Steps & Decks – Project Update

One new step complete.

It’s been a while since I made enough progress on the steps/decks to spend a post describing it. In fairness to me, I have accomplished a lot, but things like painting and measuring and planning, don’t make for interesting stories. This week. Visible progress was made. I’ve got some pictures; I’ll share some details here and in the captions, but some of that planning and measuring needs to be explained.

Let’s start with the Trex. For every good thing about this product, there is one big drawback. It – is – expensive. That’s not a complaint, it’s worth the price, and our local lumber yard cuts a nice deal compared to the big-box stores, but the price makes measuring critical. For a project like this, where there are a lot of short surfaces, it’s important to determine how many pieces can be cut from the same board, and how long that board should be. I won’t go into the math. I’ll just say that the best mix for this project is an equal number of 12′(3.6m) and 16′(4.8m) boards.

The project consists of six elements. A large three level set of deck platforms to serve as stairs from the porch into the back yard. A shorter but trapezoidal two-level set of stairs from the side door of the porch to the driveway. A single deck/step down from the side door of the garage. A large step/deck from the extension of my workshop Maddie’s deck to the yard. A tiny step from the end of Maddie’s deck to the yard, and of course, Maddie’s deck.

The Editor suggested starting with the easy stuff – the single level step into the side door of the garage. That wasn’t my first choice, but it was a good one. That step and the step up to Maddie’s deck both require six boards, and since the combined length of these two steps is just under 12’, those boards can be cut from six 12’ pieces of Trex with a minimal amount of waste.

The steps sit on the ground but are anchored in place to keep them level, and from moving side-to-side. We also need to keep them from shifting when the ground freezes. The step by the side door is anchored by four pressure-treated 4x4s. The step to Maddie’s deck is anchored to the supports of her deck and with a 4×4 in each of the outside corners. Of course, they have to be level (side to side) and they slope about ¼” from back to front so water will drain off the deck surface. Once level and anchored, the structures were ready for decking.

The side step to the garage was a straight forward process. I finished that in one day, including the demolition of the old step. The step to Maddie’s deck was more complicated. One reason was that I made the step big enough to cover the concrete landing block from the old ramp. That required cutting grooves in that old hunk of concrete for the deck’s joists. The other reason was that that step required a railing. Given the wide and short nature of these steps, a traditional railing would be a difficult fit. We’re using components from firewood racks – another idea contributed by the Editor. The details are in the photos. The structure was set, leveled and anchored in one day and the deck boards and railing were installed the following day.

That meant that – for one day – Maddie’s deck was closed during construction. She wasn’t happy about that, but she seems to approve of the new step. Next up, deck boards for Maddie’s deck. Then we get started on the multi-level steps.


92 comments

    1. Thanks Joanne. I only recently read that bit of advice. The step I took apart was all pressure treated material, but the screws popped out easily. I suspect there was a little rot going on in the holes. Granted, that step has been in place for over 20 years, but I’m hoping these new ones last 30.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Maddie isn’t very comfortable with change. I think she was worried. Every step of the way (no pun intended) she seems to need to inspect my work and make sure I didn’t ruin/remove her place. I hope I can get the Trex down on her deck in one day.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. The butyl tape was something I just read about, but I think it will help. I think it also will reduce squeaking. Maddie was sitting on the Trex on the step, so I think she’s going to like the new surface. She may also like the new steps to the porch, as there will be enough room for her cot on the bottom step (that’s not why we made it so big, but…)

      I had made two brackets when I did the ramp, to space the boards and show where to drill. I was happy when I saw that the lid to the box of screws handles both jobs so well. Every screw, in line, centered and at the right point. Easy-peasy.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. It is time-consuming, and it’s one reason I am so far behind in reading and responding to comments. That and the fact that these last few days of work are driving me crazy. Knowing that I’m going to be home has taken some of the pressure off. I’m focusing on getting one major task done each day. Some days, I work late, some days I finish up early.

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  1. Coming together nicely Dan. I love that Maddie is checking out the workmanship, making sure you’re not cutting corners behind her back!!

    Butyl Tape and the screw box cover…….always learn something new here!

    You can see your way to the finish line now. Thank goodness the Editor comes up with these terrific ideas because lord knows what you might devise for railings!! Lol..

