Oh how I wish this post title were in reference to some cheeky Internet meme. Instead, it’s about the result of our deck’s footing inspection. Sigh. Picture us singing “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have, the facts of DIY life.”
So here’s the deal. We scheduled the inspector to come look at the six holes we had dug for our footings. By my understanding, he’d simply be looking at each one to make sure they were in the correct spots and dug to the right width & depth. Pretty straightforward by my assumption.
But if you recall, we chose to go above and beyond by having some of the ledger boards attached so that the inspector could check those for us too. I figured it was best for him to see that before I went through the trouble of finishing the whole darn thing (in our county, the second inspection happens after the entire deck is completed) – that way he could catch any errors sooner rather than later.
And boy did he catch errors.
As soon as he rounded the corner to our job site, he did three things that made my heart drop:
- He shook his head.
- He said “we’ve got some problems here.”
- And then he silent started writing in his notebook.
It was around this point that Sherry, whom I had tasked with taking some covert pictures of the inspection from within the house, snapped this picture out the guest room window. Don’t I look like a happy camper?
Despite being the bearer of bad news, the inspector was fairly helpful in explaining what the issues were (once he came out of the silence that had me sweating bullets). First, I had overlooked two tiny (yet apparently critical) letters on one of the diagrams in the county’s deck building guide. That “P.T.” highlighted below means that the house’s rim board where I attached my ledger board on the siding side of the alley needs to made from pressure treated wood. Ours was not.
So although we had added the required water-proof flashing behind our ledger board, the inspector said that if I wanted to put a ledger board on that side I’d need to also either replace the rim board with a piece of pressure treated wood (but messing with the structure of the house does not sound like my idea of a good time) or lower my deck by about two feet so that I was bolting into the masonry foundation instead.
But that ledger was only half of the reason for our failing grade. He told me on the other side of the house that I wasn’t permitted to screw into the brick side of our house because it wasn’t sound enough to bear the weight. I had read about this online before beginning, so I told him I thought I had solved that by purchasing screws long enough to go through the rim board of the house as well (for added stability). But apparently everything you read online isn’t true (go figure), so he explained that it still wasn’t acceptable in our county.
He even drew this little diagram on my ledger board to explain why it was wrong. Don’t you love having the error of your ways illustrated? The problem is that the air gap that is left between brick and the house (which I knew about, but didn’t realize was problematic) prevents the load from ever being fully transferred from the brick (which is just built to bear the vertical weight of itself). Again, my only solution here was to lower my ledger by about two feet so that I was going into the masonry foundation instead.
The other option he gave me was to forget the ledger boards and just built a free-standing deck – i.e. one that’s just supported by posts in the ground. Since Sherry and I didn’t want a deck that was two feet lower than our doorway (we wanted to just walk out there and eat, without having to carry things up or down stairs or worry about people tripping out of the house), it quickly became clear that free-standing was our best option. Translation: we had to revisit our plan, dig more holes, and attempt to pass our second inspection after our little course correction…
At that moment I was pretty close to devastated because it almost felt like starting back at square one. But I held it together long to get a few more questions answered by the inspector, thank him for his time, and wish him on his way. But I did take a second to pout at Sherry when I saw her snapping this picture through the window.
Of course, the inspector then handed me my official rejection receipt. He really knows how to twist the knife, doesn’t he?
When I walked into the house Sherry said she heard everything. I told her I need a few moments to be upset. If I were a drinker, I’m sure there would’ve been a beer or three involved. But instead, me and my sober self enjoyed a few moments of self loathing. I was mad at myself for wasting my dad’s time. For delaying our building progress. For ignoring my instincts to build a free-standing deck in the first place. For having to tell my dad we had more holes to dig. For (despite having done hours of research and planning) not having done it carefully enough.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty good at beating myself up. Though I was also a bit ticked off at the permit office that okayed my plans in the first place (I was right there if they had any questions for me to clarify before we spent days executing a plan they approved!). In their defense, they didn’t have the info about what type of housing I was attaching to, but I wish they had at least asked. As you may remember, I was all dressed up in my permit-getting outfit and ready to be grilled that day (more on that here)…
… but they didn’t ask me a single thing, and sent me on my way with a nice big “approved” permit to hang in the window.
