Cedar Deck

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When a new fence is installed, you ideally should put it smack on the property line. Once in a while they are visibly marked, but that doesn’t happen often. Most of the time, the exact corners of your property are marked with an SIB (Solid Iron Bar) put in place by surveyors when the house was built. If it’s a new(er) house, more often than not the graders who graded everyone’s yard all at once probably knocked them over; if it’s an old house, you’d be surprised at how deep these things are. In order to find them, you need a metal detector (just like you see on TV, with people waving wands on the beach, looking for treasure) and some experience.

    When you bought the house, your lawyer should have given you a printed drawing, or survey, of your property. This will show a depiction of your house, as well as the outlines of the property with measurements (called "ties") to the house. With this, and hopefully a neighbour’s survey to back it up, you should be able to lay out the property line yourself. If not, we can usually help you do it. We cannot take responsibility however, as we are not licenced Ontario Surveyors (designated OLS) and have no legal survey training. If this is not sufficient, or if you are part of a group fence, we strongly suggest you hire an OLS to have your property properly staked. They do not need to do a “mortgage” survey, which can cost $1000 or more, so be sure to tell them it’s just for a fence.

    If there is an existing fence to be replaced, we will put the new fence exactly where the old one is, unless told differently, or the old fence is in too much disrepair to be able to tell where the line is. With existing fences, as long as the corners are accurate, there is generally little problem.

  2. The short answer is Yes. The long answer: it depends.

    The Ontario Line Fences Act provides you with the right to install the fence on your property line. You DO NOT need to set the fence back an inch or 2 (2-5cm, for those of you much younger than me). It also gives you the right to do it without their express permission. Let me repeat that. You DO NOT need your neighbour’s permission to build a fence. Or a shed or deck, for that matter. On top of that, it also allows you to step onto their property (within reason and with due notice) to actually build the fence. Unless they pull a gun, they can’t stop you. Nor can the police, should they call them (I speak from experience here: you can’t imagine what I’ve seen in 30-some years in the business).

    Conversely, it also enjoins your neighbour to pay half the cost of the fence (chain link at a minimum), because it benefit them as well as you. It keeps your kids and dogs in, and their kids and dogs out! Or vice versa.

    However, this Act allows local municipalities to set the standards of what type of fence at a minimum, and what percentage of the costs your reluctant neighbour should "cough up". We suggest that you contact the by-law department of your local municipality for further information.

  3. Whether it’s a fence, deck, shed, or outhouse, and even if you have "The Neighbour From Hell" (I’ve been there as well!) You should tell them what you are doing. Better to get the yelling and screaming out of the way before you start the project.

    What can they complain about?

    • the fence is in the wrong place
    • the shed is too close to the property line (most municipalities require an "auxiliary building" to be at least 1' from the property line)
    • the deck is too high
    • you're blocking their view
    • you're making them feel too enclosed
    • you're restricting thier kid's freedom
    • the pressure treated wood is ugly
    • where's your permit: they want to see it
    • you're wrecking thier grass
    • the fence is too high, you're blocking thier sunlight and their plants will die
    • it's too expensive: they've got a cousin who'll do it for ½ the price
    • it's too noisy
    • you're starting too early or too late
    • you're plugged into thier house because the guys can't find your socket
    • you're using thier water
    • And about a dozen other complaints that this old mind can't think of right now

    If you want to keep the peace, you can address all these issues before we start. Reasonable notice before hand seems to diffuse all but the most cantankerous people, whom, if that’s their nature you probably already know it anyway.

  4. Virtually all municipalities require a deck or outbuilding to meet local zoning bylaws as well as having a building permit. If the deck is attached to the house, OR if it’s larger than 100 sq feet, OR more than 1 foot above grade, you have to have one.

    For a shed or cabana, (which is classified as an "auxiliary" or "out" building) you generally do not need a permit unless it is over 100 sq ft or more than 12 feet high (some municipalities have different height requirements). For an actual outhouse, well, you’ll have to look into that one yourself.

    With a permit, the municipality will inspect the deck or structure for compliance with the Ontario Building Code (OBC). This ensures sound, safe construction which should last for decades. Unfortunately, not every deck builder understands the OBC, and while their workmanship may be excellent, the deck may be unsafely built.

    Please note: a permit is no guarantee of good workmanship. The municipalities do NOT inspect for that. You can have a perfectly safe deck built like a piece of—well, I’ve already mentioned outhouses.

