When it comes to home improvement, anytime you choose the DIY path or the “inexpensive” path, you’re sure to learn a lot more about your project than you would by hiring someone to do it for you. We couldn’t DIY our deck because there are too many rules, regulations, codes, permits and inspections involved. Besides, I’m just one pudgy guy, and a lot of the materials and methods employed so far in this build require at least two, and sometimes three strong men or women. So we chose the inexpensive path – buying the materials ourselves and hiring the labor to build the deck. So far, we are happy with our decision, but the process has not been without hiccups, problems and delays. There are two ways to look at setbacks: you can get pissy and bitch about them, or you can learn from them. I admit to doing a little of both (but mostly the latter).
Once we had decided on our colors, Rich Lee, our contractor, was able to work up a materials list and place an order with Home Depot’s Pro Desk. I was not involved in that initial order. I left it up to Rich, as he is the expert. Once the order was put together, Rich’s Pro Desk contact at the Manchester, CT store, Allison, put the order through a process known as “running it through the bid room.” Any large order can be put through this process, whether you’re a professional or not. The minimum dollar amount varies depending on what you’re buying (for instance, custom kitchens and electrical wire have higher minimum thresholds than drywall and lumber), but if you’re buying a couple thousand dollars of merchandise (it doesn’t all have to be one product or type), go to the Pro Desk and ask for your order to be run through the bid room. What happens is that the order is electronically sent to a group of people in Atlanta, GA. I have this mental image of the bid room that I just can’t shake:
I picture a small, windowless room, with walls painted a dull ochre. Mahogany-colored wainscoting, dinged and dented from years of neglect runs along the lower half of the walls. A circular table sits in the middle of the room, the same color and condition as the wainscoting. Around the table sit the Bid Room Men. There are six of them, and they all wear rumpled brown suits, their jackets doffed and hanging from the backs of their stout oaken chairs. Their shirts are all faded yellows and yellowed whites, rolled at the sleeves and stained at the armpits. Their brown ties hang loosely from unbuttoned collars. The Bid Room Men lean forward, elbows on the worn table, and stare through a smokey haze at a protuberance in the center of the table. It is the terminus of a vacuum tube delivery system, and the men eye it with anticipation. From their lips and fingers dangle cigars and cigarettes of diverse shapes and sizes. Their faces haven’t seen a razor in days, and a sheen of sweat glistens on their foreheads. Presently, a vacuum cartridge shoots up into the terminus with a great THWUMP, and the Head Man reaches forward to retrieve it.
“Well? What does it say?” Demands one of The Men.
“Yes, tell us!” Says another.
The Head Man unrolls the parchment and reads to his fellows. “Order for a…” He pauses to wipe a sleeve across his forehead. “…Mr. Navage. He’s building a deck. Needs Trex.” He chuckles to himself and chomps down on the wet and tattered butt of his cheap cigar. “Well, boys, what kind of a discount should we give Mr. Navage here?”
It may be slightly different in reality.
According to Home Depot, the bid room folks in Atlanta take a look at the order and decide on a suitable volume discount. I’ve read that this process can take hours or even days for large orders. I wasn’t involved in Rich’s initial order, but I have run a few through since, and the discounts were almost instant. My feeling (and this is just my guess) is that for some smaller orders, the bid room will return a standard discount. I don’t think any humans get involved until the order grows to a certain size or unless the customer wants to try to further negotiate the price lower.
On that initial order, I saved a little over 10% by Rich and Allison running it through the bid room. Once Allison had a total, I drove to Home Depot to plop down the money. Handan and I had been accumulating $2000 gift cards throughout the spring and summer by buying them whenever Home Depot was running a two-year, zero-interests promotion. I had $6000 in gift cards. We had hoped it would be enough. It wasn’t. With a little sweat on my brow and an extra flutter in my heart, I pulled out my wallet and put the balance on my Home Depot card on an 18-month, zero-interest promotion. It was a lot of money, more than we had anticipated, but I thought that was the end of it. (It wasn’t)
We hoped the materials would arrive later that week. The Trex boards were certain – they would arrive that Thursday, but there was some uncertainty with the 2 x 12 x 16 pressure-treated pine that was needed for the frame. The supplier, Boise Cascade, was telling a story of a shortage of that particular board. How do you run out of pressure-treated lumber?
Thursday came, and I received a phone call from Rich. He told me that those boards were back-ordered until the end of August (we were in mid-August). And that is when I got pissy and bitchy. It was the only time I did so. As it turns out, the delay was a blessing in disguise, but at the time, it really ticked me off, because I assumed it would make Handan angry. But she took it in stride and convinced me it was a good thing. That woman never ceases to amaze.