Soon enough Sherry swept in with a positive spin on the situation. Number one: She wasn’t upset – she had actually expected that we’d fail at least one inspection (we’ve heard that more people fail then pass in our county, it’s apparently very strict and it’s sort of a miracle if you get through both inspections without having to redo something unless you’re a repeat pro builder who works with the county a lot). She pointed out we were much luckier to catch this early (if we hadn’t started on the ledger board until after our hole inspection, we would have built The. Entire. Deck only to find out that it wouldn’t pass at our last inspection and the whole thing had to come down). Point taken. This was starting to feel less like the end of the world. I might have even been writing punny titles for this post in my head to cheer myself up, like “The Petersiks: We Put The “F” In Footing Inspection.”
Sherry was also glad the inspector had been helpful with his suggestions so we knew what to do from here on out. And she was glad to have a learning experience that we could blog about. Seriously, she hugged me and said “this’ll be a funny story someday – and it’s just another example of how DIY isn’t always easy, but in the end it’s always worth it.” So before long I was out of my funk and was on the phone with the county’s building inspection making an appointment to get this:
That’s our new plan. The inspector suggested that I meet with the reviewer who okayed my first plan and just have him draw me a new one for a free-standing deck. Part of me wondered why this wasn’t offered in the first place (certainly would’ve saved everyone some time!), but mostly I was just glad to have the very people drawing my plans who would later approve them. He was also considerate enough to keep our new post holes to a minimum (7) and to try to work with as many of the existing materials that we had already purchased (we’ll still need to pick up some new stuff, but it could have been much worse). The best news is that he believes we can still use our ledger boards – but as rim boards instead (with flashing over them as well, which we’d planned to add from the get-go). Even though they’re not approved to bear the full weight of the deck – those seven new footing holes will do that – he’s confident they can still be used as the stabilizing rim boards that I’d be required to add around the perimeter of the deck anyways.
So the only real change from our original illustrated plan below is that there will be seven posts added to convert this to a freestanding deck with girders (which are boards that will run in the same direction as our ledger boards, but they’re attached to the posts, so no weight is put on the house).
Overall it was a good, quick meeting that – if nothing else – helped open a line of communication between me and the building department (I have since called this same guy with two follow up questions). Perhaps I won him over with my more casual-slash-approachable-revised-plan-getting outfit:
So that’s where we are folks. We’ve got some more holes to dig (btw, my dad took the news very well) and a few more materials to pick up – but we’re gonna wait on getting those until our footing inspection is successful. Fingers crossed! Hopefully by this time next week I’ll be running around singing “The hills are alive with the sound of an approved footing inspection!”
We’ll definitely keep you posted on this roller-coaster of real-life DIY tribulations. But now it’s time for your failed inspection stories. Or really any general life failures are fine by me. Let’s commiserate. Especially if your story has a happy ending to go along with it. I just keep reminding myself that Sherry’s right about DIY not always being easy, but it has definitely been worth it when we look back at all of the major things we’ve accomplished in the past five years (like a bathroom gut job, two kitchen overhauls, built-in laundry cubbies, a built-in double desk, a 12′ long console table, and our big patio project). So I’m keeping my eye on the prize: a new deck that we’ll spend lots of family time on someday. And even with all of these snafus, it’ll still be a lot cheaper than hiring someone else to build it. At least I hope so. Off to knock on some wood…
Before we get to our weekly deck update, we just have to say HOLY COW you guys have awesome homes! So many folks submitted house crashing photos for our upcoming trip to Atlanta for the Haven conference – and we wish we had time to see every last one of you! We’ve worked out a plan to crash as many as we can fit in and are crying a little inside that we can’t get to all of you - but we might be back out that way for book tour stuff in the fall so there’s always next time! So this is just a huge thanks to everyone for offering to allow a toddler, a chihuahua, and two curious bloggers to snoop around.
