Deep Dive: Blunders and the Deck

Of all the elements of the house, the deck went through the most revisions. Originally it was supposed to be a simple single-level rectangle. Boring. Later it became a two-level C-shaped affair that wrapped around a stand of trees, one of which was later blown down in a storm. While the upshot was that it opened up new options for the house design, it left the deck in limbo.

For a while it was an oval affair with an opening in the center where I'd planned to plant new trees. Then I'd even entertained the idea of building a deck on the roof! Ultimately, the design on which I finally settled was actually developed after the foundation work had started—inspired by a pair of problems I discovered.

The first issue I noticed was how the foundation's lower level wound up much higher above the ground than I'd planned. This was due to my having incorrectly calculated the slope of the ravine, as well as not taking into account changes I made in the length of the foundation. In the image below, notice how high the back of the house sits—it's about twice as tall as I'd envisioned. (I could have corrected this by increasing the height difference of the three levels.)

The other issue was that the foundation is off-angle from how I'd planned it by around 10-12 degrees. This was due to a failure on my part to more carefully supervise the excavators as they started digging. The view below offers a sense of how the house points to the right (hover to see more detail).

I only noticed these errors after the footings had been poured and the foundation forms had been assembled—long after there was any hope of correcting them. But, in a strange twist, the deck became a benefactor of my blunders, because I like its new design much better than any of the previous iterations. Up until then, the deck was always more or less symmetrical; the off-axis angle and greater height of the foundation inspired a new, more interesting asymmetrical design, with much bigger height differences between the levels (although my knee might lead me to regret that).

This plan view is oriented with the house at the top. The living space has two sliding glass doors: on the left end, the door opens onto a landing with steps down to the main level; on the right end is a small, high seating area, also with steps down. The deck's main level has a screened-in pergola to the left, and to the lower right are steps down to the lower seating area, which is shaped like the back of the house. The nook between the two staircases on the right of the main level is reserved for a nice big wood-burning grill, 'cause I loves grillin'. Prob'ly get a smoker, too.

Obviously I don't need such an elaborate deck just for myself; my goal was to create an interesting space for friends to come eat, relax and enjoy The View. As a bonus, I've already received an advance "house-finishing" gift from a friend: a big outdoor radiant heater, which should extend the amount of time one can enjoy the deck.

Structurally the deck is quite complex, requiring 22 footings. I'd wanted to build it myself, but my knee has ended that plan. Incidentally, the deck won't be cedar or synthetic wood; it'll just be plain old pressure-treated lumber. Why should I invest the money in a deck that will last longer than I will?

As for my blunders, obviously I must live with them, since they're now quite literally set in stone. The bad news is that it bothers me every time I stand in the living space and look out at the ravine. It's a reminder of what can happen when I become overconfident, and that I should probably have had a professional manage the project. The good news is that no one notices them but me.

More Blunders

I've made plenty of other mistakes, but thankfully not many big ones. A medium-ish goof involved the refrigerator enclosure: I used the wrong measurement spec for the refrigerator I chose. Instead of the total depth, I used the depth without the doors. I realized this later on when I was comparing two models, and I had to re-frame the whole pantry end of the kitchen because, if I didn't, the oven door would be blocked by the refrigerator door. Everything had to be shifted to toward the breakfast bar by nearly four inches (before, left; after, right). I'm just glad I caught it before the kitchen was sheetrocked.

Another fairly significant blunder is the front porch framing. I knew in advance how the roof would be supported, but in my enthusiasm to frame the first level, I failed to plan ahead and accommodate the porch roof support members at the corners of the house. Consequently, I've got these awkward-looking posts at each end of the porch.

On one end, there was going to be a short wing wall to serve as an enclosure for firewood, so it was a non-issue. As I was framing it out, I liked the look of the unclad two-bys—as did a couple of friends—so I added a few more beams to turn it into an "architectural element."

But that still leaves the post next to the front door, and I remain uncertain how to deal with it.

Another Deep Dive

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