The Saga Of The Deck

Table of Contents

The Swimming Pool

We bought this house in 1991. Out the back was an above-ground swimming pool. It was a bit old, and a bit worn, but it worked. Anne swam in it regularly in summer, and I went in the pool three times. The water was always too cold for me, even at mid-summer. I prefer my swimming water to be near blood temperature.

The pool attracted cats. Our cats would lie on the edges and sleep in the sun. Several times, while twitching in their sleep, they would fall in the water. We would notice this by hearing frantic splashing and then the bedraggled appearance of our beasts at the door, plaintively miaowing. Our good neighbour, Joan, had two Persian cats. One of them, Rani, got in the habit of doing the same thing, until one winter when he twitched and fell in. The water was extremely cold, and he was very old. I heard the splash, and saw him thrashing in the water. He wasn't a swimmer like our two, so I rushed to help him. By the time I reached him, he had stopped moving. I whipped him out of the pool, brought him inside and did mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on him. That's not as disgusting as it seems. It's sanitary, if you wrap your fist around the muzzle and only let your lips touch your fist. And you have to remember not to blow too hard and too long, because their lungs aren't very big. Sadly, it was to no avail. The cold killed him before any drowning occurred. That water was really cold.

In 1996, the pool burst its seams. There was some leakage and Anne got a pool maintenance guy in to look at it and try and repair it. He was tapping at one seam and picking at it and saying that it was a bit old and worn out, when the seam opened completely and the contents of the pool emptied out over him. That was the end of the pool. It was too old to fix. It needed to be replaced.

I'm not partial to swimming pools. To me they represent an excessive amount of maintenance work and an excessive amount of money wasted on chemicals and testers and pool maintenance guys and replaced pool equipment. And all you get is a crystal clear pool, sometimes an opaque green pool, that is too cold to swim in. It's not a good deal.

The Ex-Swimming Pool

So the remnants of the pool sat and stagnated for a year while we argued about it. In 1996, we had a visit from Tony, and he got enthusiastic about cleaning up and made a start on demolishing the pool. There must be something about this house, or something about my sloth that drives visitors to do these things. Anne's brother was another one. He would do nothing at all for ages, and then one day he would attack all the bushes and prune them. Great stuff, you might think. How helpful, you might further think. But he's like Anne: genetically programmed to start a job and never be able to finish it or clean up after himself. So all the bush trimmings were left where they fell for someone else to clean up. Me.

So Tony was visiting and was struck with the same enthusiasm. I was reluctant to do anything at that time, because there were no plans for replacing the pool and no arrangements made for getting rid of the demolished pool. But my grumbling sloth was ignored, and Tony went down the back with Anne's contrivance, and started to demolish the pool. Naturally, this shamed me into helping. So I went down too and helped dismantle the pool, amidst much grumbling and whining.

We pulled it almost completely apart, stacked as much as we could, and dug up some of the concreted support posts. And then left it all there at the end of the day. And the debris stayed there for ages until Anne organised several trips to the tip. Instead of an empty pool in the backyard, we had stacked debris in the backyard. It made such a change in the ambience. Still, I was grateful to Tony for his work. Having two people do it made the job ever so much easier.

And that was the end of the pool. For over a year, there was a sandy space where the pool was. It was ugly, and had pool debris still scattered over it. There had been a bit of a deck between the pool and the house, and that was still there. But it was aged and had never been cared for (even before we got it), so it was almost rotten. Many of the floorboards had rotted and been replaced, but now there were far too many rotten ones. We ended up not allowing visitors out there, because the boards were so rotten that they would have fallen through and injured themselves. This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue. Something had to be done.

The Decision

We had to replace the deck. And because the old deck had been far too small, we decided to make the new one a bit wider. And then I came up with a brilliant idea: build a new deck that would completely cover the area where the swimming pool had been. This would eliminate the problem of trying to landscape the sandy mess. And keep small the amount of grass that had to be mowed. We did some rough sketches and thought about it for ages, and came up with a few more ideas. We would have a roof to keep off the rain and keep the wood protected. It would last longer. But clear plastic roofing to let in the sun.

After a few months, we looked in the Yellow Pages and found someone who specialised in decks. We phoned him, got him to come out, showed him what we wanted and asked for a quote. He measured and calculated and went away and came back with a quote for $32,000. That stopped us in our tracks, and gave us a nasty fright. We thought about it for a few more months.