Ok, back to business. I’m quite proud of this post title as it includes not one, but two deck puns about our latest accomplishments: leveling more stuff and digging holes. Continuing with the theme of Deck Day #1, Day #2 wasn’t quite as productive as we had envisioned. Day #2 actually happened the day after #1, but since that progress wasn’t really post-worthy we wanted to squeeze in a bit more ’til writing another update. But we finally accomplished both a fully completed ledger board and made all of our post holes thanks to Deck Day #3, so here’s the rundown on those last two days of deck work.
You may recall that we left off with hanging one ledger board on the brick side of the alley and had readied the siding side for ledger board-ing as well.
Obviously the first task for Day #2 was to get the other ledger board hung against the house (for more explanation of what these guys do and how they’re installed, check out this post). So the first thing we did was mark where all of our hangers would go (the metal piece that a joist sits in) so that we didn’t put any bolts in those spots. Since the hangers would have to line up with the hangers we had already marked on the brick side of the house, I created a little diagram with all of my measurements so we could mark them accurately. Clara is responsible for the crayon scribble.
The ledger was a bit of a bear to maneuver because it was one 17-foot-long 2×8′ board. But my dad and I managed to get it into place – and between our two sets of hands and some scrap board for propping, were able to level and screw it in without too much trouble. The actual bolting process was faster since (a) we only had to use 6″ lag screws this time and (b) we were going through wood, not brick.
Since the ledger board attachment phase went faster than expected, we decided to insert another task to our to-do list: attaching all of the joist hangers. Our ultimate goal was to dig post holes by the end of the day, but since it was barely 11am we thought we could knock out the hangers pretty fast. So off we went with our level and scrap joist, hammering in the hangers right down the line. Although we actually did every third hanger first (to take advantage of the full length of our level) and then went back and filled in the ones between.
It was a relatively straight-forward process, though a bit more time consuming than we had bargained for.
And just like the day before, we had our cheering section observing from the door. Unlike the day before, the cheering section was no longer wearing clothes for some reason (except, thankfully, for a blue cloth diaper). This doesn’t include my wife (she was diaperless, yet clothed – and thankfully very helpful for photo taking and conferring throughout the day while she Clara-wrangled).
By about 1pm, my dad and I had finished all of the hangers on one side of the house. And we were growing a bit less confident about our schedule and more than a little hungry.
So instead of tackling the hangers on the brick side of the house, we decided to get some food in our bellies and then turn our attention to digging post holes since our first inspection was only about footings, not ledgers or hangers or any of that other jazz. But can’t you just see it- our future deck. Try to squint and imagine beams going across these ledgers and boards running on top of those. Bam: instant imaginary deck. If only making that a reality were that easy. We can only devote one or two days a week to it since it calls for such big chunks of our time (we’re also working around my dad’s schedule, which we’re happy to do in return for his help) so our goal is to complete it before the end of July. So expect weekly updates for the next month or so and then hopefully we’ll have a nice purty after picture for ya. Haha.
After our late lunch we got right to planning where our post holes needed to go. On paper, it looked fairly straightforward. As you can sort of tell from this 3D rendering that 84 Lumber provided with my plans (this is a few from underneath – almost as if you were beneath our AC unit) – we’d need two posts at the end of the deck, two in the middle of the stairs, and (although not shown clearly) two at the very bottom of the steps.
Actually figuring out where those holes went on the ground was a bit more involved. For the two at the end of the deck, we first had to figure out exactly where the end of our deck was and what angle the stairs would come off at (we made it easy on ourselves and went for 45 degrees). We marked our lines with some string tethered between two bolts hammered into the dirt.
Figuring out the stair posts meant actually figuring out how long our stairs would be. My geometry is a bit rusty, so thank goodness for this EZ Stair Calculator I found online. And thank goodness for my fancy schmancy temporary desk:
Even with the calculator, we spent more time staking out our stairs because Sherry, my dad, and I got into this big debate about what the stairs should look like (and what we felt capable enough to build). We had at one point envisioned stairs that flared out at the end. But there were seven stairs instead of three, so that would have gotten too wide for the space.
