deck progress

Last weekend, with the pesky concrete gone, Kyle started work on the deck footings.

First step – dig holes. 14 of them. I should stop and say that this deck is probably bigger than you think. It’s grown since our initial sketchup design, but is now large enough to accommodate a grill and table and chairs without the worry that someone will scoot their chair back and find themselves in the grass.

So after a morning of back-breaking labor, Kyle covered the bottom of the footing holes with a layer of 1/4- gravel to help set the footings.

Oh hey, remember all that concrete that we jacked up? Well, Kyle had the genius idea to reuse some of it for the footings. Normally, we would have poured new concrete footings but it seemed crazy ridiculous to not take advantage of our cementitious bounty. So we DIY’d our own using concrete pier blocks over “reclaimed” concrete slab pieces. Adaptive reuse people, adaptive reuse.

Of course, the slab pieces don’t have rebar and this isn’t something we would do to support a more complicated structure, but for a deck, it should work just fine.

After the footings were in place, we started the painfully boring (for me anyway) process of making sure everything was precisely level in the x, y and z coordinates. Mathletes, keep reading.

To do this, we used our handy laser level. The laser is high-tech, but our process was not. To adjust the heights of each footing (the footings were set “close enough” and then we used the adjustable beam saddle to get each one perfect), Kyle would stand centered on each footing and I would then rotate the laser till it aligned with his sternum (yeah, he was shirtless at this point). He would then use a tape measure from the laser dot down to the saddle to check the vertical dimension.

For accuracy in the x and y directions, we busted out some old school triangulation. The corners of the house were our “known values” and by correctly placing the two outer footings we were able to set the remaining footings and then use the hypotenuse of a triangle to double-check measurements.

A simple string line confirmed that the saddles were all aligned and ready to drop in our first beams.

Wood, steel, concrete – the architectural trifecta!

This should come as no surprise, but Bailey was absolutely no help during the whole process (the dog wouldn’t even help dig!). In fact, he preferred to sit or stand in your way before sauntering back into the house where he’d promptly deposit 10 lbs. of dirt.

By Sunday evening we had set the two main beam lines. On Monday night, Kyle manned-up and got the ledger board installed after work.

First, he installed large plastic washers to provide a gap between the shingles and the pressure-treated board.  This allows air to circulate and any water to escape, preventing rot.

He then used his right-angle drill to attach the ledger to the house. (The stud locations were determined from the crawl space on the other side of the wall).

At one point, Bailey awoke from a backyard slumber, only to find himself is some crazy MC Escher print where stairs lead to nowhere. His facial expression kills me.

Can you visualize the deck now? It’s going to be big, but it’s going to be awesome.

Initially I was worried that it would make the remaining yard feel too small, but now I think we’ll still have plenty of space. The truth is – we don’t really use our yard that much but I think the deck will change that. Oh, and a fire pit. Definitely need one of those.


32 Responses to “deck progress”

  1. Amy Stoddard says:

    This is very exciting to see the process of how you set the footings. So, you won’t have to fill the holes with concrete? Just with dirt? The layer of gravel will prevent the footings from sinking any further?

    • Kyle Z says:


      We dug the holes down about 4 inches below the bottom of the concrete chunks, and then compacted the soil with that tool you can see in one of the photos, black square with handle. Then added 4 inches of the 1/4″ gravel and then compacted the gravel. The reclaimed concrete chunks were then mushed into the gravel and then the precast adjustable post bases on top of that. The gravel just helps set the concrete into the hole and evenly support the bottom side of it as it’s not perfectly flat on the bottom. The key is compaction so you don’t get any settling, but just in case we do, we used the adjustable post bases which can go up or down about 4 inches total. This also helps with the final laser setting. -cheers

  2. Dave says:

    You guys are an inspiration. I love how, despite life interfering, you keep soldiering on with your vision. Kudos to Kyle for manning up and helping you create such a beautiful home.

    Here’s to more progress!

  3. Cait says:

    So exciting! I love how you reused some of the concrete for the footers. And I’m dying over here at “This should come as no surprise, but Bailey was absolutely no help during the whole process (the dog wouldn’t even help dig!).” haha! Our dogs are equally unhelpful with projects.

  4. Laura says:

    What kind of wood are you using? Is it mahogany? My husband reckons a deck would rot in our back garden but we have tree roots pushing up our raised patio and I’m dying to replace it with decking. Plus I think we could use the supporting Walls to fix decking to. Do you think this would be possible or do you need air circulating underneath?

    • Kyle Z says:

      lauren, the deck framing is incised pressure treated wood. We haven’t quite decided on the decking material although we’re strongly leaning towards Ipe for it’s longevity. We found some discounted ipe that has minor defects for about half price, that stuff is spendy. We wanted to get FSC ipe but it’s quite a bit more expensive and just out of our budget. The nice thing about ipe is that you don’t have to put any finish on it and it will still last a lifetime!

