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Expert Advice on Patios, Decks and Porches: An Interview with Dennis Beliveau of Heartwood Carpentry

By Dennis Beliveau

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Heartwood Carpentry is a solo-run and operated company offering residential carpentry services in the Lakes Region of NH. These services encompass repair work on everything from framing to cabinets; room remodeling, including kitchen and bath; design-built utility buildings and porches with traditional timber framed floors, and either timber framed or hybrid framed walls and roofs; window and door restoration; and design-built free standing cabinets such as hutches, curio cabinets, or bookcases.

Can you briefly explain the differences between a patio, deck and porch?

A patio is a ground level stone, brick, or masonry block exterior " floor ". It may be open or covered by a pergola or roof. A deck is a wood-constructed platform built to let the weather pass through it. They are usually open but can be pergola/roof covered as well. A porch is an attached addition, always roofed, with tight fitting floor boards, the "deck" slanted slightly to aid in drainage. It may be open-sided, enclosed by railings, or fully enclosed by walls like a three season room. The latter are usually due to a remodel.

Is there anything homeowners should do before they meet with a contractor about building one of those?

Be as clear-minded as possible about when and how you will be using the space and under what weather conditions. Completely open spaces can get very hot on sunny summer days. Are bugs a problem in the evenings? Will you be barbecuing? WIll you use it in the rain?

What are some of the most popular design features that homeowners in New Hampshire are asking for in a new patio, deck or porch?

Seems as though no one builds a traditional porch any more. Roofed decks are becoming more common.

What are the main things that influence what can or can't be built?

For attached structures, main building roof lines which will be loading the new roof or deck with rain and snow must be considered. Will gutters be enough? If a roof is needed or desired, is there enough clearance to fit below 2nd story features and still have adequate pitch on the new roof. Also, ground level issues like grade and drainage should be addressed. Patios have grade constraints and require very good drainage beneath. Decks and porches cannot have a lot of moisture trapped underneath them. There are also esthetic issues, and of course permitting.

What advice would you give homeowners about maintenance to help avoid repairs and prolong the life of their new outdoor addition?

After 30 years of working on buildings I could write a book on this subject. The worst culprit for all wood structures is trapped water. Uncovered decks and stairs are the most vulnerable. The worst water trap being between the ledger board of the deck and the parent structure it is attached to, your house. Even when properly flashed this can be a problem spot. Heavy moisture under the deck is enough over time to cause rot between two attached boards. If the ledger is attached to the wood sill of your building rather than the foundation wall, as is often the case, this can damage the sill. For this reason I am of the opinion that all uncovered decks and stairs should be free standing structures with an air space between them and the main building. This requires a more elaborate frame structure, which is why it is usually avoided. However, rotted sills are no easy fix. Uncovered decks also raise the splash line from rain and dripping roofs. The lower 18 inches of siding requires more care, doorways even more so.

My advice on uncovered decks and stairs follows. If you are building new, keep them separated from the main building if at all possible. And if not, be sure to use a heavy gauge galvanized flashing or lead flashing over the top of the ledger board and under the siding or water board. Seams should be folded and crimped not merely overlapped. Do not nail through any exposed flashing Use metal grating instead of decking at the dripline of any roof and/or use gutters. Be extra vigilant about the lower 18 inches of exposed siding, especially at doorways (use a storm door to protect the main door and the door sill); keep the deck well oiled or stained (with a penetrating oil /oil stain). If you have an existing deck which is attached to the house and the ledger board is in good condition but you are unsure of the condition or existence of sound flashing on its top edge, adding flashing at the level of the deck and up under the siding will keep excess water from getting between the ledger and the house. If the ledger is showing signs of rot, it must be replaced. If it is attached to the wood sill of the house, consider rebuilding an unattached deck if possible. In any case make sure any rot in the sill is repaired.

For other unprotected wood structures like pergolas, I highly recommend penetrating oils or oil stains. Though you need to reapply more often than other products, you never need to sand or scrape. Reapplication is easy. If you go this route, make sure you get a truly penetrating product. Anything with a sun blocker that sits on top of the wood will peel and crack. Some penetrate along with the oil. Solid color stains, paint, varnish, and urethanes are all coatings which are prone to cracking and blistering over time thereby trapping moisture rather than shedding moisture. For exterior purposes, I only use them on surfaces which have been previously treated with that particular product or when a color must be carried through from one building to another.

What's the best way for people to reach you and your company?

Phone: 603-267-0311

Email: debeliveau@gmail.com

Website: heartwoodcarpentry.net

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