We even talked about three stairs with a large platform halfway down and then three more stairs. But ultimately we opted to keep things simple and just go with basic straight stairs for now (we didn’t want them to go on forever – which they would do with a platform in the middle – and with the air conditioner to the right of the stairs and the house to the left of them, it sort of limited our creativity). Oh but see the railing on the deck to the right of the stairs in the picture below? We think that’s going to be a big built-in planter box instead. Will keep you posted as we go!
At least our decision to go with “classic stairs” was easy to mark with our string (we later shifted them over five inches away from the house – oh and we’ll plant something to the right of them so there’s a buffer between the steps and the air conditioner – not too close though, so it won’t inhibit the air conditioner’s function).
But by that point it was about 5pm on Deck Day #2, and two straight days of work were catching up with us, so we made the call to leave hole digging for another day. So let’s skip ahead to just a few days ago when my dad arrived with this in his trunk. Enter Deck Day #3, stage right.
That’s a two-man auger from the Home Depot Tool Rental Center. After having not the most fun manually digging holes for our fence last year, I figured we’d got the power tool route this time. It was $60 to rent for 4 hours (and it would have been $85 if we wanted it for a full 24).
To get us started I dug a shallow mark in the ground where we needed our hole to go, which also helped the auger bit sit in the right place before we powered it up.
The thing started up like a lawn mower (you pull the cord and it starts to rev) and, although a bit unwieldy it wasn’t all that challenging to use. It took both of us holding tight while I controlled the speed of the bit with one hand. We’d let the motion and weight of the machine do most of the work – we just had to keep it from falling over. And occasionally we pulled it out to help the dirt actually get out of the hole. NOTE: Always call your local Miss Utility first to ensure you’re not digging through any wires or pipes that could be damaging to yourself or your property. We did this as one of our first deck planning steps way back in May (more on that here).
If you asked me today, I’d say the auger wasn’t that hard to use. But looking back at these pictures, boy does my face tell a different story.
And I guess it wasn’t only my face trying to prove just how hard we were working. Sherry thought it was funny that the veins in my arms were bulging… even several minutes after putting the auger down to rest.
Also contributing to the vein-bulginess was the fact that following each spin with the auger, we had to go back manually with a shovel and a post hole digger to “tidy up” the hole and get it to the required dimensions.
Part of the reason we did this was just to get some of the loose dirt out that the auger had churned up, but not successfully carried out of the hole. The other reason was that (due to a miscommunication with my dad on my part) he rented an 8″ auger bit and we needed 12″ holes to pass inspection. So you can see from the picture below how a “just augered” hole wasn’t quite as wide as we needed.
But once everything was cleared out, we checked all of our dimensions to make sure they would pass inspection. The holes had to be 12 inches wide. Check!
And at least 18″ deep (which is the local requirement given our frost line). We tried to get at least 21″ though, because I plan to put a few inches of gravel in the bottom to help for drainage before I put in the required concrete.
Digging the six required holes only took us about two hours. Pretty speedy compared to all of the other work that had gone into this deck so far. Of course, the day we worked felt like the muggiest and most humid day of the summer so far, so my dad and I were both pretty well spent (not to mention drenched in sweat). I’ll spare you that picture. Instead, I’ll leave you to admire our holes. Wait, that sounds inappropriate…
With our footer holes done we’re now able to proceed with scheduling our first inspection. While I’m super confident about our holes, something about the inspection just makes me nervous. So please keep your fingers crossed for us! Perhaps I’ll have to put on a fancy inspection-getting outfit much like my dapper permit-getting one. Or should I just send Burger and Clara out there to charm the guy?
What did you guys tackle this weekend? Any other auger users out there? Or do you dig the old fashioned way like I did for the patio’s fence installation? I gotta say it took a lot less time, so the $60 rental fee was money well spent!
Psst- Want to follow along as we inch towards a finished deck from the beginning? Here’s a post about planning it, clearing the area, getting a permit, demoing the old deck, and day one of deck building.
