Archive for the ‘Outdoor’ Category

the Solar Cell

It would be tough to call today’s job a project.  It took about 10 minutes to fix and an $8 usd part from the hardware store.

Here is the problem!  It’s the middle of the day and the carriage lights on both side of my garage are still on.  Their both on an automatic solar cell that is supposed to turn them off in the morning and back on at night.  But it’s obviously not working.


Here is the box panel located on the south side of the house.  If you have a similar system, look on the southern side of your home first. That is likely where the builder would have located the box (at least in the United States).

Notice the size of the opening on the end.  It’s not larger than about 1/4 inch (3 or 4mm).  The replacement I purchased is about twice that size in order to let more light on to the solar cell.IMG_1308

It’s a simple procedure to replace the solar cell.  Take a screw driver and remove the top and bottom screws.  Inside you will find the back of the solar cell with three wires: red, black and white.


After TURNING OFF THE POWER at your circuit breaker box, simply unscrew the red wire from black (loaded) wire and attached the red wire from your new cell.  Do the same for the white and black leads.

The old cell should be held on with a screwed on ring with a foam piece of the weather-stripping between the ring and panel cover.  This should unscrew by hand if it’s to tight, you could use a pair of pliers.   In the picture below, I have removed the old cell and replaced with the new larger cell.  The plastic locking ring and weather-stripping are shown before installation.


Here is the new cell installed and the panel cover replaced.  You can clearly see the larger opening.  I’ll wait for nightfall to see if everything is working OK. (oh, and don’t forget to turn the power back on).



the Deck 2013, part 3

With the a major section of the deck completed and having the railed section finished, it’s now on to the expansion of the screened in porch.  I wanted to do something a bit different with this part of the project.  I had first planned to just extend the roof line of the existing porch with a “roof” made of screen rather than the standard shingles most often used in Midwestern porch construction,  But as I’ve written in the past, sometimes ideas just seem to present themselves.  And as a result of having dinner under a restaurant’s pergola one evening, I decided that a pergola roof would look much nicer, be easier to build even being a bit more expensive.

We started with the floor joists.  In the picture below note that the joists are doubled up and have upside down joist hangers attaching them to the ledger board (on the left).  Due to the fact that my support beam in this section was just 44 inches from the ledger board, standard building code would have limited my  cantilever past the support beam to just 11 inches.   So I retained a certified professional engineer to design the construction method in this area.  The upside down hangers are designed to prevent up lift forces from the longer cantilever.


Before the center porch roof supports on the outside wall can be removed, the roof structure would need to be re-enforced.  I did this by “simply” installing additional header supports.  Added were two 2×6’s above the existing ones and an additional 2×12 outboard of the existing headers.  In the picture below, you can see the installed 2×12 below the 2×8 cedar board.

photo 2

With the decking installed and roof re-enforced, it was time to start the porch framing expansion.  I am using the same cedar posts that were used in the existing porch.  I planned for only the corner posts to be attached to the main deck construction.  I did this by cutting a hole in the deck to match the size of a section cut from the bottom of the post.  Once inserted into this pocket the bottom of the post would be screwed to the main deck structure.

photo66Each of the two corners were installed in this manner and then the outside posts were tied back to the porch with horizontal beams.  The top beams were attached to the vertical posts using a simple but yet strong lap joint.  They were screwed together using 6 inch construction screws using impact driver drill.

photo 1 Once the outside posts and top beams were installed, I simply filled in the other vertical posts screwing them to the top beam and bottom deck.  The horizontal members are 2×4.  All of this section is constructed from rough cedar which will be later stained.  The next step was to install the pergola roofing members with pre cut ends and installed to the top beams with 3 inch deck screws.

photo 81At this point I was ready to install the screens using the tried and true method of staples to be later covered by 1×4 batten boards.

inside view of the bigger porch space.

photo 51

View from the outside of the finished expansion (other than the planned wrapping of the lower section of the deck in matching cedar)

photo 883In the end, the porch expansion turned out better than I expected.  With the completely different roof lines, I decided rather than paint the cedar gray to match the existing porch, I would stain it to give this new area its own character and style.

the Deck Chair

I have another small project from an exercise buddy!  We workout quite a bit and often follow-up those workouts with drinks on his deck.  He lives on a lake with a great view from his upstairs deck.  There are several nice deck chairs that as I understand were assembled as a family project with each of his young children getting to “name” a chair.  Well one of those chairs, being outside and exposed to the weather, had some typical wood decay and needed repairing.

