Renovation & Design

Small changes equal big results

Opening stairs on this deck gives it broader appeal

The balusters truly complete the deck in this backyard sanctuary.

Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

The newly designed deck includes 90-degree wrap stairs.

If you have enjoyed the comforts and conveniences of your backyard deck, the decision to replace it when it begins to show wear can be bittersweet. On the one hand, that old familiar deck will be long gone, but on the other hand there is an opportunity to improve on the old design.

The time had finally come for clients of mine to put up a new deck. During the initial site meeting, a couple of enhancements were immediately suggested by the homeowner, including an increase in depth from four to six feet, and the overall width of the deck would also increase slightly. Because the clients were also redoing their entire ground-level patio block design, the new deck would be built first, to ascertain a patio grade that conveniently meets the underside height of the lowest stair of the new deck.

Upon visualizing the new design layout, a few other modifications were suggested. Rather than simply using a standard staircase that replicates the old one, I suggested the corner nearest the backdoor entry should include 90-degree wrap-around stairs as a welcoming feature from any area of the backyard patio. And by doing so, the deck could stretch slightly more to the left, allowing both enough room for the barbecue on that side of the door, and a vertical access panel along the skirt of the deck directly below, hidden by what would be staircase railing on the far edge of the 90-degree stair configuration.

The commercial crew at RONA on Kenaston ensured that the lumber was neatly stacked for me earlier that week, so the planned two-day build could commence on the Thursday. The 16-foot ledger was fastened to the exterior wall on the back of the house, roughly two inches below the backdoor threshold. Once the top decking was installed, this would provide a half-inch clearance (just like walking into another room of the house). The joist hangers were mounted using structural screws, and the six-foot joists were set into place resting on a double-laminated 2x10 beam which is supported by three posts and pads, each equipped with adjustable deck jacks. The stair stringers for the 90-degree wrap were custom, cut from 2x12s, fastened to the structure using five-inch TimberLok lag screws. The 2x6 top decking was then installed on the main deck area, and on each stair top. With such great progress on the first day, it was probable to have the deck fully completed the following day.

The next morning started with the installation of the railings. The 4x4 posts were notched and secured along the perimeter of the deck where required. The 2x6 cap came next, and the upper and lower 2x4 horizontal supports for the balusters were secured to complete the railing framework. To close in or skirt the deck below, 2x8 boards were installed horizontally to perpetuate the lineal esthetic created by the wrap-around stairs. The access panel was created in the same fashion, to blend in with the skirting when in place. By mid-afternoon of the second day, the deck was nearly finished. Unfortunately, the black metal profile balusters that were custom-ordered had not yet arrived. So, it was necessary to leave the deck in a ‘to-be-completed’ state for a week until the balusters showed up. The following week sometime, I did return with balusters in hand. An hour or so later, the deck was finally done.

On multiple occasions the homeowner stood at the far corner of his backyard and gazed at the 90-degree wrap stairs that were introduced into the new deck layout design, admiring its welcoming appeal. It had never even crossed his mind to manipulate the stairs in such fashion. Not only does it allow access from any area along the impending patio area, it inadvertently provides additional seating for those who prefer to remain on the deck, but wish to be at the same level as those seated on the patio. Who would have thought such a small adjustment could produce such a big result.


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