First a little Facebook diatribe: we’ve been hearing from folks who no longer see our posts or Instagram pics hitting their Facebook feed and have learned that FB made a few changes, so if you’d still like to see our posts in your feed again, just take a second to do this:
- Click over to our Facebook page
- Hover over the button that says “Liked”
- Make sure the box next to “show in news feed” is checked. If it isn’t, just check it. Then everything should permanently show up in your feed again. Sorry for the trouble!
And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…
In case you missed the post where the tale of “removing the dated tree border that makes us sing that song from The Lion King in our master bathroom” began (more on that here), we thought we’d share a few refresher pics. Exhibit A: the aforementioned tree-tile border that encircles the entire room, on all four walls – over and over again.
Exhibit B: The scene after a bit of Dremel-ing and prying with a screwdriver.
Exhibit C: The $50-ish box of clear glass subway tiles (called “Glass Snow” from The Tile Shop) that we’ll be installing in its place. You can read more about the tile we chose, and how Clara enjoyed lying on the floor of the store here.
This isn’t our first trip to the tile rodeo, so this task promised to be pretty straightforward. Plus, by now we’ve accrued a pretty complete collection of tiling accessories, so one of our only purchases for this task was a new container of thinset mortar (the adhesive that keeps tiles stuck to the wall) and thinset admixture (the liquid that turns the thinset powder into its final cake-batter-y form). We got both of these at The Tile Shop for about $28 along with our tile.
We mixed a small amount of mortar and admixture in a bucket using a trowel until we got it to the right consistency. Looking back at this photo, it appears a bit thicker than we usually like it (we snapped the photo prematurely, but kept mixing things to get it to the right consistency). In the end we like it to be spackle-like – like thick pancake batter.
Since our to-be-tiled area was so narrow, we actually used the same trowel that we used to mix it all to spread the thinset on the wall.
Then we went back over it with the grooved end of a small notched trowel that we picked up (the smallest one that Home Depot sold, for about $3) so we got that ridged surface that’s ideal for sticking tiles to the wall.
Actually placing the tiles was a cinch, since there was no leveling or anything needed. We just sort of plopped them in place (using some 1/8″ rubber spacers to maintain a gap for the grout). Some glass tile is completely translucent, so you have to be careful because your thinset lines can show right through it. Thankfully our glass tile is actually backed with an opaque film so you don’t see the thinset through it but it still looks completely glassy and clear (not frosted or anything).
We just repeated that process around all four walls, mixing up more thinset as needed.
Here you can see the first section tiled (on the wall to the right) and the next side all thinsetted and ready for tiling.
We did run into a few spots that required cutting (in a couple of the corners) so for that we broke out this tile cutter that we used back when we did the subway tile in our last bathroom. It’s a pretty cool tool (which sadly didn’t work when cutting our penny tile backsplash). You place your tile with your cut line aligned with the small raised ridge on its platform (the yellow stripe between the black rubber). Then with light pressure, you score your line by rolling the blade back and forth a few times. You can actually see my score line in the glass below.
Once scored, you move the angled metal pad atop the tile and press down until it snaps right along your score line (if all goes well). For us it’s the fastest, cleanest, and easiest way to get a straight cut on tiles like these.
Unfortunately we did have one spot where we needed to notch out just the corner of a tile (around the light switch) which meant we had to use a wet saw. It stunk that we had to set up the saw for such small cuts, but it just had to be done.
Here you can see the two tiles that got the wet saw treatment. The cuts aren’t 100% perfect, but the light switch cover will hide the imperfections at the corners.
All in all the whole process – from getting all of our supplies out to tiling and finally cleaning everything up again – took us all of Clara’s two hour nap. Not bad at all. One nap for demo. And another for re-tiling. This is our kind of project.
Of course, we weren’t completely done yet. Our new tiles still needed to be grouted and sealed, but all of that would have to wait for another day since we needed the thinset to cure completely.
But the next day came before we knew what hit us, and it was time to grout. At first we debated what color grout to do in order to try to get the best match to what we already had in there, but then we discovered that the previous owners had left us some of the grout they had used in the basement. It’s “Antique White” colored, which wouldn’t be our first choice against sleek glass tiles (we’d probably go with pure white or soft gray), but in this instance it was more important to match the grout in the rest of the room, so we sucked it up and proceeded.