    Can’t wait to see it totally finished. Then the Editor can snap a picture of you taking a bow! 🤗
    🐾Ginger 🐾

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ginger. The Editor doesn’t get enough credit. I was going to start with those angled steps, and I’ve already learned a few things that will make that easier. Using the firewood racks for hand rails is so easy. We may be able to buy a railing for the large set of stairs, but for the short ones, those rails are perfect.

      I was so surprised to see that the box cover doubles as a placement gauge. It’s such a perfect idea. Every board looks great and is spaced according to the specifications. It couldn’t be easier.

      Maddie has a few big inspections coming up. Her deck, and the large set of steps into the yard. She likes to sit there in the winter, because the sun shines on those steps all day. They get warm, and she likes that.

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  2. Making progress feels good and it’s looking good too.
    Did you have to work with the product in temperature changes? If so how did you find it?
    We used it last year on a big step project, and found it harder to work with on a hot sunning day. Yet, it doesn’t cooperate if too chilly either. We do find it gets a bit slippery than wood in the winter too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! When I first used it for the front porch and ramp, it was cold. That’s when I decided that I’d rather drill pilot holes than rely on the screws to cut their own hole. The new screws are much better, but I still like the pilot holes. We have had a few times when the weather conditions make the ramp a little scary, but pressure treated wood can get very slippery, too, especially if you don’t keep it clean. I’ve never worked with Trex on hot days. These should all go down in temps around 60 degrees, so I’m feeling lucky.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, Dan, that is impressive work. It definitely would be too much for most of us mere mortals to attempt. Did you even bother to get an estimate for how much it would have cost for a so-called “professional” to do the construction? I cringe to think about how much they would charge and I am absolutely certain that the quality of work would not be as high as yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mike. Trex is about $8/sq ft including screws, tape and waste. Average installation in our area is $16-18/sq ft. and that doesn’t include building the deck structure.

      As for the quality. I know from talking to contractors, that they don’t bother with the Butyl tape unless you specify it. One guy told me (about a similar issue) “I only guarantee my work for a year, and it’s never going to fail in a year.” For contractors, it’s all about time. Anything that takes time and isn’t required by code or to meet the specifications, chances are goo they don’t d it. I’m sure they all do a good job, but most would just offset the entire board instead of cutting a curved notch to go around the railing. It’s little things like that that you tend to only get when you do it yourself, or get a contractor that is a lot more expensive.

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  4. This is great work, Dan. More posts like this! I can show them to hubby and encourage him to rebuild our deck. It is that same material but is so old the deck boards have popped off the joists. I love your pictures and explanations. We have all the tools. All that is left is time and motivation. And a little $$ of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Maggie. I am hoping that the addition of the tape helps the boards stay in place longer. I didn’t know about it when I did our front porch and ramp. I’m counting on the fact that the porch is covered and water runs off the ramp to help them last longer. There was an element of sticker shock when I ordered the deck boards. I hope I got that math right.

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    1. Thanks John.I just read about using the tape. It seemed like a great idea, and I had a roll left over from the window installation. The good news is that these screws do come back out. I started to install one board a little too far from its neighbor I had only put two screws in. I was able to get them out easily. I remember those #1 Square-head screws, and that would have required Vice-Grips. I did toss the screws. They seemed like they could be put back in, but I wasn’t pressing my luck.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ally. She’s addicted to her routine (a little OCD going on) so she was upset, but she only missed one evening and one morning. I’m pretty sure I will be able to get all the top-level deck boards down in one day, but I’m sure she’ll be giving me the stink-eye during the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We replaced a deck a few years back and had the choice of Trex. After much debate we went with redwood – it was an upper deck that was in the sun 80% of the daylight hours and Trek supposedly got too hot. After seeing your deck I’m not sure we made the right decision! Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does get hot, Jan. You might have been right. Although, redwood might be the only decking that is more expensive than Trex. My brother has a redwood deck. One time when I was visiting him, we replaced four long boards. I recall that being a costly trip to the lumber yard. Of the six surfaces, only the main stairs into the yard will be in the sun a lot. It’s already a composite material. It does get hot, but Maddie likes that in the winter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Because the deck was twelve feet above ground, the underpinnings needed to support a trex deck made it about five thousand dollars more than the redwood! I think for a lower deck we would have definitely gone with trex.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. The bigger step might come in handy at that. The concrete was a lot bigger than I thought. It’s like an iceberg, the visible portion is only a fraction of what sits beneath the surface. It would have taken a day to get it out, and a dumpster to get rid of it.

