Phase two: milestones, symbols, time and rot

I fell a week or so ago and it still hurts to bend over.   Not so much.  Just a sharp reminder.  I am healing. I’ll be fine.  But I mention it again because I slipped on the stairs and about a week later, walking gingerly and holding on to the rail, I slipped again.  No fall this time.  Just a minor heart attack.  WHOA!  Just that feeling of ‘slipping on a greased surface’. Absolutely frightening.

“Sal.  As soon as I can bend, priority one is fixing the steps.  If not, priority two will be finding another husband and burying this one.”  

Two yesterdays ago, we began to pull up the steps and put down new boards.  After the boards were down, they were treated and then covered in wire mesh.  I tread on them with increasing confidence but still with one hand on the rail.  Once bitten…..

But here’s the real story: we put those treads down ten or so years ago when we were building the stairs which would allow us to ascend to the higher elevation for the building of the house. There are about 40 or so steps in that section.  Plus landings.  There are another 40 or so steps before and after depending on the terrain and deck and house design.  From low tide to the top floor, I think we have 80-something steps.  I remember the locals saying, “Your stairs are likely good for ten years.  But wood doesn’t last forever. Around then, you may have to replace much of it.”

Ten years flew by.

The top ten steps are shielded from the sun by a deck running along side.  Those steps get extra greasy in winter.  The rain would combine with the slimy, moss-cum-algae growth to form a slick grease that seemed slipperier than ice.  Every year it got a smidge slimier.

When we took up the first board, it was covered in a goo that, even when gripped tightly, allowed the board to still slip right out of my hands.  Even grabbing the boards with two hands denied a firm grasp and, as I worked them, they slipped and fell often.  Seriously, it was like handling slimy fish.

Planing the stair treads

Planing the stair treads

I took each board and ran it through the planer.  Typically twice.  If I ran it slimy side up, nothing happened. The blades could not cut. The board might go through but most often it stuck.  Very strange.  If I put the boards bottom-side up, because the slime was considerably less on the back-side, the planer took off 1/32 of an inch and revealed a board that was perfect.  No rot.  No cracks.  If anything, the board seemed harder with the time spent in duty.  So, basically, I just ‘cleaned them up’ and replaced them.

It is remarkable that the wood was so un-flawed and perfect after all that time.  Especially in light of the warning and the extra slime.  I imagined the slime was also rotting the wood underneath but that was not the case.  Kiln dried, untreated, styro-wood from Home Depot would have been truly punk after such neglect.  I am sure of that.  This local stuff was great!

Before

Before

After

After

Well, I didn’t actually do the lift and replace.  Sal did.  I was trying not to bend.  Instead,  I worked the reno-side (planer, saw, tool-fetching and supervision) and, on a few boards, I replaced them with new but it was Sal who took up the old and waited til I handed them back for replacement.  She’d take out the six deck screws and, a few times, do a bit of remedial work on the stringers and then put the boards down again using six different screws and holes.  Then she’d paint the new side with preservative and move to the next step.

Sally re-installing stair treads

Sally re-installing stair treads

She worked on her knees just as you’d imagine.  She’d position herself on the step below and work on the step above.  On the first of the steps, she put a hand down as she leaned to reach for the far screw.  It was so slippery, she fell on her face.  Because she was on her knees and so low to the steps it was just a surprise and no damage was incurred.  But imagine how slippery the steps had to be for that to happen.

When the top section was done, we stapled down new hardware cloth, a light metal meshing, for even better grip than that of the first day with new wood.  We had used the stairs for ten or so years without the cloth. Can’t afford to take that risk anymore.

We worked well.  We got the first section done. One third. We walked on it.  It worked. Good grip. But I can’t stop reaching for the rail.  It may become a habit.

Halfway down, half done

Halfway down, half done

It sounds odd but this is a milestone.  Rebuilding something as fundamental as the main stairs even if it is still sound, is a milestone of sorts.  Nothing marks an anniversary quite like it.  We’ve been here almost twelve years but the stairs weren’t finished in the first year so this is like a symbol of our first ten years.  A milestone that portends of more maintenance, more repair, maybe even more falls.

