Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pappa Built Us A Brand New Deck, And It's Awesome

The unsafe old deck on our house, minutes before it came down.
During April and May, the trees around our house went from bare to leafed out.

That's not the only major transition around our St. Albans hacienda.

We got rid of our rickety, scary old back deck and replaced it with a new deck that I swear will land on the pages of House Beautiful any day now.

My husband, Jeff Modereger designed the new one. He does things right, so I knew his little scheme to build a big deck would at least be safe.

And big. Did I say big? Jeff does nothing small. Uh-uh.

Note: Nothing tracks the progress of the deck like photos. Click on any of the photos to make them bigger, so you can take a better look at the images.

Jeff is a theater scenic set designer, and he becomes extremely antsy in the rare moments he if doesn't have a project to do. So, during some down time, he designed this entire project. He works fast, too, so this came awfully quickly.
Old deck down, we await the new one.  

The decks, both the old and the new, were/are on the back of the house.

The property slopes downward behind our home, so the  back of the house sits on what amounts to the second floor, as opposed to the front of the house, which is essentially on the ground floor.

A door comes out of the basement beneath the deck.  

The design for the new deck extends across the entire back of the house, on the second floor. It wraps around both sides of the house. A second deck extends from the basement door, and out 40 feet toward the vegetable garden.

Starting to take shape.  
The only thing that went slowly was getting the St. Albans, Vermont town permits to build the deck. It wasn't the town's fault.

The town has regulations that any new construction in our zoning district must lie 40 feet from the property line.

Fine. The only question was whether the deck would fall less than 40 feet from Vermont highway department, which owns the road in front of our house.

We knew the deck wouldn't impinge on the setback requirements  but the state of Vermont had various maps that all wildly incorrectly positioned our property outside of where it was.

We either lived a half mile east of where we were, or west or our house was in the middle of relatively busy Vermont Route 36, which in reality is the road that sits 150 feet or so from the house.

It's a little scary that every government entity around me has a wildly different idea of where I own property, but oh well.

It took an act of Congress to prove that our property was not too close the road.

The point we could first stand our our new deck.  
But we got the permit, eventually.

The crew came to tear down the old deck and start installing the new one on a chilly April morning that threatened rain.

The old deck was unquestionably dangerous.  It was built with substandard material and with substandard construction methods, to say the least.

 We knew it was a little scary. It bounced when you walked on it. The frost made the middle of it rise, creating a nice little hill in the middle of the deck in February.

The old deck was on the second floor of the house, and I had worrying visions of it crashing down to the ground when we had a gathering out there.

Two chain smoking guys tore the old thing in minutes. I told the contractor I was a little alarmed that it came down that fast, was it that unsafe?

The lower deck begins to take shape.  
Well, yes. The supports for the deck only extended five inches into the ground. The supports themselves were only two by fours.

The old deck could have collapsed under the weight of just one person, never mind several. I'm surprised it didn't collapse when a bird landed on it. I shuddered.

I was heartened a couple days later the contractors started preparing the posts for the main deck supports.

The supports extended concrete more than two feet into the ground. They used six by six boards, and used sturdy brackets to fasten the vertical support beams to the concrete bases.

The new deck at completion. It's so big I can't get it
in one photo.  
This spring, the trees leafed out around our house abruplty, as we seemed to go directly from winter to spring.

The new deck took shape rapidly, in tandem with the blossoming trees. It started just as the tree buds were poised to flower, and finished when the leaves were fully out - less than three weeks.

As the deck was rapidly appearing, Jeff did have to do some last minute redesign.

The property slopes behind the house more than we thought, so the end of the lower deck was more than four feet above the ground when the contractors finished it.

Jeff had intended the lower deck to be deep within garden flowers and plants that will eventially surround the lower deck.  He didn't want the deck towering above the gardens.

Another view of the new deck.  
So, thanks to Jeff's changes, the lower deck now has steps that gradually lower it along with the slope of the property.

Here in Vermont, we're environmentally friendly, so recycling is big.

So,  Jeff took some of the debris left from the old deck, and pieces of wood left behind and built a great, sturdy potting bench. It's under the main deck, just off the basement door, next to the lower deck, closest to the house.

He also took more construction debris to build a cover over the recycling bins in front of the house, so things look more attractive there.

Some of the only debris we couldn't re-use was the approximately 1,987,532,221 cigarette butts the contractors left behind. I'm still picking them up. Anybody want LOTS of cigarette butts? We got 'e. Other than that, the contractors were very good, if just a bit messy.

Another problem: We have about two dozen or slightly more immense poplar trees that grew up over the years, mostly along the edges of the property. Most of these tall poplars died in the last couple of years. Some of these ghostly dead trees threatened to topple over on the brand new deck, or the shed where we store so many of our tools.

An awesome potting bench Jeff built out of leftover
construction debris.  
We had to hire a tree guy to cut them down. To save money we told them not to haul the debris away.

That left us with HUGE piles of wood to get rid of. I'm gradually piling the poplar tree debris on a corner of our property.

We did hire a guy who is built like a Big Brick House to take the heavy chunks of wood and stack them on the edge of the property for now. But I have been cleaning up the epic amounts of wood from the house.

Poplar wood is basically worthless, so I'm going to have a LOT of brush pile burns/bonfires come winter.

(I like to do brush burns when there's a little snow on the ground, so embers don't get away to cause a massive St. Albans forest fire. Forest fires are just so depressing.)

The only drawback to the deck, the trees that have been cut down and the gorgeous raised beds for the vegetable garden that Jeff is building is these projects created an ENORMOUS amount of work to do.

It's all the type of work I love to do, gardening, garden design, physical labor outside. So this will keep me happy and in relatively good physical shape for years to come.

Note to Jeff: We did all to ensure I got exercise daily to stay in OK shape, didn't you?

The biggest challenge is creating a design for the gardens around the lower deck.  I'll get out there soon with a sketch book and map out what kinds of plantings to place around the deck, what varieties to set in, what the overall look will be.

The goal is to make our property a Must Stop on any garden tours that swing by within three years. Good look with that, but I'll try.

Jeff, with Jackson (the black dog) and Tonks (whose color
blends in with the sawdust( with just a small part
of the dead trees we had to cut down.  
The deck has only been completed for a couple weeks. It's already creating great moments, great times.

This deck has room for our dogs, Jackson and Tonks, to watch me as I work outside. (Gates block stairs and entryways, so the dogs stay put on the deck.)

Beforehand, when I was inside, Jackson would be indoors, howling because he was alone and couldn't see what I was doing.

Now, both Jackson and Tonks come out, peer through the railings along the edge of the deck and watch.

I'll glance back at them, and it's always a wonderful, happy moment.

Jeff also likes to come out and visit. Or on mild early summer mornings, we'll take our coffee and breakfast in the fresh air out on the deck while the dogs play with their toys next to us.

The deck is already the best room in the house. Also the biggest.

We'll have parties and gatherings out there, especially now that we have a deck that won't collapse under the weight of our friends and family.

We're really not into killing those we love, so it's nice to have something safe.
Jeff also hit the recycling bins under a platform made
of construction debris.  

As I noted, there's still a lot of work to do.

 I'll give an update in about, I don't know, 1,000 years, when I complete the gardens around the deck.

And if anybody from House Beautiful or HGTV wants a look see for an article or television, show, leave a comment with this blog post and our people will talk with your people.

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