Removing Paint from the Deck

The new deck beam was delivered Tuesday. It’s made of fir, and is a much lighter color than the existing beams, which are covered with a coat of brown paint. The new wood is going to be stained, not painted, and I had been considering removing the existing paint on the beams. I had not remove the paint on the front deck beams, and it turned out OK, but having one beam in back an obviously different color was not going to work.

The new beam to replace the rotted one is made of fir. It is 10 feet long so will have to be cut to length.

Two heat guns and a set of paint scrapers were purchased from Harbor Freight for under $30. This allows Richard and me to remove paint simultaneously.

Finding a beam was interesting.  I googled “lumberyards” near my zip code and started down the list from the closest one.  This was a hardware store in Bernalillo. I guess they listed themselves under “lumberyards” because they sell some 2×4′s!  Of course they had nothing in 6×10 but I got a suggestion of a place that might have beams like this.

The next lumberyard did have 6×10 beams.  They come in 8′ and 16′ lengths; I need 9′.  The 16′ is $80.  Delivery?  They are located in the South Valley; Corrales is north of Albuquerque, and they don’t deliver there!  They would cut the beam to size, but I would have to find my own means of delivery.  OK, they go on the “possible” list.

Richard is applying heat to the surface, then when the paint bubbles he removes it with the scraper.

The third lumberyard was most helpful.  Yes, they had 6×10 beams, though not at this location; they’d have to bring it in.  I could get a 10′ length for $90.  Delivery to Corrales? No charge.  Could I get treated wood?  Yes, but not right away; the beam would have to be custom made.  What does that involve?  They have to find a tree the right size, cut it down, mill it, and pressure treat it.  It would take three weeks.  Must be expensive?  No, same price.  (!)  I went with the non-treated beam.  Unfortunately they could not cut to length, so I will have to do that myself.

The two horizontal beams have dry rot that needs repair. Note that the post has moved as nails no longer fasten it to the beams.

Internet research revealed that there are three ways to remove paint from wood.  Regardless of which method is used, it is a lot of work.

  1. Dissolve with chemicals.  Apply a paint stripper, wait, then scrape off the residue.  Some chemicals work better than others; some are safer than others.  I thought this method would be better suited for furniture rather than deck beams.
  2. Abrade the paint.  Works better on peeling paint than on paint with good adhesion.  My deck has a mixture – paint is peeling where is gets direct sunlight, but it is sticking pretty well in the shady areas.
  3. Break the bond between the paint and the wood with heat.  This is done with a heat gun.  Then the paint is scraped off.  This Old House liked this method, except they worried about a hidden ember that would burn the house down overnight, so they recommended a product that uses infrared light bulbs at a lower temperature.  It costs about $400.  I compared that to the heat gun available from Harbor Freight for $13.  I bought two of those, so Richard and I could work at the same time.

The corner post is removed to provide access to the beams that need to be repaired.

As with any house repair project, problems keep surfacing.  We were in the living room at sunrise earlier in the week, when Richard pointed out that sunshine was coming in through the wall where the one beam had been removed.  That will have to be caulked before we replace the beam.

The post sits on a piece of rebar that keeps the bottom from moving.

As I removed the paint from the post at the southeast corner, I noticed more dry rot in the beams the post was supporting.  I was able to remove most of the nails with my fingers and lift the beam, leaving the post free to wobble.  With only a little effort, the post was removed to provide access to the area in question.  Obviously the adventure will continue as this latest wrinkle is resolved.

With the post removed, the dry rot in the beams is clearly visible.

Paint removal is about half done, providing another indicator that the deck rebuilding adventure is going to continue.

Rear Deck Beam Removal

Today we continued with rebuilding the rear deck.  My consultant, brother Tim, after examining the photos I had been texting him, recommended that the entire beam (the one with the most dry rot) be replaced.  This is not advice I wanted to hear!  I had many good reasons for not replacing the beam.

  • The dry rot was not deep and there was plenty of healthy wood to bear the weight.
  • The beam is heavy.  Richard and I may not be able to lift a new one into place.
  • The beam goes into the house.  Who knows what may come tumbling down once I start removing structure.
  • A new beam is expensive.

