I don’t think it’s bragging when I tell people I’ve done my fair share of awesome decks in my career … and today I thought I would show you one of the most recently completed awesome decks.
One of the projects I have been working on for a while is coming to a close, and most of our attention has turned to the exterior hardscape (things like patios and walkways, decks and the trellis). One of the very best things about this phase of a residential construction project is that all the ideas, the vision for the finished project, is finally on display for everyone to see.
The photo above is the deck I am going to be talking about today … a flush installed ipé wood deck within a patio made up of cut limestone. I thought it would make the photos that show how this deck was built make a little bit more sense.
This is the backyard … and a little more context for you.
Okay, that’s enough of that, let’s get to the construction photos.
This is what the backyard looked like before any work began … a lot of nothing. And dirt. The orange-ish dirt up above is the cushion sand that will be under the concrete flatwork that will be poured under the roof.
… and this is the concrete after it’s be set. The most important thing to look at in the above picture is the depressed slab where the deck will be built. Since we don’t want weeds and the sort to grow up under the deck (ever) and we didn’t want to see the underside of the structure that would typically support a wood deck, we poured this concrete substructure with a turned up curb along the edge away from the house.
If you look really carefully, you can see that the depressed portion of the slab is sloping in two directions – both away from the house along the short dimension, and to one far corner along the long dimension. To help you see this, I drew some red lines on the photo above to highlight the slope.
(p.s. – the plastic is in place to protect the brick walls and steel pipes from concrete splatter when it was poured.)
Looking down the length of the depressed slab minus the protective plastic. The drain is located in the far right-hand corner … but you’ll see that in a second depending on how fast a reader you are.
Closer look at the sloped concrete along the short dimension. The red lines that I added above indicate the mortar base for the thick-set limestone slabs should help give you a proper sense of how much the concrete subdeck is sloping.
And here is the drain, which is set at the low spot of the entire subdeck (I’m getting tired of writing the word “subdeck”). Nothing too fancy – just a PVC pipe that is tied into a perimeter drainage system. It won’t stick up like this when we are finished, this is just the plumbing rough-in.
Finally, we get to look at the actual structure for the deck … pressure treated 2×4 wood studs. By the way, sorry about the quality of this photo, this was a job site visit on my way in to the office and it was probably around 6:30am. The gaps between the 2×4’s are to allow the water that makes its way through the decking to migrate towards the drain.
In this picture, you can see that the contractor who was building this deck has been busy building up the substructure (joists) for the deck on top of the pressure treated 2×4’s. While this might seem like an easy enough task … it isn’t.
Each of the pressure treated 2×4′ is nailed (power actuated) to the concrete with no modifications. The tricky part is that in order for the top of the wood deck to be level, each of the boards attached to the pressure treated 2×4’s is tapered … in two directions. Each row is consistently tapered along the long run, but each row is tapered differently than the row before AND after it. It sounds just as complicated as it is – the substructure for this deck took a few days to figure out and install. I spoke to the installer on several occasions (he was the same guy who built this deck) and he was quick to point out that the concrete was not consistently – or evenly – sloped. This meant that every board had to be constantly checked and rechecked to make sure that the top was level with the surrounding structure.
I’ll show you how he made that happen in a few pictures.
This is the finished drain with the first look of an ipé wood board set in place. This picture also gives you a good idea of the role that the turned up curb plays by hiding the structure elements below. The finished outside edge will limestone slab along the face of the curb with the thinnest of profiles for the wood ipé board shown.
One of the details that allows a deck like this to appear so nice is the execution of how the boards meet the other pieces of architecture. In this case, it’s the bottom of the floor-to-ceiling windows. We set the ipé boards at an elevation that would allow them to slide just under the bottom sill … with no trim pieces.
Maybe it’s just me but these are the sorts of details that I love the most. Few people would ever really pay attention to how this board slides under the window sill – and therefore never really appreciate the amount of work and coordination it took to pull it off – but that’s okay. They’ll like it and recognize it as something special even if they can’t figure out why it’s special.
Here’s a look that shows you just how much work went into getting the tops of the substructure set at just the right elevation. See all those shims in place? I bet there were close to 100 shims used across the entire structure. That level of obsession is admirable.
Wood deck art shot.
Once the substructure was set, it was fairly quick work to set the ipé boards in place. They dry set all the boards and arrange per color before blind fastening them in place.
Once the boards were arranged, they set to blind screwing them all in place. Considering that ipé is a really hard wood and they had to pre-drill and THEN drive in the screws, this part of the installation came together extremely quickly – about 4 hours.
Just because I thought someone would ask to see it, this is what happens then the pipe column comes through the deck … nothing. The contractor simply cuts to the diameter of the pipe and then leaves it at that. (I’m sure it’s harder than I make it sound)
And here is the finished elevation looking at the extent of the ipé wood deck. We designed this small portion of the back patio to be wood just to visually reduce the amount of hard impermeable concrete-like surfaces touching the house. The wood brings a bit of warmth to this area and helps delineate this area as a space rather than just a continuance of a covered walkway/patio.
Since I don’t show too much in terms of finished photography on this site, this might be the best view you’re going to get of this backyard. Winter time isn’t the friendliest time to take photos and I have no doubt that the allée will make much more sense, and be much more spectacular, once the Ginko trees get some leaves on them and actually look like trees. In the meantime, I am content with the execution of the ipé wood deck.
It’s the little things in life that bring the most pleasure, and in my mind, the fact that this wood deck doesn’t look complicated at all means we did it exactly right.