A: You might mistrust contractors if you’ve been burned once or twice by unethical and dishonest operators. The ecosystem deals with these bad people, and it’s harder for them to operate now that you can use the Internet to share your horror story.
Nonetheless, any contractor who says you need deck piers for your new deck or to expand an existing one is giving you great advice. Deck piers are the foundation for a deck just like your home most likely has footings and foundation walls.
There are quite a few reasons you need piers, not the least of which is to spread out the concentrated loads of the deck posts across a larger footprint on stable and strong soil.
Decks are heavy — very heavy. Pick up just one 16-foot treated 2-by-12 floor joist and you’ll get an idea. If your deck is bolted to the side of your home and has two posts that support the structure, usually half the total weight of the deck is bearing on the tiny 4-by-4 posts.
These wood posts resemble spike high heels some women wear. Several thousand pounds of weight might be pressing down on the two posts. This kind of concentrated load on two-inch-thick precast concrete paving stones can crack them like you’d snap a fresh saltine cracker.
Another key point is that the deck structure must be impervious to frost-heave damage. In central New Hampshire, where I live, when the soil freezes in the winter, I’ve seen it rise at least four or five inches. The bottom of the deck piers must be placed deep enough in the soil so the pier can’t move up and down. This movement can wreak havoc on any structure.
It's important to realize that the shape of the deck pier is critical. It's a good idea to make the bottom of the pier larger than the top. The base of the larger bell-shaped pier can then distribute the weight across more soil.
Reinforcing steel should be placed in deck piers to make them as strong as possible. In almost all cases, two half-inch steel bars extending vertically in the pier are sufficient. Some DIY deck pier forms come with the reinforcing steel already cut and bent.
I’ve created a page at my website that has illustrations of different deck piers and numerous videos of me showing the deck pier I love to use. Go to: go.askthebuilder.com/deckpiers.
Q: A spate of rainstorms has created not only a wet basement in my home but also a backyard that resembles the Okefenokee Swamp. Is there a way to prevent the water from entering my basement and to dry out my yard? If a method is available, is it DIY-friendly? — Walter W., Woodstock, Va.
A: Wet basements and crawl spaces and soggy yards are some of the most frequent problems homeowners ask me to solve. The good news is that I’ve helped tens of thousands of homeowners stop water from entering their homes. What’s more, I’ve dried out thousands of acres of land at the same time!
My college degree is in geology with a focus on hydrogeology and soils. Water tends to move sideways through most soils that have a medium-to-high clay content. Almost all land has a slope to it that you can use to your advantage to capture subsurface water before it comes in contact with your foundation.
It’s important to realize that you need to capture all roof water from your home and pipe it to the lowest part of your lot. You then need to dig a six-inch-wide trench around two or more sides of your home that resembles a moat around a castle. The trench might be as shallow as one foot, or it can be several feet deep. A perforated pipe is placed in the trench, and the trench is filled with rounded or angular gravel the size of grapes or walnuts.
The perforated pipe extends to the lowest part of your lot as well. Water flowing through the soil encounters the large gravel, drops through the gravel and then enters the pipe. The water flows through the pipe and out onto the ground away from your home, then continues its journey to the ocean.
I’ve got lots of other trench drain installation tips at my website, as well as a video showing you easy DIY methods to install one of these superb trench drains. Go to: go.askthebuilder.com/stopwater.
Tim Carter can call you on the phone free to solve your problem. Go to his website and fill out the form on this page: askthebuilder.com/ask-tim.