None of this swayed Tim.  Finally I capitulated, reasoning that it doesn’t make sense to ask advice from an expert if I’m not going to follow it.

I began by removing the stucco around the beam, using the air impact tool. I always feel good when I get a chance to use the air compressor and tools for something more than filling tires with air and blowing out the vacuum filter. Then I removed the rotted wood from the side of the beam. Note that the beam extends under the upper story floorboards. I was using a long-shaft screwdriver and feeling like a dentist performing a root canal.

Tim recommended I cut through the 2x10 band so I could see how the beam was fastened. Oooh! First air tools and now the Sawzall! Actually, this appears to be a very poor design. Tim tells me there should be a weather-proof seal aroound the house, and the deck should be fastened on the outside of the seal. This design provides a way for moisture to enter the house. Fortunately I live in a desert -- in a wetter climate the house structure could be compromised.

The plan is to cut the beam about two feet from the wall, remove the long piece, and then wiggle the short piece out. One of the removed 2x6 floorboards was pressed into duty as a support for the long end of the beam.

For once, things worked according to plan. I used a circular saw (another power tool!) to cut about halfway through the beam, then the Sawzall to complete the cut. The support held up the long cantilevered portion of the beam. We slid the beam out until it could be tipped over into the yard. The beam was surprisingly light - Richard and I had no trouble carrying it off.

The short end of the beam was still attached to the house and would not move. Using the Sawzall with a demolition blade, I found and cut nails holding the top of the beam. Then the Sawzall overheated and refused to work, even though bottom of the beam still had four nails holding it. I managed to remove the nails with a crowbar, and the short piece was removed from the wall.

Hopefully I'll be able to find a 6x10x108 beam without a lot of trouble. Hopefully Richard and I will be able to lift it and plug this hole.

The beam at the south end of the deck is rotted out. There's no saving it and it will be replaced. I took this picture from atop a ladder. I was too close to the beam to get it all into the photo, so I took three shots and stitched them together using the panorama-stitching program Calico 2. This produced a fish-eye effect you can see in the photo.

Here's the southeast corner of the deck, after the rotten beam has been removed. This concludes today's chapter of the deck rebuild saga. More to come.

Rear Deck Demolition

The homestead is needing some TLC. Next project is rebuilding the rear deck. There is dry rot on at least one beam, and the wood has generally deteriorated. This is going to be a major project, as I lack well-developed handyman skills. Fortunately, some confidence has been gained by rebuilding the front deck this summer.  Also on the plus side is the fact that my brother does have the skills and knowledge I lack.  We are using iPhone technology — I text him a picture and he tells me what should be done.  It works pretty well.

Here is a picture of the rear deck from 2002. Note the balusters are not up to code - there should be no more than 4 inches between them. In 1995 when moving into the house I lined the railing with hardware cloth to keep the kids (1 and 3) from falling through the railing.

The previous owner built the house himself, and used untreated wood nailed together for the deck. In the ensuing 28 years the wood has deteriorated enough that the nails were not holding well and the structure was getting unstable. So the railings had to come down and be replaced.

The deck floor was untreated pine, and was severely warped. The floor had been installed with 16d finish nails. I put in deck screws and that slowed the warping but did not stop it. The floor is going to be replaced.

This beam has the most extensive dry rot. The plan is to repair it. After removing the loose wood, the rest is treated with ethylene glycol to kill the dry rot organism. Then the cosmetic defects are repaired. At first, I believed the beam could be repaired without compromising structural integrity.

After the decking had been removed, the extent of damage to the beam became evident. The beam has already been repaired once. Three inches had been cut out of the top of the beam and the wood replaced with two 2x6. Evidently the beam had not been treated, because dry rot continued below the repair.

Another beam had also been repaired. In this case, the repair succeeded in arresting the dry rot. No further deterioration is evident.

Here we see the other two major repairs to be made. The top left shows a beam that is extensively rotted. There's no way to save it and it will have to be replaced. Fortunately, this beam does not carry any structural weight, and should be fairly easy to replace. Note how the two lower beams have pulled apart. Somehow those will have to be pulled back together. I have to think about how to do that.