Having mixed up our free leftover grout with some free leftover grout admixture (a bottle we didn’t quite use up during our kitchen project), we went to town spreading the toothpaste-y stuff onto the tile surface using a grout float.
Once we had worked the grout into all of the grooves, we gave it a couple of minutes to set and then used a damp sponge to wipe away all of the excess from the surface of the tiles. The whole grouting process took just about 45 minutes. We’ll call that 1/3rd of a Clara nap.
The last step – which we did the day after grouting so it all had time to dry – was sealing the grout lines so that they’ll stand up better to moisture and stain less easily. We had some sealer leftover from the kitchen, so we followed the instructions on the back and applied it generously with a sponge – then wiped off any excess a few moments later. This step took so little time that I did it while Clara was awake and playing in the other room. I know, I truly live life on the edge.
Sealing (plus putting a bit of caulk in the corners of the shower) was our last step to this whole project, meaning it took us just about 2.5 Clara naps (aka 6 hours-ish) to demo, tile, grout, and seal it. Not too bad at all. You can see in this picture below (on the left of the border) how the glass tile gleams as it reflects light around the room. It really makes the room feel fresher and more updated.
Admittedly we’re not always border-tile people, but the modern glass tile is a definite improvement from the trees, and for $50 in tile, it was an update worth making (we’ll get to the full budget breakdown in a minute). Reminder: that light switch isn’t really in our shower, this is just a really weird angle without the shower curtain in place – but it’s actually located outside of the shower curtain (so it doesn’t get wet).
It’s definitely one of those annoying these-photos-don’t-do-it-justice projects, so feel free to come over and use our bathroom to really see these guys in all of their glory.
It just feels simpler and less busy than the tree-drawings that used to encircle the room:
It definitely has come a long way from this shot that we took of the room before we started any updates (you can see links to all of our bathroom updates in order at the bottom of this post):
And although the tile is completely clear and shiny, it picks up the subtle tones in the art and the blue glass pendant light, so it brings sort of a cool tone to a previously very warm and beigey room. So even though those beige tiles certainly wouldn’t have been our first pick, they feel kind of balanced out by the new border tile.
We’re so glad we were able to use the same grout that the previous owners used to install everything originally – it really looks like this border has always been here, which is a lot better of an outcome than a new-border-installed-with-old-tiles look. Whew.
It looks especially glassy and sleek when it’s wet. We love how little drops of water collect on the glass surface and sort of reflect through the tile since it’s clear.
Here’s a shot that shows how it picks up some of the tones in the room even though it’s a clear glass tile – see how in this shot they look a little blue-green just because they’re picking up the art above them?
As for a budget breakdown, here we go:
- Clear glass subway tile (called Glass Snow) from The Tile Shop: $50
- Thinset mortar and Thinset Admixture from The Tile Shop: $28
- Small trowel and tile spacers from Home Depot: $6
- TOTAL COST: $84
Well, technically we also bought a Dremel Multimax (more on that here) which was $130 with the special grout head that we used, so the real total for this project is $214 if you count that, but our new Dremel has already come in handy for a bunch of other projects (we’ve used it on the deck and plan to use it on another project in the bedroom) so it’s definitely handy to have in our tool arsenal.
Oh and some folks seemed surprised that we were taking on another semi-big project like this along with our slow-going deck, but because we can only work on the deck one or two days a week (and it really demands full days of time, or at least chunks of 4+ hours) it could literally be a month or two until it’s completed. And this project was something we could tackle during Clara-naps, so we were excited to get ‘er done. So that’s what we’ve been up to in the bathroom. Wait, that sounded weird. Any bathroom projects going on at your house? Or are some tiling endeavors going on in another room, like the kitchen?
Psst- To follow this bathroom sprucing project from the start, check out this planning post, this painting post, this light-swapping post, this art and trim-painting post, this toilet-updating post, this window frosting and shampoo wrangling post, this toilet selling/buying and door-cutting-down post, and this pre-tiling post.