  5. Chris says:

    Looks great, excited to see the progress!

  6. Heather says:

    We are about to start building a deck so thank you for documenting your progress. 🙂 I can’t wait to see your finished product–what kind of wood are you using?

  7. Mike says:

    Are you still going to be able to get under it when it’s done? (to adjust the post bases if need be) I guess I’d be concerned about little critters making a home underneath and not being able to get at them.

    • Kyle Z says:


      The front post bases are accesible from the front by removing on riser trim board, the middle set will require me to lose some weight in order to crawl under there;) but I am adding a swale to channel water away from the house so I’ll have about 18″ to crawl under at that location. Or I could just unscrew a couple of the deck boards and reach the post bases pretty easy although I don’t think we’ll need to.

      We’re going to use the 6 lobed 316 stainless steel screws which I feel are the best for ipe as they don’t strip out and break as much as lower quality stainless or those less desireable square drive screws. The ground beneath the deck will be covered with filter fabric and a couple inches of gravel to prevent weed growth. Not sure if we’ll get critters or not. We’ll see.

  8. KimB says:

    must be nice not to have to deal with frost levels. So jelous!!!!

    • Kyle Z says:

      well technically we should put the bottom of foooting 12″ but it’s just a deck so I’m not worried about heaving. we did but compacted gravel down to 12 inches at those more shallow footings. Most of the houses I design are in snow country, for instance have a potential project in mammoth lakes, CA with a snow load of 230 lbs/per sf, that’s like having 18″ of solid concrete on your roof! and frost depths down around 4ft.

  9. Suzanne says:

    Looks great! I need to bookmark this post to show to my students! Even an Escher reference!

  10. hjc says:

    10,000 bonus points for cementitious bounty! My brother-in-law built my in-laws an ipe deck (designed by my husband) five or so years ago and that is one solid piece of structure. He wore out two drills building it as ipe’s nickname “ironwood” is well-earned. It has weathered to a nice neutral grey (the parents do try to stain it occasionally, however, it never really takes the color for long). There are some splinters (very fine and very painful) that come up which limit its barefoot-ability, but as it is approximately 750′, they haven’t gone in for the monumentous sanding required to smooth it out. Good job thus far!

    And you didn’t like math in school, but became an architect? Maybe there is hope for my high school math failure who wants to be an engineer!

  11. Kyle Z says:

    haha, yeah, I liked math until my junior year in HS and then lost interest, probably because a girl. Got back into math in college but had to start from the beginning;) there is always hope. engineers do use more math than architects though.

  12. Paul says:

    Looks like a great start, can’t wait to see the finished project. I’d love to know your thoughts on composite decking products, such as trex. We’ve got a deck project down the road and haven’t decided what to use yet, but Ipe seems like it might be too expensive, and I don’t like the idea of having decking shipped from so far away -carbon miles and all that. On the other hand, the alternatives are all aesthetically less attractive than Ipe. I’m utterly uncertain at this point.

    • Kyle Z says:

      Paul, I hear you. It’s been an internal struggle with us as well and most of our clients also struggle with this choice. I mainly use trex and ipe for projects but ultimately leave it up to the client. I would stay away from the PVC products though. I think what made the choice for us was the beauty of the ipe without having to finish it with a chemical product every few years and it’s going to last longer than the deck framing itself! the trex is also good in this regard and will hold color a bit longer than the ipe. Trex claims to make their product out of reclaimed plastic and wood that would otherwise go to the landfill. I’m not sure if they’re using a chemical binder of any sort but have always wondered about that. You can obtain FSC ipe but it’s super spendy. We bought our ipe from a reputable supplier in Sultan washington called I have a hard time with the plastic trex trying to look like wood, so if you go that route I would just use the trex without the faux wood grain;) There are other real woods like tigerwood that are less expensive than ipe and grey out to the same colors over time.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks Kyle, an expert opinion is always greatly appreciated. I have seen a trex-like product with a linear milled surface and sharp corners that looked pretty nice because it wasn’t trying to look like wood. I’ll check out the tigerwood. Ideal would be a locally sourced, clear, weather resistant wood, but we’re a little challenged for that sort of thing here in western Pennsylvania.
        Best regards, Paul

      • Kyle Z says:


        I have looked at but they’re too far from us. They’re in Buffalo and have FSC ipe. Check out their environmental statement.

    • chezerbey says:

      One thing I don’t like about the composite decking products is that because they’re a mix of wood and plastic, they can’t be further recycled (unless the boards are reused for a deck, but I haven’t seen that yet). But you’re right, it’s a very tough decision to make because there is no perfect product out there (for our situation at least)!

  13. Geoff says:

    Great project. Where did you get the precast footers with the brackets?


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