My first thought was to take it apart, seeing as it was assembled with hex nut bolts.  I would then replace the rotted tendon with new material.  But even after removing a few bolts, those joints were weathered shut and there would be no easy disassembling of this chair….on to plan B.



Due to the significant amount of wood rot, plan B was to insert two 6 inch lag screw from the back side of the seat support – directly into the chair seat rail.


These are actually lag bolts/construction screws used to attached deck ledger boards.  They have self tapping “drill-less” threading to better  grab the wood.  They needed to be self tapping because I don’t own a drill bit six inches long.   And without a pilot hole, a regular lag bolt would likely split the wood.

With two of these installed I felt comfortable that the chair was fixed and it would have no problem supporting even the largest individuals.  However I knew that with just a little more repair work  I could make it stronger than when it was new.


So with some leftover IPE hardwood (pronounced “epay”) from another project I cut a small piece of wood that would be”sistered” to the original chair support with three outdoor rated deck screws.  (IPE is a fantastic outdoor wood. It’s very hard and mostly impervious to the weather, but it’s a bit tough to woodwork with being harder than Teak) and then another screw would be inserted from the back of the chair near the lag bolts.  This piece would in effect transfer some of the chairs’ support load to the back via second piece of the original chair platform, thereby taking some of the load off the lag bolts.


The end result is that the joint appears to be as strong as ever.  It doesn’t look real pretty but it’s certainly functional.  I think I could jump on the joint and it would not break.  I’ll return it back to its home this afternoon and personally use it to enjoy a post run and swim beverage.  Cheers!

the Downed Tree

A fierce thunderstorm blew through our neighborhood this past Sunday and broke apart a tall tree right next too our house.  It was a decent size branch that broke from the main trunk and landed on the roof.  I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before so I knew I was up to the challenge to safely remove this from the house.

NOTE: Whenever you’re dealing with tree maintenance, safety is the most important factor to consider.  Trees are HEAVY!  This branch at the base where it broke from the tree might have been about six to eight inches in diameter and possibly twenty feet to the tip of the top branches, but I bet it’s weight was easily over a thousand pounds.  Fresh cut wood is referred to as “green” wood.  And green wood has a huge percentage of its weight in water.  Unless you know what your doing, I strongly recommend hiring a professional (like Treeo Tree Service) to do this type of project.


Branch on the roof!

To remove this safely I needed a tall 24 foot extension ladder, (electric) chain saw and my rock climbing gear (I’m thinking very few people have rock climbing gear and if you don’t, hire this job out).

I placed the ladder on the opposite side from where the tree split.  After donning my climbing harness and using gathered climbing gear, I climbed up the ladder and used what’s called a climbing runner and/or daisy chain to tie the ladder to the tree – this will prevent the ladder from moving .  I then set up another runner around the tree and through the ladder’s top rug.  The ladder was now secure to the tree and the second runner was ready for me to attach my hardness into.  I then examined my plan of attack on the limb.  This limb was still attached to the main trunk, that would need to be cut away.  In order to control this as much as possible, I used some old retired PMI rock climbing rope to tie off the end of the broken branch just above the split and then run that rope up and over a higher branch on the tree.  The other end of that rope is tied off to a ground level trunk of a large tree nearby.  You make this rope as tight as possible so when you cut through the broken branch, the now free branch doesn’t go flying who nos where!  I didn’t want the branch  just dropping from where it was hung up on the roof because the air conditioner was near where it would have fallen and I’m taking no chances in crushing my A/C.

photo 5

the Maven up in the tree developing his plan of attack.

In the next trip up the ladder I ‘ll be taking my chain saw.  Being a small 16 inch electric, it’s compact and easy to handle.  You’ve got the extension cord to deal with but that beats a running gas engine or one to start up on a ladder.  The saw cut through the branch in a about 5 seconds and then the branch only dropped about 3 inches before the climbing rope went to full tension and prevented the free branch from falling.  Just as planned!


Here the limb is hanging by the rope that’s up and over a taller branch and tied off a larger nearby tree.

