Time for an overdue deck rebuild update.
Rosslyn’s deck has been the spring, summer, and autumn epicenter of sooo much living and laughter. This was the vision when we developed the original design program back in 2006-7, and it’s proven to be one of our best choices. A huge deck on the private west side of the house, imagined as an extension of the living room, screen porch, bar, and basically the downstairs living areas. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Grilling. Cocktails. Working under the umbrella. Hanging out, socially distanced during the pandemic. Dumping wetsuits and bathings suits to dry in the sun. Hanging out with friends, dogs, birds,…
We completed construction of the deck just shy of Christmas 2008, and it symbolically concluded the most significant phase of our Rosslyn rehabilitation project. It wasn’t the finish line, not by a long shot. But after two and a half years of major salvaging, preserving, rebuilding, and rehabilitating, the house was *mostly* livable (if not 100% complete).
So, if completing the original deck less than sixteen years ago was so momentous, why rebuild?
Long story short, the original deck failed. Not the garapa decking which performed admirably year-after-year. But the substructure. Given our proximity to the lake, we opted to use an *innovative alternative* to pressure treated lumber that promised weather resistance and longevity without releasing noxious chemicals into the water we drink, swim in, etc. Innovative in theory, but not in reality. The lumber started to check, shake, and twist before we even installed it, and it suffered premature rot within the first couple of years. (NB: I’ll be posting an update soon-ish about repurposing the original garapa decking!)
Deck Framing Culprit
Rather than dwelling on the achilles heal that lamentably undermined the integrity of three critical substructures — Rosslyn’s house deck, boathouse gangway, and waterfront stairs — I’ll just say that all three experienced premature decay and rot of the structural lumber. And all three began to fail within a few years of construction. I’ll defer to other perspectives rather than bogging down in bad news.
Troubles seem to be mounting for TimberSIL, a non-toxic alternative to pressure-treated lumber. (Source: More Troubles for TimberSIL – GreenBuildingAdvisor)
And the following is actually the supplier who supplied the lumber to us.
“It’s totally rotted out within four years. I’m talking rot. Total rot.” The lumber retailer in this case—Vermont’s Planet Hardwood—indicated that it stopped selling TimberSIL over increasing customer complaints and issues dealing with Timber Treatment Technologies. “… it became problematic,” said one of Planet Hardwood’s co-owners. “… we were starting to hear complaints that it was splitting in the field.” Of the firm, she said, “It was a nightmare dealing with them (Timber Treatment Technologies) and we ended up losing tons of money,” she added, according to The Daily Hampshire Gazette. (Source: TimberSIL Wood Product Tied To Allegations – Parker Waichman)
And from the same source:
A 2009 study conducted by the Oregon State University’s Department of Wood Science Engineering found that TimberSIL was “only slightly resistant to decay and would not be suitable for exterior exposures.” (Source: TimberSIL Wood Product Tied To Allegations – Parker Waichman)
Starting to get the picture?
30 homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward constructed by the Make It Right Foundation—perhaps most well-known as Brad Pitt’s rebuilding effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—need to have wood replaced to the tune of $150,000 over six months, as some of the homes are rotting on their outdoor steps and front porches. The product in question, TimberSIL, was specified as a chemical-free alternative to conventional treated lumber, and it came with a 40-year performance guarantee. According to TimberSIL’s website, the treated wood is a fusion of southern yellow pine and sodium silicate that is a “Class A Fire Retardant, insulator, unaffected by seawater, unaffected by heat, [and] barrier to rot, decay or insects.”
The problem at hand is that just three to five years after installation in homes constructed between 2008 and 2010, the TimberSIL is showing signs of rot… “It was unable to withstand moisture, which obviously is a big problem in New Orleans,” Royle said. (Source: When Good Intentions Go Bad | ProSales Online)
The concept of a chemical-free, glass infused alternative to conventional pressure treated lumber won us over. And regrettably it accelerated failure on all three locations that we used it.
Because the substructures began rotting virtually immediately after construction, we spent a decade and a half chasing the problem, scabbing in new lumber, etc. But within the last few years the failure was beginning to outpace our ability to provide bandaids and we scheduled replacement. And then rescheduled due to unforeseen circumstances. By last summer we’d scheduled complete demo and replacement.
Deck Rebuild 2021
The adage “best laid plans” comes to mind. And since this chapter of Rosslyn’s deck rebuild story is shrouded in disappointment, I’ll offer only a tidy, relatively benign abstract and then get on to the good news (as there’s much more positive progress to celebrate!)