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  6. Looking good! I’m sure that Maddie will be enjoying her new deck soon.

    When we built our composite deck, there were far fewer choices of color (and most of them eventually turned gray from sun and weather exposure anyway). We’ll probably have to replace ours one of these days so we’ve been doing some research… there is so much more to choose from now! I’m surprised to see that you didn’t use pressure treated wood for your supports that are so close to the ground. I’m guessing termites aren’t a thing where you live?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Termites are a thing, but the structures are 100% pressure treated. In the previous version, I used PT on the level in contact with the ground, but not the upper ones. That’s were we had some rot, so not making that mistake again. The existing steps are an earlier composite. Like you say, there weren’t many choices. There are a lot of choices today. This is same color that we used on the front porch and ramp. That was done 7 years ago, and it’s held up really well.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. The green is the old PT treatment. That’s what I had on the sections that I’m replacing.They can’t use that formulation anymore. The new treatment has much more of a golden appearance. I painted the surfaces that will be visible under the Trex, because it was easier to do that while the frames were upright in the garage.

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  7. The results so far look incredible! You sure have a fun selection of tools of the trade to make the project run smoothly. I’m impressed with your dedication to maximizing the cuts to prevent waste, reminds me of Mr. and how much I appreciate that type of gifted thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shelley. Trex is expensive, and there really isn’t anything you can do with the outcuts. When I have leftover (non-pressure treated) wood, I can cut it for kindling. This stuff mostly ends up in the trash. When you look at the cost of labor on jobs like this, over time, you can justify buying a lot of tools. I’m careful to not go overboard. Most tools that I buy are ones I can use for many years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re wise to measure well! Isn’t Trex made from recyclable material – can’t the unused pieces be recycled?
        You sound just like Mr. – he’s very good at rationalizing the purchase of tools we can use for our ‘rentals’ or other projects :-)!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We can’t put this is with our recycle content. Perhaps it can be recycled, but I don’t know where. Our trash goes to a trash-to-energy plant, so I guess that’s better than this stuff sitting in a landfill forever, cuz that stuff ain’t decomposing anytime soon.

          Having Trex installed is about $10 a sq/ft more expensive than buying Trex, and that doesn’t include the structure the stuff is sitting on. If you know how to use the tools, it’s worth the effort.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You’ve definitely done your research and the results look fabulous. We have friends who built their deck with this stuff too – the only thing they don’t like about it is how hot it gets in the sun. Maddie should be okay if she lays on her cot, I’d think.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It does get hot, and it holds the heat longer than wood. We have a similar material on the steps from the porch now. Sometimes, Maddie likes to lay on the deck surface. We always check the temperature before letting her lay there. Her cot keeps her about 6″ off the surface, and she prefers that. The things we do for our dogs…

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Annie. The railing turned out to be such a great idea. I got lucky, in that the tubing was a perfect size to work with other stuff. It’s remarkably sturdy and we like the look.

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      1. That’s what we want when or if we redo the deck. And right now, that’s a big if. You made a great choice, Dan. I know you will be happy with it for a long time. Again, I love the color you chose. Looks great with the siding and trim.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I had over 600 emails in my inbox. That is like having a wart that just keeps growing uglier by the day. Last night i stayed on the sofa after my ridiculous two days at work and went through all of them to see what I might have missed. I could only open about two thirds because of time; but I couldn’t believe how many of yours slipped by me. I’m so sorry. It has been crazy since November. Thanks for hanging in with my sporadic presence.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Never worry about missing a post or two. I know how hard it is to keep up. I took myself out on a little sightseeing trip yesterday, and I had to ignore a bunch of emails. There just isn’t enough time.

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          1. Talk about juggling. We are on the patio/porch and I’m in my ipad. Lee spots a Cormorant fishing and diving, He catches something so I drop my device, grab the camera and start shooting. Turns out it was a snake head fish! I hope a few of the images come out good. It is windy and the camera wants to focus on the nearest movement.

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