Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What Lies Beneath: A Cautionary Tale


For the past 13 years, I've been living in the house my family has called home here in San Bruno. It's a fairly standard house for the neighborhood, on a regular sized lot. One of the things that interested me was the fact that we have a very long deck in the back yard. The deck starts off the kitchen side door and runs to the fence, and then runs all the way to some terraced planter boxes against the back fence. By comparison, 50% of our usable back yard is wooden deck.

Over the years, I have wondered why this is, and I have also considered at various times the thought of removing sections of the deck to re-purpose it. How fun would it be to have a fire pit in the back yard… oh wait, not possible with a redwood deck. Well, one of these days, I'll look at taking out a section and just using the concrete underneath it. I mean, how bad can it be?

Last week, I discovered how bad. As I was walking on the deck, a small section gave way under my weight. As I inspected the boards around the area that gave in, the weather, moisture and movement around the boards made it clear that there was a big section that needed to be replaced, six 2 x 6 x 12 planks worth, as well as three other boards that were one offs in other places. OK, let's get them out of there. Hey, here's my chance! I can actually check out what it would be like to have a section without the deck!

It took me about an hour to get the boards out (the weathering had also done a number on the screws used to secure the boards; I couldn't unscrew them, I had to actually use a hatchet and split the boards to get them out). Once I did, I fully understood what there was a 70 foot long deck covering half of my back yard. The concrete was split up, uneven, sections without concrete and just dirt, etc. Note, I've lived here for 13 years, and this has been my first chance to see this. The deck itself has probably been here since the late 70s, so it's doubtful the previous owners knew what was under here either. I did a quick calculus of the area, and came to a conclusion. I'd need a jackhammer and a backhoe, plus a lot of work and money, to get that section to be flat ground again and able to set up an outdoor fire pit, or anything else for that matter. With that, I sighed, bought several redwood planks, and repaired the section. The continuous deck will be there for awhile more, it seems.

In many of the applications we test, we can see lots of pretty eye candy and a surface that looks really attractive. Often, we focus on just the superficial issues that we come across. If we are lucky, we may find a hairy issue in the line of sight of an important feature, but oh, if we could just thrust our pick axe a little further from where we're being asked/told to work, we could find something genuinely glorious (as in gloriously bad). However, if we do, what are we prepared to do? As was painfully brought home to me this weekend, sometimes there are areas that are devastatingly bad, but they would be so monumental to go in and fix that it just isn't worth it to even try. I told my wife and let her see just how ugly the pit under our deck was, and we both made the decision to cover it right back up again. We know we will need to deal with it at some point, but today is not that day. Likewise, even at work when I find something devastating, not having it worked on isn't an ignoring, it's a realization that, sometimes, it's better to just re-fortify the covering than it is to deal with the crags underneath. 
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