  5. This is something to discuss with our representative. The actual percentage of homeowners who get a permit is really very low, on the order of 10-20% (I don’t have real statistics, but I do have ears-LOL). In certain cases, due to zoning or time constraints you may not want to bother. Technically, it’s illegal to build without a permit, but we will apply the same construction principles either way.

  6. Every municipality has zoning restrictions. These rules have to do with the size of the deck you can have, where it is located relative to the property line, and how high it can be. They have no relevance to the OBC(Ontario Building Code). Such bylaws also apply to outbuildings such as sheds and cabanas. There are likewise rules about how high a fence can be, and whether it can be in the front yard, along with other often subtle minor rules. If your project does not meet these zoning restrictions, you can apply to the municipality’s "committee of adjustment" for a "minor variance" to bypass the rule for your yard. These applications are generally not refused, but they can take 3 to 6 months, and you still need to apply for the building permit afterwards. Be prepared though to be charged for it by the city: big time!

  7. Under most circumstances, you do not need a permit for a fence of any description, or for a retaining wall, unless you are substantially changing the grading and drainage of a property. Any large retaining wall should ideally be designed by an engineer. If it is in that class, a permit may be required.

    The only time a permit for a fence is required, in general, is when a swimming pool or uncovered hot tub is being installed. The fence has to meet certain standards in order to assure a level of safety for the pool.

  8. The Ontario Building Code (OBC) is closely related to building codes all over the world. It is based on engineering principles and common characteristics of people and materials, developed over centuries of experience. For example, steps the world over are always built in a maximum of 8" in height of an individual tread.

    The permit assures the city that your project complies with the OBC, that it is built soundly and safely, and that it will be strong and durable. There is also an element of liability on your part because in the future if there is an accident of some sort and it can be shown that your project was not built to code, it’s possible that your insurance company might deny the claim.

  9. If you hire us, we can provide all necessary drawings for you. You will need a survey of the site, onto which the deck or other project has to be drawn.. However, the project must be drawn or approved by a person with a "BCIN" designation. That stands for "Building Code Identification Number". A person who has this is duly accredited by the provincial government to design the project correctly. We can provide this service. The BCIN examiner may charge you a fee for this.

    You may submit your own drawings without a BCIN stamp, under your own name; however, it will take much longer, and there may be changes required by the municipality since different examiners sometimes "interpret" the OBC differently. This may delay the project. For liability reasons, we can no longer supply our own hand drawn plans. Plans approved by a BCIN are generally taken as drawn. For further information about BCIN’s go to www.obc.mah.gov.on.ca

  10. Fences are generally built from two common materials: pressure treated and cedar. They are the most popular materials used. In the past we have built fences from untreated spruce, and even some with plywood panels. Unfortunately this type of material will rot very quickly, even if looked after. In the past few years, plastic or composite fences are becoming more popular but are substantially more expensive. Since 2008, both of the two major vinyl fence suppliers in Toronto have gone under.

    Cedar

    Cedar is a natural outdoor wood that is easy to work with, resistant to twisting, cracking and shrinkage, and has a gorgeous colour. Cedar should be stained or painted every few years. This is our favourite material. We can show you cedar fences in good condition that we built 25 years ago.

    Pressure Treated

    Pressure treated wood is a cheaper material that has been chemically treated with special chemicals (that give it the distinctive greenish colour) to preserve the wood.

    Several species of wood can be treated, amongst them spruce, fir, jack pine, ponderosa pine, southern yellow pine, aspen, red pine and white pine. According to government grading standards, all of this comes under the classification of "SPF" (spruce-pine-fir), and the standards do not differentiate between the species. In actual fact, Jack pine is one of the best materials to use, and we pay a premium to get it. Most manufacturers of pressure treated wood warrant it against rot and damage by insects for 40 years. Unfortunately, this material is subject to twisting, cracking and shrinkage, and there are no guarantees against this. Pressure treated wood, however, needs little maintenance and will last 30 years or longer.

    Around 2002-2003, most manufacturers in North America replaced CCA (Copper Chromate Arsenic ) pressure treated lumber with ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quarternary) lumber. The main difference is that the active ingredient Arsenic was removed for safety reasons and a new component, Alkaline, was substituted. Unfortunately, Alkaline has proven to be very corrosive, and as such we have to be careful what metals are used for nails, brackets and such. We also advise against using metal chairs (especially aluminum) and furniture in direct contact with ACQ lumber.