In 1997, after enough time had passed for us to assimilate that it might cost that amount of money, we decided to approach another builder. Even though Anne's brother is a builder, we didn't approach him this time. Anne had approached him several years ago about doing a replacement deck for us, but he said the job was too small to interest him. So we knew he wouldn't be interested. In one way, it was a bit of a pity because by all accounts, he's a great builder: careful, efficient and produces high quality work. But there's a big personality thing. Families often have these conflicts. In the past, Anne has asked him for quotes to do some work for us, and we haven't had any response from him other than to hear on the grapevine that he tells everyone that we expect him to do work for us for free. That's okay. He can tell his lies, and we'll give our work to someone else. Anne would prefer that work goes to family members because it benefits the family (especially her nieces), but if there are personality conflicts like this, then fuck them, we'll give our work to people who are friendly, not sullen, and want the work, not want to make sport of it.

Anne's mother knew a builder who did work on the house next door to her, and he did a fantastic job. So she recommended him to us. At the same time, while I was at the hairdressers and talking about our plans, my hairdresser called over one of her staff and said that her husband was a builder and we should get him to give us a quote. I took home the phone number. Anne showed the phone number from Evelyn, and they were the same. So we phoned him. He came out, had a look, made some measurements, made some suggestions, and came back with some rough sketches and a quote. Roughly the same amount of money. $30,000. So we had to have a big think about this. This was a huge amount of money for just an add-on deck to the house. It was a new car. Half our mortgage. Several trips overseas. Did we really want to do this?

The answer was yes. Something had to be done about the old deck and the area where the pool was. A large new deck was the easiest solution. In addition, it would add a lot of value to the house. The family room would extend outdoors. Entertaining, not that we do any, would be greatly enhanced by the area. And if, sometime in the future, we decided to sell the house, we would get a better price if there was a large new deck at the back, not a rotting tiny deck with a space where a pool used to be. So we told the builder to go ahead and do what had to be done.


He drew up a set of plans. This was the first time we got an idea of the extent of the deck. The floor surface of the new deck was to be about 90 square meters. When I was discussing this with a few people, they rejected the amount as being impossibly big. Entire houses were only 20 or 30 squares, they said. I rechecked my measurements, and I was right. I asked the builder. "They're talking in squares. That's old measurements. We don't use squares any more, just square meters." I did some more investigation, and my Macquarie Dictionary told me that in the building trade, a square was an old measurement of 100 square feet.

I went to Council, got all the forms required and filled them in. Then did a runaround to the Water Board for more forms and plans, and submitted the lot to the Council for approval. And paid all the levies and charges that they wanted. And then we waited. And waited. I was reluctant to phone and ask how it was doing, because I had seen examples in the past of people who respond to queries by pulling a form out of a pile, answering the query, and then putting the form on the bottom of the pile. I didn't know what reputation the Council had, but I wasn't willing to risk it. Eventually, approval was granted. We could pick up our approval after we paid another chunk of money over. We did so.

The next step was up to John, the builder. He had lots of jobs on, so we had to wait till he had a gap in his schedule. In the meantime, we went to Turkey for a three week holiday late 1997. When we came back, he was ready.

The Building of the Deck

We phoned John and let him know we were back, and that he could start anytime he was ready. Nothing happened for a while, and then one day several large loads of wood were delivered. Huge amounts of wood. John carried it all out to the back and stacked it up. Only the framework had been delivered. The floorboards were coming much later. John left the wood with us. We were going to paint it all before he used it. That way, we hoped to have the wood as completely protected as possible so it would last a long time.

Anne started painting. A few planks at a time. A coat of primer, a coat of undercoat, and then the top coat. With one day drying time between coats, both sides of each plank, and only doing a few planks at a time, it was slow going. We got past Christmas 1997 and hardly any painting had been done. We were expecting John back any day to start. I sat down one day and calculated how much wood we had, and how long it would take to paint. I panicked. At our current rate, we wouldn't be ready for another year. To be fair, it wasn't Anne's fault. I hadn't picked a brush up once. Occasionally I would turn the planks over for Anne. My fault. So I set up a production line. Obviously, the more planks we could do at a time, the better. So we went and bought some sawhorses, and we used every outdoor bench and table we had, plus some stools and we spread the wood out as much as possible. And I gave Anne a break and started painting myself. Every day I would get home from work early, and paint the next coat. Once this production line was established, we started to get through the painting pretty rapidly. A month went by. I painted. My wrists ached. My fingers blistered. My hair and glasses and hands and face became dotted with paint. I breathed turpentine.

But we weren't progressing rapidly enough. I came home from work one day and there was a notice from John pinned to the front door. "Don't go out onto the back deck." I had a look. There was no back deck. He had been and removed all the old rotten decking and cleaned up the last of the pool debris. He was ready to start and we weren't quite finished. The foundations didn't require painted wood, but once he started, it cut down on the real estate and we couldn't keep as many planks in the production line as we had been doing. We continued painting daily while he laid the foundations. And then he started using our painted bits. We almost kept up with him. The last few planks that formed the support for the roof didn't get the final coat. I am still to finish that.

