Your Home Improvements: Dealing with decks and stairs

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Question #1

Robert, I am interested in purchasing a home. It’s a bit older, as it was built in the 70s. Everything seems to be in order with the main “bones” of the house; however, there is a deck in the backyard that is attached to the house that was literally built around a large tree.

After reading your articles and knowing your thoughts about having any sort of trees that close to the home itself, I’m not sure if this should be a deal breaker in terms of the purchase. The foundation looks good in this area, and at this time there are no signs that it has damaged plumbing or anything structural, so would you recommend moving forward and just removing this tree, plus repairing the deck, or would you avoid this purchase all together?

Your thoughts, please.

Tim L.

Answer #1

Tim, that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me. The fact that this tree hasn’t caused damage, according to what you stated, and the sewer lines run from back to front on these homes, I see no reason to not make the purchase.

If you see that the tree starts doing damage, then I would address the issue at that time. The tree is probably offering you a lot of shade and helping keep your utility bills down.

Be sure you keep the tree trimmed and off your roof, plus any old branches should be cut off and removed.

Always deal with a licensed tree-removal company well versed in tree trimming. Should you need a recommendation, feel free to write back in. Good luck with your new home.


Question #2

Hi, Robert, I recently acquired a management position on a condo community in the Valley. While walking this property, I’ve noticed that the stairs throughout are all different sizes/depths. Some are so shallow in height or depth that they seem to be great trip hazards.

I am concerned that this could be a liability to this HOA. Can you please give your opinion on how I verify this? I’ve attached photos for your review.

Please let me know if I need to do anything and, if so, what steps to take. Thank you for your articles; I read faithfully and have gained a lot of knowledge through your advice and opinion.

Alex M.


Answer #2

Alex, the rise and the run added together should never be more than 18 inches, as a rule of thumb. So as an example: typically, you want the rise (the face of the step going up) to be around 7 to 7 ½ inches and the tread (the part you step on) to be about 12 inches.

Each rise needs to be within one-quarter inch of each other. As we walk up steps, our brain automatically calculates the first step we take subconsciously. So if the rise is off by too much, we tend to trip.

This should give you a guideline to start and move forward from there. You can also call your insurance carrier. The company can send a risk analysis person out to assist you with that.

Understand that if you bring it to their attention, they will make you correct the situation within a time line. Good luck.


Question #3

I am in need of refinishing my backyard decking. Some boards need replacing and I would like to secure the new boards with the proper nails.

What kind should I use? Also, what is the best time of year to do this? With the current heat I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to do this now or wait until it is cooler.

Do I just follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the sealer, or do you have more specific information on this?

Bob S.


Answer #3

Bob, you can do the replacement of the deck boards at any time of the year. As far as the sealing of the materials, I would follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on temperatures as to not have the product fail if too hot or too cold.

As far as nails, I would not use them. I urge you to use deck screws. They can be driven in with a drill motor and the proper attachment to adapt to the screw head. Nails can work their way out over time and use, and can cause severe trip hazards and injury, as well as not keeping the integrity of the decking.

Screws will stay put and will keep the deck in place for much longer. Good luck.

Robert Lamoureux has 38 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].

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