During the summer of 2021 we allowed a carpenter to sweet talk us into entrusting him with the three previously mentioned problems. Although we initially informed him that our confidence was wavering given his subpar communication and organizational record during the planning and scheduling phase, we ignored our misgivings (and the warnings of many) and allowed him to persuade us that we had nothing to worry about. He planned to start by tackling the boathouse gangway and waterfront stairway in September/October, and then he’d move on to the house deck. We’d be so impressed, he assured us, that we’d then hire him to rehabilitate the icehouse. If only he built as well as he talked!
The waterfront project was supposed to get underway last September and be finished by the end of October. Unfortunately, the contractor’s repeat mistakes, delays, unkept promises, non-communication, etc. rendered the boathouse virtually inaccessible and dangerous, but no closer to completion. Despite repeatedly reassuring us that the project would be complete on or before May 1 — yes, many months after the original deadline — he AWOL’ed in late April. After months of strained relations, the carpenter threw a temper tantrum with our property manager via telephone and then unceremoniously quit. Zero communication with us. And he never responded to my request for clarification on whether or not he was in fact abandoning his commitment or honoring the May 1 deadline that he’d repeatedly promised in recent weeks/months that he would “meet or beat”…
Multiple contractors reviewed the abandoned project, but they all concluded that he’d made so many mistakes that they’d have to undo most of his work before they could continue. And, of course, everybody was absolutely slammed. Finally, a couple of weeks from now (and smack-dab in the middle of the original project timeline one year ago) a new team will begin to undo his damage and complete the project properly.
Live and learn…
But what about the deck? As explained that stalled because the preceding project stalled. So in late spring we asked Eric Crowningshield to have his team undertake a partial demo of the worst area to see if we could shore it up for the summer and then rebuild it in the autumn. Unfortunately, exploratory demo proved how pervasive the rot.
Deck Rebuild 2022
With this lengthy prologue behind, let’s look at the good news.
Once we concluded that shoring up the deck temporarily (to get through summer 2022) wasn’t an option, Susan and I weighed disrupting our short summer in Essex with construction against putting everything on ice until autumn. We decided to wait. Minimize risky summer entertaining, avoid the gaping hole in the deck, and keep our fingers crossed that we would have better luck in the fall.
That was our decision. At first. Until it changed.
In a peculiar twist of fate that I’ll relate separately, our friend, Hroth Ottosen, a skilled carpenter with whom we’ve worked in Santa Fe decided to come east to discover life on Lake Champlain while tackling the deck rebuild. There is much to say about Hroth and about how this “crazy idea” came together, that really deserves its own space. Stay tuned.
And in another twist of good fortune Susan’s cousin, David McCabe, slotted for a weeklong family visit mid summer opted to extend his stay for about a month to join the deck rebuild team. David’s worked as a carpenter/contractor in the DC-area for decades, so you can you see where this is going.
Susan’s high school friend, Ed Conlin, has been a frequent presence for sixteen years as we’ve rehabilitated Rosslyn and lived, laughed, and celebrated at Rosslyn. He decided to head up to the Adirondack Coast to join the burgeoning deck rebuild team, bringing to bear several decades of his own construction experience.
When these three decided to make it a work holiday, we knew we needed to be all-in to make this deck rebuild a success. Fortunately we were able to coordinate several of our local all stars into the mix.
Suffice to say that it never would have happened without the able leadership of Eric Crowningshield and Pam Murphy. Underpromise. Overdeliver. Every time. These two are a formidable team in and of themselves. (Source: Leaf Stain Art – Rosslyn Redux)
Add to the mix Eric’s reliable, skilled, and hardworking team: Matt, Justin, Andrew, Jarrett, and Jason. Several of these guys had already helped with the early exploratory demo, and now they were ready for a full deck rebuild.
And, last but definitely not least, Tony and Brandon Dumas.
Tony Foster, who joined our team during the ADK Oasis Lakeside project, brought his perennially flexible, impervious-to-hard-work-and-scorching-heat endurance, and upbeat demeanor to the redecking project. And Brandon, our savvy problem solving electrician rounded out the team. (Source: Leaf Stain Art – Rosslyn Redux)
I’ve blathered on pretty long already, so let’s change things up and showcase some of the photos and videos I’ve posted during the deck rebuild. (Note: I’ll publish another post soon that just focuses on the garapa decking since that’s a whole different adventure…)
Photo / Video Essay
The following Instagram posts offer a glimpse into the deck rebuild process. I’ll try to add a few more videos soon.
That little video betrays my exuberance in the early days of this project!