Welcome to phase two.

 

11 thoughts on “Phase two: milestones, symbols, time and rot

  1. Sounds like you have twice as many steps as we do going up the cliff to where the old outhouse sits (and my small potato patch). We put wire down on the steps after the first few years because Wayne slipped a couple of times. My balance is bad, so I hold on to the rail all the time. We’ve had to replace a few steps and one rail at a time, but no full redo yet. The entire stairway is in the shade and becomes a small creek when it rains. Not an easy environment for wood. The landings are carved out of the granite cliff, so those should last forever. – Margy

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    • Ah, Margy….you get me. You get it! What has come to be ‘commonplace’ for you and me is NOT really commonplace for urban dwellers anymore. Of course, urban dwellers have slipped on slimy wood but they are not usually the ones who hike such steps every day, fix them when they fail nor do they marvel at the quality of the wood they are using. This little chore is normal for you and me but I know that many of my friends are wondering, “Holy Cow! Slimy steps! They have to rebuild them. Thank God we have a maintenance crew at our complex.”
      It’s just different, isn’t it?

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      • Love the addition of the pictures. We painted our cabin deck with opaque stain about five years back and that has solved the slime problem. We have to redo it each year after the elements peel away the paint, but it’s much nicer and safer to walk on during the rainy season. The decking is now twenty years old except for the new sections and a few replaced boards. We’re sure the stain has extended it’s life. When we need a full replacement in a few years we’ll stain it right away. That should reduce the paint peeling problems as well. – Margy

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  2. We had to replace the 7 steps down from the back deck this summer and it was NOT easy or quick as we get older (couldn’t reuse the old steps, too worn out). Pulling off old steps takes muscle as well as a lot of time. Sid had to repair the supports under each step, add metal angle supports and nail/screw each new step on plus add the anti slip strips. I painted, hauled, supported things, found things and cleaned up. Planning this project was essential and we made all the replacement steps first, from buying, hauling, cutting to size, painting each replacement step 3 coats (all sides) before we started. We then removed one unsteady/rotting step and replaced it before tackling the next, etc. The railing needed to be firmed up too. This took several days but we did it. (Small happy dance from me, I hate hard jobs.) Mostly the dogs use the steps and when I do I always hold on to the hand rail. Falling is not an option, period. I know 7 is nothing like 80 and I have nothing but HIGH PRAISE for you and Sally getting the first 10 replaced and meshed. We were very relieved when the job was finished and I hope you celebrate each ‘set’ of steps as you replace them. I don’t know if reclining for hours is a celebration but …

    Joy

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    • Then I was UNFAIR….you DO get it!

      We’re on step 20 today and moving right along. The hard part is the slope. It’s 30 degrees so things that fall (like me) keep going. Sal is like the little carpenter that could. I came in to check our batteries but she is still drilling and placing (I am ahead of her on treads re-milled so I can do other things). At this rate, we’ll be done in three days and that will include an extra few new handrails.

      Yes! We DO celebrate each new chore accomplished. Before, we did not. But now, each one seems bigger. So, we do.

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    • 80 steps hand-made from bags of Reddi-mix is a daunting task. Even for Sal! I’ll talk to her about it but I suspect I know the answer. If you are finding yourself in bed too much I have to say that is one helluva cleaning lady!

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    • Funny you should mention the race…..
      I was just noticing that I no longer race. I am no longer competitive. I don’t joust much anymore. So, I am less than slow and steady, I am sidelined. You could say, ‘retired’ in every way. Mind you, I suppose if there was an Olympic event for self injury, I might at least make the qualifying rounds.

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      • Yeah! I just realized……….
        Your not even in the “rat race” any more you lucky bastard!

        If my investments would ever actually do something besides vegetate.
        I might actually be able to join the land of the retired.

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      • If you even HAVE investments, you are good to GO. Seriously. Especially if one of them is real estate. If it is, go already. Go, go, go!

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