Renovation & Design

Simple joys of working with cedar

Backyard project turns out like a dream

The privacy wall’s one full board and two split boards pattern, as seen from patio blocks.

Marc LaBossiere / For the Winnipeg Free Press

Cedar deck fascia, parallel with previously installed patio stones.

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Cedar-topped deck with privacy wall and wraparound stairs; the owners of this project love the privacy and the tied-in look with the previously laid stones.

ON a sunny Friday morning, midway through July 2016, the reverse beeping of a forklift cut through the quiet of the neighbourhood just off Kingston Row.

From the onset, it has been my protocol to meet the driver on-site when decking materials are scheduled for delivery a day prior to the build date and strategically hand-load the lumber into the yard so I can get right to work the next morning. I was a bit anxious this time, however — this was my first cedar deck build. Luckily, the sweet scent of the lumber calmed my nerves almost immediately.

Margaret Wilson and Eric Hunt contacted me last spring — they had been referred by very good clients of mine who live down the street from their house. During our first site meeting, they showed me their existing deck — it was still standing, but just barely. Their requirements were quite simple; a fully enclosed deck with a higher tier as you exit the sliding patio doors from the house, which almost immediately drops down to a lower tier to serve as the main deck area. Wilson insisted on a privacy wall along the outer edge of the upper tier. The lower tier would allow access to the hot tub on the far side and wrap around stairs to the recently installed patio blocks, which surround all sides of the impending deck. Oh yeah, and more thing — they wanted cedar-top decking and fascia.

The quoting process for me is quite simple — I sketch the design, orchestrate the proper framing and support and include any extras, such as wraparound stairs and the privacy wall, in this instance. If the deck is to be fully enclosed, there is often a savings to be had. Generally (but not always), most board denominations are slightly cheaper when purchasing green pressure-treated lumber. Brown pressure-treated is slightly higher, in that it is actually green pressure-treated lumber stained brown — that extra step creates a slight increase in costs. Because this deck would be fully enclosed in cedar, the framing and structure underneath was built using green pressure-treated boards on the first day of the build.

Although I often advise clients to erect their deck prior to landscaping (it’s easier to landscape to the elevation of a deck than the other way around), this scenario was reversed. Patio stones had already been installed. As such, it was imperative to carefully measure the stones’ arrangement was parallel to the house. This due diligence proved to be essential — they were indeed askew. I factored in this discrepancy when building the framework. By making the far side of the deck slightly narrower than at the house, the lower edge of the deck is perfectly parallel with the patio stones. Failure to perform this step would have resulted in a highly noticeable misalignment.

The next day would be very exciting — cedar for the first time.

It was a beautiful Sunday. My girlfriend Carole elected to come give me a hand and it really expedited the top-decking process. Good thing, too, because we were trying to beat a thunderstorm predicted for later that afternoon. All my cedar worries were laid to rest with the first cut of the miter saw — like a hot knife through butter. And with every cut, the scent of the wood filled the yard. It truly was a blissful experience.

With the top decking for both tiers fastened, I installed the three main 4x4 posts for the privacy wall. The double 2x6 width stair tops were next. Once the stairs were done, fascia was installed on the steps to the higher tier. The fascia for the lower-tier steps included mitered cuts at every 90-degree corner and continued through to the back side of the deck as vertical fascia to enclose the underside of the deck. To complete the privacy wall, 2x6 boards were set horizontally into place with strategic gaps. A pattern of one "full board" and two "split boards" was created to allow for more gaps, simultaneously breaking free from the expected.

Upon completion that afternoon, Carole and I had just enough time to gather my tools and load them into my truck. I snapped my post-build photos as the thunder rumbled. It wasn’t long before the sky turned black and the downpour was unleashed.

Wilson wrote me recently to say, "We are really enjoying our new deck — hoping to buy a new barbecue this spring... We appreciated your insight in deck planning… the oversized top step (upper tier) and privacy screen make a big difference! The privacy screen even blocks some of the winter wind when we’re in the hot tub."

And then she added, "the deck and the stones look like they were planned together." This was really nice to hear.

I had always shied away from cedar for two reasons: I don’t like the overwhelming maintenance it takes to keep looking like new or that it turns grey if left untreated. My only other experience with cedar was a few years back in an attempt at saving cedar shakes from an existing roofline on my house to be used on the new roofline once my recording studio was built. Eventually, I decided to replace all the cedar with architectural shingles, but those cedar shakes remained tucked away in my garage for many years until I found someone who could recycle them — as siding on an old shed.

Every once in a while, I still catch the scent of cedar in my garage stall.


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