    We are now able to offer a long term durability package using joist covers and special plated fasteners. Take a look at these links: USP Connectors Liv Outdoor

    Hardwoods

    Hardwoods such as pau lope, Kayu Batu and Ipe (also known as Ironwood) are new to decks, becoming popular only in the last few years. They are not generally used for fencing. They are extremely hard, resistant to wear, and very long lasting. They are however, toilsome to work with, and cannot be nailed. Every connection must be drilled and screwed, thus increasing labour costs. The end result, however, is usually spectacular. It’s like getting rich, hand crafted furniture, only outside. You have to see one of these decks to appreciate it.

    Composites

    Composites are not, strictly speaking, wood. They come in a variety of materials and from dozens of manufacturers. There is pure polystyrene, resin, reclaimed wood fibre, plastic, fibreglass, carbon fibre, wood fibre mixed with plastic, even steel framing. Manufacturers include Trex, Correct Deck, Kodiak, Lattitudes, AZEK, Moisture Shield, Wetherbest, Fibron, TimberTech, Vekka Deck and many more. We would be glad to discuss their relative merits.

    Our gallery includes pictures of several composite decks. We have chosen to carry AZEK, Trex, Moisture Shield, Veka Deck, and Timbertech.

    Vinyl Fencing

    You may have seen in the last few years some shiny white or beige fences. These are made of one sort or another of vinyl. Advantages include extreme longevity, clean appearance and ease of installation. They generally cost a little more than wood fencing. Our manufacturer of choice is Al-Mar.

  11. We would normally supply a wood picket rail, which by OBC (Ontario Building code) is required to be at least 36" high (42" if the deck is more than 5'9" above grade) and must be composed of posts set no more than 4' apart and vertical pickets set a maximum of 4" apart.

    The placement and fastening of posts in the deck structure can often be your first clue as to whether a company knows what it’s doing. Ask your sales consultant for details.

    Unfortunately, horizontal members, cables, or pickets are not allowed for residential use as they are considered climbable. Decorative panels such as lattice, or sunburst styles are also not allowed for the rail itself, although they can be used for decoration or privacy screens.

    If the deck is less than 24" above grade a railing is not required.

    A popular feature the last couple of years is glass. We can provide railing with panels made of tempered glass, thus providing a more attractive rail and an unobstructed view through the rail of your backyard. For even more choices, we can get clear or frosted glass.

    We are able to provide composite, aluminum and vinyl rails as alternatives to wood.

  12. When building a deck, we utilize a minimum 10" diameter "Sonotube" (a specialty designed cardboard tube)set 48" in the ground and filled with concrete. For larger decks we will go to 12" diameter, and under certain circumstances as large as 16" diameter. Landing or step supports need be only 8" diameter. In some cases, when building on "filled" ground that has not properly settled, it is possible to have to drill 5' deep or even more. In certain situations, the footing may be re-enforced with steel re-bar for extra strength.

    For a residential chain link fence, the standard is a 6" diameter hole, 2.5 to 3' deep. For a wood fence, we will use an 8" auger for 4x4 posts, drilling to a depth of 3-3.5'. For 6x6 fence posts we will drill a 10" diameter hole. For a gate post we go a minimum of 3.5' deep.

    Commercial fences and sound barriers may have different requirements.

  13. Deck prices can vary over a considerable range: size, materials, complexity, details, difficulty in digging or gaining access; uneven terrain, ground conditions, removal of old decks, patios, bushes, landscaping, rocks or boulders; and weather. Even parking (how far away from the site) can affect the costs of a deck. An upper level deck with 12 to 16 steps will cost significantly more than a lower level deck.

    Railings, planters, benches, split levels, skirts, pergolas, type and direction of floor boards, whether the decking is screwed or nailed down, type of materials, size and shape. Finally, vicious dogs on site have to be fed raw steaks every day to help them befriend the installer, and for small children we have to have a full supply of candies (sugarless of course), cookies and milk, so these costs have to be factored in.

    As a "rule of thumb" guideline only, pressure treated decks are the least expensive, averaging in the range of $20-$30/sq ft, depending on complexity.

    Cedar (with a pressure treated frame) runs roughly $5 to $8 per square foot more. We rarely build an all cedar deck. There is little point in using cedar for framing where you won’t see it, as pressure treated wood is stronger, cheaper, and more resistant to weathering.

    Composites and hardwoods can easily be double the cost of a pressure treated deck. Again, most of these decks are built on a pressure treated frame.

    Galvanized Steel framing is sometimes used. This technology is in its infancy, but as prices come down it will be more popular. A composite deck with steel framing could last 50 years!