Photo Essay

Here's a photographic essay of the building in progress.

The floorboards have been loosely laid down. On the right, you can see our reduced production line of painting, and the blue tarpaulin that hides the stack of unpainted wood. [Floorboards in place]

Looking up at the house from our back yard. Painting is taking place in the foreground. The original pool had a nice set of shrubs and trees around it. We managed to keep most of these, and John was able to build inside them. So the finsihed deck is surrounded by the shrubs and small trees and looks as if it's been there for years. On the far right is our lemon tree. We can now stroll out on to the deck and pick the lemons that we need. Very convenient. And the wattles attract birds and bees. In late summer, we were able to sit out near the edge and watch the honeyeaters' antics, and be drowsed by the buzzing of the bees. [Looking back to the deck]

The support beams for the roof have started to go up. We are still painting furiously on the left. Under that blue tarpaulin is the pile of wood that is yet to be painted. Straight ahead, behind the scaffolding, on the old part of the house, you can see the door to the laundry. That door was mostly rotten, as was the wall to the right of it. That wall and door were removed and a new door-less wall built there. [Roof supports start to go up]

We are still painting. This shows the last of the timbers in our production line. The only wood left unpainted is under the blue tarpaulin. That is a solid cube of railing pickets. They were painted after the rest of the deck was finished and John went and did another job. He popped back at odd times and nailed the railings up. [Painting production line]

The floorboards are all on, the beams are up, and we are able to walk around and see how much floorspace we have. Comments are passed by visitors about line-dancing or ballroom dancing.

This shot is looking at the new neighbours. They are rebuilding their house and have removed the external walls and replaced them with blue plastic. Twelve months later, the blue plastic is still there. Their front wall has been bricked over, but the sides are still a cheerful blue.

[Showing the floorspace]

The frame is up, some of the railings are up, and it's starting to take shape. For the first time, we get an idea of the size of the thing. We knew the plans, and we sort of knew how big it would be, but knowing it from plans and seeing the final physical shape are two different things. We were a bit surprised, but soon grew used to it. [Beams and railings going up]

Another view of the ceiling beams up, looking towards Joan's house. When Joan saw this, she got very upset about the size, and made remarks about building a pyramid in suburbia. [The pyramid in suburbia]

Looking back at the deck with the roof beams on. Notice that we are still painting beams in the foreground. [Starting to take shape]

The railings are up, except for the fancy ones in the middle of each section. We haven't finished painting them. And the guttering is up. Until this work, we had very little in the way of guttering all over the house. The old guttering had rotted away in most places and we had pulled it all down. Now, for the first time, the whole house has new and effective guttering. It's a nice feeling when you know you're protected. [Railings are in]

Painting the fancy middle railings. Around this time, Sydney was getting frequent rain. We shifted the last of the painting under cover. Notice the deep brown colour of the flooboards? They've been oiled. Three coats of decking oil. Looks great, but from now on it needs oiling each year. [Painting the fancy railings]

A sunny day, showing how cosy it's getting. We ended liking the colour scheme, which was most convenient. Some nice sunshine, the warm, brown floorboards, bright white railings and beams, deep green finishing bits, and it's very inviting. We can hardly wait for next summer to roll around so we can start living out here. [Sunshine and warm colours]

The fancy railings have been painted and mounted. That's it. All the building work is done. Now we have to finalise the painting, get lights installed, and we are done. [Fancy railings are done]

Finishing Off

There were no problems while the foundations were built, or the support beams or the flooring. It was as big as we expected. There were a number of comments made about the size of it. Someone asked if we intended to do do line-dancing or ballroom dancing on it. But we experienced one problem when the frame for the roof went up. Our original intention was to have a flat roof. But there were problems with joining that to the existing roof, and with drainage. So we opted for a peaked roof. It didn't look very high in the plans, and we didn't imagine that it would look very big. But when the framework for the roof went up, it looked huge. Standing on the deck, it didn't look so big, but once you went down to ground level and looked up, it looked huge. Especially if you went further down the slope and looked up at it. Huge. Imposing. Our neighbour, Joan, took one look at the framework and got the shits with us. She complained about the size, making remarks about building a pyramid in suburbia. She wouldn't talk to us for months, until she worked out that it didn't affect her sunlight at all. And I suppose, she just got used to it. The neighbours on the other side had already started some of their renovations. Their back deck had been removed and they hadn't been out into the back yard for weeks. In the meantime, the framework for the roof went up for our deck. They had visitors over, and one of them commented on the size of our deck. Kym stuck her head out the back door, took one look, said "Shit" and disappeared. No doubt they too weren't expecting something this size.