I return to the ground and carefully loosened the tied off rope and slowly lowered the limb to the ground before cutting it up into firewood and such.  I’ve done this exact thing on another tree on the opposite side of the house, so I had some experience at this.  It took about 2 hours but don’t rush this sort of project, take your time and plan for safety.  If your not 100 percent sure what will happen after each of your moves, then as I said.  Hire a pro and let them take the risk.

the Tomato Box

We had a couple of extra tomato potted plants this year.  With nowhere specific to put the pots, they were just sitting on the deck.  That is until a slight wind came along and then they were sitting on their side, dirt everywhere and more importantly, damaged tomatoes.

We’ll I had some left over pieces of Trex decking that I had used on my Deck 2010 project.   I thought that material would make a nice, simple holder to keep the plants from toppling over.  And match the deck to boot!

Plants without a home!

Plants without a home!



After taking a few measurements of the two pots, spaced far enough apart to allow for growth and sunlight,  I cut two 36 inch and four 10 inch pieces of the scrap decking.  The four short boards were used to create a separate pot “box” at each end.

IMG_1145I drilled pilot holes at each of the screw locations.  Pilot holes are not required when setting screws in Trex but it does make the driving of the decking screws much easier.  Top and bottom holes at each connection point.   And I again used my Makita impact driver to set the screws.  The square drive screws were also left over from the Trex deck project.  So after only about 20 minutes worth of effort and $0, we have a nice boxed stand to keep the pots from blowing over.


the Deck 2013, part 2

The local code inspector was here yesterday.  I was outside working near the deck project all morning, went inside for 20 minutes and the inspector was here and gone when I returned to the back yard.  That was fast!  I only know of his visit after seeing a little yellow “approved” sticker I was to attach to my building permit.  To bad I missed him, I had some code specific questions to ask that would need to wait until the code department’s help line was open the next morning.  For a $124 fee to inspect the footers and ledger, I had hoped that he’d at least knock on the door to let us know he was here.


Now that the first two inspections were out of the way, it was time to pour some concrete and then start the actual deck framing.  Due to me building this thing solo, some of my construction steps are a bit out of order from the normal process; if you had a crew working together.

For the concrete, I rented an electric mixer.  I recommend you get the type that looks like it’s a wheelbarrow.  That way you can roll the mixer right to your hole, mix the concrete and pour directly into the form.  I used the standard yellow sonotube concrete tubes but only for the top 18 inches, this was to have a nice round post above grade.

You can see here the 12 inch tube and the possibly 14 hole below the tube.

You can see here the 12 inch concrete tube and the possibly 14 hole below the tube.


All six poured and curing

After a few days of curing, it was on to the framing: I first starting with joists attached to the existing porch.   It was a bit of a chore to attached these level as the existing porch deck had an arch on one side and dipped about one inch out of level on the other side.  You can see the first board attached to the existing porch below.


The next step in the process was to build the first two vertical posts and supporting cross beam.  What you see in the picture above are two 4×6 posts notched on top to hold the 2×10 cross beam.  (Once more joints are installed, a second 2×10 will be laminated to the first.)  Notching the top of the posts is a far superior method to attached the beam in place of just bolting the beam to the vertical post.  This method results in the deck weight being supported by the post itself rather than just the bolt.

In the picture below you can now see the remaining posts installed, more joists and the now doubled up 2×10 laminated support beams.  The gray posts you see are the old deck support posts that I’ve left in place.  They may be used in construction of a below deck storage room (yet another project).  Later on, the top of each post will get two 1/2 bolts to provide a mechanical connection between each beam and post.


Once all the joists are installed, I put in cross bracing to make the deck extra stiff.  You don’t always see this in deck construction, but it’s any easy step to make a deck that much better.


Next is the decking.  Its a pretty simple process.  The key is to keep the gaps between the boards equal.  Easy enough to just use a nail as a spacer from one board to the next.   To install the deck, I highly recommend  using screws over nails.  And it’s best to use an impact driver over a regular drill.  I purchased a Makita driver a few years ago and its been a great purchase.  (this thing even drove in the 1/2 inch lag bolts supporting the ledger board)


the Nephew drops by to help install some boards.

