm-7pm. Miss those times and you're SOL.'s done - check out the photo below for the end product! While the chocolate stain/sealer ended up being more of a cedar tone which is a disappointment (the picture definitely did not match but I was in too big of a rush to sample different shades out and trusted the container, grrr), the fact that our deck is cleaned up, ten times safer, and anti-skid without being visibly obvious? Happy happy happy! I ended up building a small stair stringer for the side of the deck as well as the one you see here, and am doing the same where it leads to the hothouse which is a bit trickier.

More importantly? Time to get the pots on the deck (note: I just learned this morning that wine corks are great to repurpose as pot risers to protect decking and allow for better drainage - husband has his work cut out for him at the co-op to collect from fellow wine drinkers!), and plant something awesome in front of it, on the bare side of the stairs! Woo hoo!

I highly recommend going the repair route to anyone who has a crappy old deck where the joists are still in good shape. Out here, folks want a few thousand bucks at the very least to build one, even though it's just a few hundred bucks' worth of wood (pandemic pricing is so insane), and with a few instructional sites and online videos, and finding a refurbished impact driver to speed up the process? This gal did it.

And now this gal needs to add "replace jigsaw" to her shopping list...whew...


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