    Many customers in recent years have taken to purchasing a composite or hardwood deck floor with cedar wood railing and skirt, for the best combination of ease of maintenance and affordability.

    1. Uneven sizes cost more per square foot. For example, you may want an 11' x 15' deck, (165 sq ft) for whatever reason. If you built a 12' x 16' deck (192 sq ft), instead, the extra 27 sq ft is essentially free. We cannot go into a lumber supplier and buy 11' boards. We can get 10's and 12's, so for 11' I’d have to cut a foot off!
    2. Bigger is better. A larger deck costs less than a smaller deck on a square foot basis. For example, a 6' x 12' deck has 3 footings and a set of stairs. So does a 12' x 16'. Those 3 footings and the stairs cost the same in either case. The smaller deck "amortizes" the cost of those items over 72 sq ft. The larger deck has 192 square feet, an increase of 266%.
    3. Complicated is more. Simple is less. If you have budgetary concerns, the KISS principle (no, not Gene Simmons the rocker) is something you may want to think about.
    4. Bigger is definitely better! In 30-some years in the business, I have never had to give out a quote to make an existing deck smaller. It’s always the other way around. You are likely only going to build this deck once. Make it a big as you can.

    Finally, an on-site estimate can give you a more accurate idea of what we can do for you.

  14. Nothing is really completely free from maintenance. If, for example, you leave your brand new car sitting in your driveway for 5 years and never drive it at all, it will still need a major cleanup/tuneup before you can use it. Even the brick on your house eventually gets grungy and every 50 years or so should be cleaned. The same concept applies to decks.

    Your backyard deck is out there in the world, in the rain, the snow, heat, cold, wind, at the mercy of cats, dogs, babies, and birds. People drop things, scratch the surface with their shoes, drag furniture, spill gasoline, paint, and martinis, poke holes with stilettos, and drip hot grease from overworked BBQ’s. Imagine what the neighbours would say if you didn’t clean all this up occasionally.

    For a pressure treated deck, we strongly recommend a good pressure washing every 4 or 5 years, along with a coat of sealer. This will maintain the looks for decades although the wood will fade over time.

    A P.T. deck that is not maintained will undergo surface deterioration, although the wood itself won’t generally rot. It will turn progressively darker, and the surface will crack and chip. With no maintenance, the deck will last 20 years or so. If you look after it you can expect 25 or 30 years. We at the Fence & Deck Centre can actually show you P.T. fences we built in 1980 that still look attractive.

    For cedar, we emphatically suggest applying a top quality stain to maintain the wood. Follow manufacturer’s directions, but consider that this should be done every 2-3 years.

    We recommend Cabot Stain.

    Unfortunately, if you don’t do anything at all to cedar, it will eventually turn grey and begin to deteriorate. An untouched cedar deck has a lifespan of 10-15 years. A well maintained deck should last 25 or more.

    Composite material is touted by most suppliers and contractors as “maintenance free”. It is certainly easier to look after than wood, but it does need at least some care just like that unattended car above. It should be pressure washed every few years, and some brands should be sealed. Several brand name composites have a known predilection to getting mouldy, and while that bane won’t necessarily shorten its usable life, it can look pretty ...slimy. Thus, a sealer is in order.

    Composites are about as maintenance free as you are going to get.

  15. We provide a written warranty for 2 years on workmanship. Pressure treated wood carries a manufacturer’s warranty for 40 years against rot and insect damage.

    All woods are natural products and as such carry no warranty.

    Chain link and decorative steel fences carry a five year material guarantee.

    Most composite materials carry a replacement warranty ranging from 10 years to “lifetime”.

  16. Absolutely. We are a dealer for High Point Lighting, out of Colorado, and In-Lite Lighting right here in Ontario.

    These systems are low-voltage, and as such do not require an electrician to hook up.

    We have also started installing outdoor kitchens, a new and coming trend. A sophisticated kitchen can include:

    • Custom cupboards, with stone or wood facings
    • tile or granite counter tops
    • Barbecues, smokers, and even refrigerators

    We can even build a trellis or roof over top.

  17. Most of our customers think we close up shop on November 15 and go to Florida for 3 months. I wish.

    We still have rent, phones, advertising, truck payments, heat, mortgage, and food to cover, so we are almost forced to keep working.

    Since we have several trucks, we’ve equipped them all for commercial snow plowing (no, we don’t do driveways).

    We also dabble in renovation. We do bathrooms, basements, hardwood flooring, painting, that sort of thing. All our men are fully experienced, and we would be pleased to provide a quote.