Now ready for the railing.  The railing was a pretty basic design.  The local code requires that none of the railing gaps can be larger than 4 inches.  There would be six 4×4 support posts bolted to the deck’s rim joist (the outer band).  The bottom and top horizontal supports would be 2×4’s.  These are used to support the 2×2 balusters.  Note that the at the end of each horizontal support, there is a baluster attached directly to the post.   This is a key feature for two reasons.  It provides each railing section extra support in it’s attachment to the post and provides a better visual flow from once section to the next in keeping the baluster gaps consistent.
photo 4


The corner was a bit of a challenge to figure out how I wanted it to look, but I like how it turned out.

photo 31


In the end, I really like the way the railing turned out.  Nice and simple design, strong and flows really well from once section to the next.  With the main structure completed it’s on to the screened in porch expansion.  That we’ll find in the Deck 2013, part 3

the Deck 2013, part 1

After 18 years of Indiana weather, the original deck on my home was showing its age.  Boards were cracking, splitting and the safety railing was a bit too loose for comfort.  Using what I had learned during the Deck 2010 project, I knew this would be a fun project to replace and expand and would certainly improve our outdoor living space.

The 18 year old weather deck had seen better days...

The 18 year old, well weathered deck had seen better days…

I didn't bother to research what the building codes were 18 years ago, but it appears as of the old ledger board was installed inconsistent with current codes

I didn’t bother to research what the building codes were 18 years ago, but it appears as the old ledger board was installed inconsistent with current codes

The ledger board is a critical component of any deck.  According to our local building inspectors and as due to the number of failed final inspections in our area, the ledger board is required to have it’s own inspection before the deck framing can begin.

The ledger board must be attached directly to the home structure and is not allowed to be attached though the home’s exterior siding.

Older ledger board removed and wood siding cut away

Older ledger board removed and wood siding cut away

Styrofoam insulation has been removed.  Plywood inserts will be cut to fill gaps left from the Styrofoam removal.

Styrofoam insulation has been removed. Plywood inserts will be cut to fill gaps left from the Styrofoam removal.

Note in the picture above, far right side, that once the Styrofoam material was removed I discovered that a small section of the rim joist had been cut away to make room for an interior AC vent.  Luckily none of the prior deck’s lag bolts were installed in that area.  Had they been, there would have been limited or no structure material for the bolts to grab onto; thereby severally weakening the deck structure.

Once patched, I installed the silver drip channel on the bottom, a rubberized self sticking waterproofing membrane, and the brown drip channel on top.  The brown drip channel runs about 4 inches up behind the siding and extends out over the 2×8 ledger board.

This three part waterproofing system practically guarantees no water will get behind the ledger board.

Final ledger board as passed by the code inspectors.

Final ledger board as passed by the code inspectors.

The gap you see between the top of the ledger board and bottom of the siding is where the 5/4 decking material will slide into.

Our local code enforcement department  requires (for decks over 30 inches) a ledger board inspection, a footer inspection before the concrete pour and a final overall inspection.  With the ledger board finished and ready, it was time to move on to the footers.  In central Indiana the required depth of the footer to get below the frost line is 36 inches.  I had 6 holes to drill so I rented a two person gas powered post hole digger.  This was my first time using a portable digger as I had used the auger on the back of a tractor for my Deck 2010 project.  I enlisted the help of a friend who was also new to the process.  We were having some problems getting the auger to say running after starting and it actually took us 15 minutes to figure out that the guy at Home Depot had turned the gas valve off before the rental.   Once the gas was turned back on the engine ran without issues.  The auger worked quite well through the first 24 inches of loose top soil, but once it hit the hard Indiana clay it got much tougher.  You really had to guide the auger while applying your full body weight against the torque of the handles.  Several times the auger bit hit a rock or tree root and the handles could almost knock you down if you weren’t prepared.   It was hard work but we did get the holes drilled in a few hours.  Lesson learned: I wanted 12 inch holes so I rented a 12 inch auger bit.  Sounds reasonable, right?  However there is so much vibration, and back and forth motion while using the auger that you actually end up with a hole closer to 13 or 14 inches.   Not a big deal other than significantly increasing your concrete requirements.  In my case that was an extra ten 60 lbs bags, luckily they were on sale for $1.99.

photo 3

now on to the Deck 2013, part 2