While we waited for the materials to be delivered, Rich and his crew were able to dig the four new footings needed for the larger deck. The footings had to be about 4 feet deep. That required a big auger!
They needed to dig holes almost as deep as this tube is tall, plus the holes had to be wide enough to fit the wide foot at the bottom of the tubes.
They had to pull out a lot of dirt to fit those tubes!
Using a laser level, they determined where to cut each tube prior to filling with concrete.
The tubes were ready for concrete, but the concrete guy was late. This seems to be an ongoing theme with construction. First, the inspector was late to inspect the tubes, then the concrete guy was late. Imagine how much we could accomplish if people showed up when they were supposed to!
Eventually, he turned up. Pretty cool rig, too. The water is kept separate from the cement powder, crushed rock and admixtures, so the operator can mix up any sized batch on the spot. As the truck says, “No Minimum Delivery.” I wonder if The Mob keeps this guy on speed dial for those times when they need some quick cement loafers, no questions asked. 🙂
The guys loaded wheelbarrows…
…and ran them to the back of the house…
…where they filled the tubes.
When they finished pouring the footings, it was time to kick back and wait for the materials to arrive.
The day came, at last. We got the delivery.
But wait! Where are the 2 x 12 x 16 pressure-treated boards? You know, the ones we waited half a month for?
Oh, I’m sorry, they didn’t make the delivery truck!
Yep, that’s right, they forgot to deliver the boards. They forgot to deliver other stuff, too, but I’ll gloss over those screw-ups. They forgot the frigging boards!!
I was getting a sense of what these small local contractors go through every week.
Waiting for another delivery would have taken at least 24 hours (it was already mid-day when this shipment arrived). Rich was sick of waiting, and he had no intention of wasting another half day the next day, so he took his truck and trailer and picked up the gigantic boards himself the next morning. We were back in business.
Their first task was to pry some siding from the house so they could attach the ledger board. This is what the deck will anchor to on the house side, and it had to be bolted through the house and into the basement.
With the ledger board secure, they started constructing the frame.
There was always a four-legged foreman about.
After erecting the outer frame of the deck frame, they filled in the joists and spacers.
It was during this work that we realized that Rich hadn’t ordered the material for the stair rails. And since we kept changing our mind about the benches and the trim that would run around the outside, it meant that I had to take another trip to the Pro Desk to order more stuff. I’ve gotten to know Allison quite well, and she’s been very helpful during this process.
As of this writing, I’ve placed two orders through the Pro Desk (and ran them through the bid room, since it is part of a larger project), canceled some items, and swapped some items. I had to pay a 15% restocking fee on the swapped items, since they were special order, but that didn’t turn out to be that much money.
I never would have guessed that a deck would be so complicated! There was a time a few years back that I thought maybe Handan and I could do it ourselves. No way. Never. I know my limits, and I hide behind them! 🙂 [hahaha – and yet when I tell him he is getting old, he thinks I am teasing him. LOL -Handan]
Back at our house, the work was coming along, but we were delayed again waiting for the swapped boards. Home Depot also missed a delivery earlier that same week. It wasn’t the much-needed deck boards, but still, they just never showed. They combined that order with the deck boards and delivered them that Saturday. At least their screw up got me a free delivery.
They finished up the joists.
And they started building the bench supports.
The guys love our dogs, and they’ve been great about keeping an area open for them to come and go. There is an old deck board removed right after that last piece of stairway that they screwed a scrap piece of 2 x 12 over so the girls wouldn’t have to jump the gap.
The new boards arrived, as did the materials needed for the stairs, so the guys could finally install the Trex. They started by the house and worked outwards. The first step was to lay the Vintage Lantern perimeter.
Once they had those boards in place, they started cutting and installing the Spiced Rum boards.
And then we really got a sense of how our color choices were going to look. We loved it!
When the Trex boards were all installed, they started framing the bench.
They also poured two small concrete pads for the stair landings. This is the one on the far side of the deck. Oh, didn’t I mention? Yeah, Handan and I changed the design a bit. We decided that the second staircase would look better back here instead of in the front by the pool. This way, the corner shown on the left in the picture below will be all bench instead of stairs. It will the the prime spot on the deck, and it’s where we will put Handan’s chair, so she can spend her evenings watching her gardens and listening to the waterfall. 🙂
Everyone loves the deck so far, it’s just that some prefer to be underneath it.
Stay tuned for the big reveal, coming soon! We have some bad weather moving in, so that’s going to delay things a bit, and I’m waiting on one final shipment from Home Depot that is due to arrive at the end of September, so I’m looking to get the final post out in early October.