Don’t peel back the wallpaper!

That’s just an expression, of course. If the wallpaper shows a problem then you know you HAVE a problem but, if you don’t peel it back, everything looks normal for awhile longer. But, well, as my daughter is visiting and she wanted to help, and so I peeled back the deck. I shouldn’t have.

Peeling back the deck means, in fact, lifting boards. Deck boards. When you lift deck boards, deck joists are revealed and, when the joists are revealed so are the main structural beams. The reveal was not pretty. We live in a rain forest. I should have known better.

Plus I upset a lot of bugs.

Anyway, long story short, my son-in-law and I went to the local building supply and bought $500 worth of treated lumber, put it into his nice, big Ford pick-up (large enough to live in), drove down the logging road (irony) and loaded up the boat. Then we came home at low tide but later in the day, when the tide had come up, I unloaded it onto the funicular and lifted it all up to the house deck.

The next day we got at it. “Dad. You should see this!” “Oh. That’s not good. We are gonna have to take all that out.” Dad! You should now see this!” “Oh, that’s even worse. It all has to come out. At least the post looks good.” “Dad! The post just split in two. It’s rotten, too!” “Well, good thing I have an extra post or two, eh?” “Dad! You said we just had to replace a few deck boards!”

Maintenance is a crap-shoot. Sometimes it just needs a squirt of oil, sometimes it needs $500.00 worth of lumber and sometimes you just advertise a fixer-upper for sale.

When Sal and I built this house, we started out knowing nothing except that we needed to get into a liveable home as soon as possible. We managed to do it in 18 months but it took another 18 months to make it comfortable and another two years to ‘make it a home’. Five years from start-to-finish was a local record. We know some folks forty years later still walking on bare plywood floors in a bare plywood room.

But, that works, too.

When we were building, I would say to Sal, “Don’t worry about that gap you see, no one will see it. We live remote. Who’s gonna see? And, anyway, we are only building to the 30-year rule”. Sal asked what the 30 year rule was. “Just simple math. I’ll be dead in 30 years. You’ll get life insurance and can fix it all back up!”

That was the plan. That plan is now almost 20 years old.

Let me do the math for you…..we are 2/3’s of the way into the 30 year rule. That means the deck was 2/3 rotten (hadn’t factored that in). To be fair to us, our deck was only half rotten but, well, you know….do you really want to measure the rot and then try fixing it when it all goes to hell when you are 84?

The 30 year rule has some flaws.

So did our building skills.

Still, this, too, got done. Daughter was a huge help. The others? Well, you know……’other things to do’ and ‘Geez, I gotta get this done right now. I’ll help later.’ That kind of thing. Are they bad? No. It all started started out as replacing a few deck boards. And maintenance is a crap shoot. And then we discovered crap. No one plans for crap!

But crap happens when you peel back the facade.

14 thoughts on “Don’t peel back the wallpaper!

  1. As Neil Young said “Rust never sleeps”. This is the rot version of that. My good friend who was a carpenter specializing in decks and railings etc. once said, I’ll never be out of work!


    • Yeah. She’s good. Smart. Even brings C – level skills. Mine are barely C+. So I still get the final word (whew). And we approach things the same way. With others I have to say, “Well, you are gonna need to…” And she just says, “Dad! I get it.” And then proceeds to describe the ‘idea’ back to me exactly as I pictured it. No one else is as much in sync with me on things like that. It’s weirdly redemptive at some level. She understands the ‘physics’ of it all, too.


        • No, I am very generous with both of us on the skill grade but on the understanding, visualizing, ‘getting-it’ stage she is laser quick. And I used to be so I learned more. I am now riding on my old reputation (made up in my own head). There have been times when I, too, thought a trade may have been a better choice but, all in all, I no longer think so. My friend, Scott, has virtually all the trades and being that skilled might satisfy (he employs them all creatively) but I do not think any one skill would do it for me. Not even two. When I was mediating, the challenges were constant and creative solutions were often the only way. That was interesting. But, after 20 years, even the disputes started to look the same and so it lost it’s appeal. I guess what I am saying about myself is that once I get ‘good enough’, I want to move on. I am not good enough at OTG’ing so it still has a lot of appeal…..the new challenge emerging is OTG’ing as an old person. Very ironic and newly challenging for the old…as you get better, you get old. As you age, you get slower and weaker and thus lose the edge that earlier learning gave you. So, now you have to learn old things that have to get done in a new way.


  2. I am amazed you did it for “only” 500 dollars! With the description you gave, I would have guessed at least double! Great that your daughter was a big help, but shouldn’t SIL’s like put in their best efforts to show off to the father-in-law (you know, kinda try to impress you?)


    • Sil is disinclined to such plebian tasks as carpentry and my daughter has an enviable shop at home (all Makita). She can do stuff! Sil can do stuff, too, but not-so-much even the semi-skilled stuff. Plus they’ve been married too long to alter my assessment of them from any one chore. Suffice to say, “We are all special in our own way.” I used 3 – 2 x 12’s x 12′, 3 – 2×12’s x 10′, 10 – 2x 6 x 10′, 1 – 4×4 x 12′, 1 – 2 x 12 x 10′ and a few bits and pieces to ‘fill in’ when needed, plus a couple of short logs-as-posts. Basically, we rebuilt a rotten landing in place and the hardest part is holding everything else (stairs, main deck, ramp) in place while you tear stuff out and rebuild it. Especially since you have to stand there while doing it! If we stepped through the joists to the ground, we were standing on a 30 degree slope of granite and rot-bits. It was not so big a job as it was awkward and always adding a challenge. A real father-and-daughter kinda thing.


  3. Are the posts rotten as well?
    I did the EXACT same thing at a cottage I used to own.
    A “simple” repair….
    Tore out several rotten deck boards.
    The Joists were rotten.
    The posts were rotten.
    I ended up putting in sono tubes with cement and rebar.
    Joist saddles, pressure treated wood, deck screws (no nails) and the result…(several weeks and much cursing of credit card debt later)…….wasnt too bad.

    A hurricane hit the next year and the deck survived.


  4. See….? Now clearly your timing was off. Shoulda let the hurricane do the removal. Saved yourself some time. THEN you rebuild. I should’ve waited but my daughter was here….youthful energy….ya know?


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