Cedar Deck

What to look for when checking out a project

OK. You’ve got a guy. He (or she) is ridiculously cheap, talks nicely, seems like he knows what he’s doing; so he takes you to see one of his jobs. What do you look for?

For Wood Fences:

  • How does the wood look? There are different grades of Cedar and pressure treated. In general, the Big Box stores have inferior wood to our suppliers. Believe it or not, the only wood sold for outdoor use that is graded for appearance is the 5/4 deck board. Nothing else is sold on appearance. Which is why we use only the best suppliers, such as Rona. Pressure treated in particular is often quite....unpretty.... You can have big, ugly knots, extreme differences in colour, grain, and even width. Which again is why we use only the best suppliers, in order to minimize this variance.
  • Are the fence posts straight? Some installers will line up the tops of the fence posts because that’s where your eye is naturally drawn, while the bottoms are completely out of line. If you line them up at the bottom, then they are automatically straight and level.
  • Are there big gaps at the bottom of the fence? Anything more than 4" is a no no.
  • Does the gate have an angled brace in it? If not it will sag before the year is out.
  • Did the salesman suggest a 6x6 gate post? This is much better than a 4x4, which can twist or warp easily, thus throwing the gate out of alignment.
  • Are there some questionable boards on the gate? Worst place to put ‘em, and evidence of overall sloppiness.
  • Is the spacing between the boards even?
  • Did they cut a few posts off, only to tack on short sections to have enough height for the boards?
  • How does the lattice look?
  • Did they put any nails in from the flat 2x4 cross piece to the 2x4 underneath to keep them from separating?
  • How big are the gate hinges? You can use 3x5, 4x6 or 6x8 hinges. 3x5's are just too small.
  • Are there big gaps where the stringers (the horizontal 2x4's) butt into the fence posts? With the use of fence clips, which are about ½" deep, you can cut a 2x4 5/8" short and still get it to stay. It will only shrink with time.

For Decks:

  • How big are the footings? Smaller than 10" diameter for main footings is too small. Depending on spacing, we can go 10", 12", even 16" diameter. 8" footings are ok for landings and steps. We’ve seen as small as 6" footings supporting a 4x4 post supporting a 10' high deck.
  • Is good use made of the materials? For example, if the front of the deck is 16' wide, did they piece together a facer, of did they use 1 piece?
  • Steps:
    • Are the step treads 9" or 11" deep? As it stands the Ontario Building Code (OBC) requires at least a 9 1/4" tread. Unless there are space constraints, 11" is most comfortable.
    • Are the heights of the steps the same? They should be, both for appearance and usability. s there a kickplate? This is safer for kids, and looks more finished. Are the steps more than 8" high? If so, it’s against the OBC.
  • What does the railing look like? It should be level, and the posts should be evenly spaced. Are there dozens of nails in the top plate? Are there posts in the rails? They are required by code. Are those posts more than 5' apart? Code says 4', although 5' is sort of acceptable. The posts should be mounted on the inside of the outside headers for strength, not nailed to the outside. They should be braced in 2 directions, or they aren’t safe.
  • What are the mitre (angled) cuts like? Are they reasonably tight and even, or are there huge gaps you could fall into?
  • Are the gaps between the deck boards small and consistent, or will they grab a stiletto heel and not let go? The gaps will only get bigger with age. How about the seams between lengths?
  • Are the deck boards reasonably straight along their length, or are they wavy? Even good boards sometimes develop a warp, but a good carpenter knows how, and takes the time to, straighten them out.
  • Does the skirt (if there is one) have a gate? Does it cover the entire perimeter of the deck? Is the end of the beam exposed? Is there a frame at the bottom of the skirt?
  • If it’s a low level deck is there a ground cover with filter cloth and some gravel?
  • Is there some sort of finish on the edges of the deck, such as a bullnose, or are the deck board ends exposed?
  • Does the design “flow”? Is it interesting?
  • Does the deck “bounce” a lot when you walk on it? If so the joists are too small; worse, the beams could be too small.