When the framework was up, my cousin, Ben, came and did the wiring. John had left thin grooves in the tops of the planks (destroying our lovely paint seal on the wood) for the wires. But when Ben arrived, he wasn't going to use thin wire which would fit, he was using full flex. With the length of wiring because of the size of the deck, he needed full size cabling. So the grooves were useless. They are still unpainted. Then the roof went on. Clear plastic that cuts the UV rays, but lets in the sunlight. It's great. We sit out there in the dusk and can watch the birds and planes fly above us, and get moonlight straight through too. Last up were the railings. More furious painting to get hundreds of these little pickets triple coated. [Ben putting in the wiring]

Then we had to oil the deck. Instead of painting it, we decided to oil the wood with stained decking oil. It looks great. We brushed on three coats of oil and it looked great. Some parts of the deck near the edges where the rain gets in, need another coat. And the exposed steps need another coat badly. Maybe they need to be painted instead. Time will tell.

Another month saw the last bits and pieces done. Lattice work was put around the base. This was mostly done to stop the vicious cat next door from using under our house as his bolthole. There's no refuge in our yard now. Also, finally, all the guttering of the house was replaced. We now have guttering everywhere and it's great. John also fixed lots of other things. he fixed the ridge capping on the roof, and replaced a ventilation fan on the roof, dug out the drainage pipes, fixed and replaced them, dug out the stormwater pits, put in grates in ground where necessary, and all sorts of stuff. "No job is too small" is his motto. He also discovered that the wall between the laundry and the deck was made of really rotten wood. He ripped the wall off and rebuilt it without a door. That needs painting now. Ben also discovered that my shower recss was leaking badly and was rotting the wood underneath. John fixed that up and checked the beams underneath. And he's been and done Anne's shower recess too. The house has never been in such good shape.

We had the final building inspection and the council inspector suggested some cross bracing under the deck for support. I think that this was spurred by a newspaper report on a deck built in Hornsby. The owners used a shonky builder who put up a medium sized deck. The problem was in the attachment to the existing building. The council inspection failed it. The owners got a tame engineer to report on it, saying it was fine, and went to court. On the basis of the engineer's report, they got reluctant approval of the building. At the first party they had, the deck collapsed where it joined the house. A few people were injured. The builder is now working in New Zealand and doesn't want to know. I have no idea how the engineer feels about his report. But the councils are more wary after this event. So John put the cross-bracing in, and we waited for our refund cheque from the council.

After several months, Anne finally phoned the Council and spoke to the inspector and asked him about the refund cheque. He asked if we were sure that we hadn't received it. Anne got a bit grumpy, but reassured him that we would certainly know if a $500 cheque had arrived, and it definitely hadn't. He looked at his paperwork and was most embarrassed. The completion forms were all still in his folder. He had forgotten to take them out and put them through proper channels. The forms went in, and we got our cheque a week later.

The only thing not done is the finalisation of the wiring. That's down to my sloth. I have to get up on a ladder and put the final coat on about five roof beams. Admittedly there have been a lot of rainy weekends to hold me back, but mostly it's been my laziness. When I finish the painting, Ben can come and finish the lighting. And then we are DONE, DONE, DONE.


Even though it's winter, we still get out on the deck regularly. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is nothing finer than sitting out there, whether it's raining or not, and reading the papers and having a pot of tea. It's really nice. And one day soon, we intend to have a party and see just how many people can fit on the deck.

The cats love the deck. They can loll about and see what's happening in the neighbourhood. They can run around and play chasing games. They can sunbake. They can sit on the table, or in Ruffian's case, in the bowl on the table. They are very happy. [Buffy in a bowl]

Here's Buffy in the bowl, but far enough away to put the whole thing in perspective. This is how we relax on saturday and Sunday mornings. We rise at about 10:00 or 11:00 am, have a leisurely breakfast on the deck and read the weekend papers. The birds are all around us, the greenery gives us privacy, and we relax.

As you can see, we haven't quite finished. There's just a few finishing touches left to do, like putting away the ladder and sawhorses and tarpaulin, and cleaning up the protective plastic.

[Buffy in a bowl in perspective]

So that's it. We now have a covered 90 square meter deck that cost us a heap of money. And all in all, it was well worth it.

Before and After

Here's some before and after shots. The first pair show the main view from the back. The swimming pool area has been replaced with a large structure that quite obviously looks neater. The second pair of photos show the left side of the house. They aren't taken from the same angle, but you can pretty much see what happened. The door into the laundry was removed and became a blank wall. The thin and silly deck became a large covered structure. The old concrete steps were built over and a large set of wooden steps was built.

Before After
Before After