Way back in January when I was calling it mostly a wrap on the kitchen renovation, I mentioned that next up we would do some work on the basement before this spring turning our attention to the outside of our house. Well, my plans for the basement got a little derailed…. I did organize my wood scrap closet , so that was a win:
But otherwise I did pretty much nothing. That’s because I was keeping busy with other random things, and also because at one point I got it into my head that maybe we could move the laundry area over to a different side of the basement (where my table saw is now), so that put a pause on everything until about two weeks ago when I finally got a plumber out to take a look. He concluded that given our basement layout, we would actually have to run pipes up through one side of the house to the roof and then back down the other side to make it work. So…not happening.
By then it was starting to creep into spring, and so I decided to move along from the basement and kick off the outside projects. And that’s when we got a new deck.
“Hold the phone!,” you may be saying. Other questions might include: “Why a deck?” and “Where a deck?” Let me explain. As a reminder, here’s the back of the house a few months after we moved in, back in 2014:
The little yellow table and benches are sitting on a small brick patio that has seen better days. You can see it a bit better in this photo from Spring 2015, when we first started doing some yard work including planting a hedge and getting some patio furniture.
The brick was in good shape, but the space was too small for our table and chairs. I considered building a new, bigger patio, and actually for the last two years scoured craigslist pretty regularly for affordable bricks or paver stones to use.
However, I was also drawn to the idea of a ground-level deck, since I thought that might add some more definition to the backyard. I assumed I would build said deck myself, as I am a strong, independent DIYer with an abundance of confidence. But the closer we got to this spring and the more I started mapping out what building this deck would actually entail, the less excited I was about building it. We’re traveling a lot this summer for weddings and other commitments, and as I planned out the calendar I started to imagine a summer in which every free weekend was spent making painstaking, backbreaking progress on a deck, only for the cold weather to arrive by the time we could enjoy the finished product. That is not how I wanted to spend the summer — I wanted to spend the days on the myriad other projects needed to spruce up our backyard (so much planting, painting, cleaning, and decorating), and the nights eating dinner and relaxing on an actual deck.
And so, I made that decision that is hard for every DIYer to make: I decided to explore having a professional build me a deck. Decks don’t tend to be cheap, but I had one thing working in my favor: this was going to be a ground-level deck not attached to our house, so there would be much less labor and no permitting involved like a raised deck would have required. We were also up for staining/sealing it ourselves, which saves money. I used a company called Thumbtack, which is a website that lets you find a lot of independent service providers in all sorts of trades (from home improvement to wedding planning). Basically you specify what you need done, and then people can contact you to offer their services on the project. This was my first time actually hiring someone I found on the site so I won’t throw my whole weight behind vouching for it, but I did have a good experience.
A number of people reached out to provide very preliminary quotes, which ranged from $2,000 to $20,000. I definitely wanted to spend more in the $2,000 range (I figured I’d spend at least $1,000 building it myself, so throwing another $1,000 at it for professional help seemed incredibly reasonable but $19,000 more did not), so I asked one person whose reviews looked good to come by the house and check out the site. Whereas I’ve found some contractors to be very difficult to schedule, he was incredibly flexible and within a few days was able to come to the house in the morning before I left for work. He quoted us $2,300 including materials, and I was sold. (If you live in the Boston area and want a referral, just let me know!)
I figured he would want to get started in May, since this was late March and there was still some snow on the ground. But he claimed that the ground wasn’t frozen, and since his calendar was getting full later in the spring he proposed getting started the next week. So suddenly we went from imagining a whole summer of building a deck to potentially having the deck within the week.
My one regret is that because he was getting started so soon, I didn’t have time to tear up and save the brick from the patio. I’m not sure what I would have done with it and I’m mostly glad I don’t now have a pile of unused bricks sitting in my yard, but there wasn’t a lot of time to consider. Before I knew it, he was hard at work.
The deck frame is built on concrete footers — he dug the holes and then poured the footers, making sure to get them level with each other even though the ground slopes considerably.
He left the supplies and his tools in our yard under a tarp for the week.
He planned to spend 3 days on it, but because of some bad weather (like sleet and snow), it took him more like 5-6 days of intermittent work. I was very clear that he could just wait and pick it up when the weather cleared, but he seemed to prefer making slow but steady progress (“slow” for him, which seemed like warp speed to me). I don’t have a ton of process shots because I was mostly at work while this was going on, but it was fun to come home after work each day and see the progress (a lot like the week of the kitchen wall removal, which it’s hard to believe was a year ago!).
And here’s the finished result!
As you can see, we had him build around the AC unit, which I will now build a screen of some sort around. I also didn’t have time to fully figure out what I want to do with the swinging doors to the storage space under the sunroom, so I just had him build the deck in front of them and I think I plan to somehow cover them up with maybe a hanging garden or something else. If you have any ideas, let me know!
Also we obviously need to stain and seal it still, but research suggests that we should wait a few months before doing that as staining pressure-treated lumber immediately isn’t a good idea — so that will come later this summer. In the meantime, I got excited and bought a new outdoor rug — World Market is having a 20% off sale, so the 9×6 rug I bought was only $43 including shipping. My amazing husband got all the patio furniture out and set everything up while I was at work one evening, and here it is now!
Clearly we have so much work to do on the yard, and so many grand plans. One of my close friends is a landscape architect who for some reason seems excited about helping us improve our yard, so she came over a few weeks ago and we talked for hours about plans and took measurements, and now she’s going to draw up some options for us to consider. We’ll do all the work, but it’s incredibly helpful to have her expert recommendations — both her creativity about what could look good, and her technical knowledge about what will work given our soil and light conditions. I can’t wait to share more about the plans we have, but in the meantime let’s all enjoy this deck that appeared as if by magic!