How to build a backyard deck that doesn’t explode in a spectacular fireball

4 Aug

You’ve worked hard, all month. You’ve given up your evenings and weekends to build a beautiful, cedar deck. It’s perfect, too: three levels, built-in hot tub, benches, and a pergola. You’re going to have the greatest Memorial Day cookout the world has ever known, the greatest Fourth of July cookout, the greatest Labor Day cookout…

Exhausted, you head inside for a shower, casting a few admiring glances over your shoulder. As you walk through the kitchen, however, the most ungodly explosion knocks you to the floor. The windows in the living room are blown out and the sound of splintering wood echoes through the trees in your backyard. Your ears are ringing. Flames race through the house.

Your first thought is that a plane has crashed into the garage, but no. It’s your deck. It’s blown up! You peek over the back of your charred couch and through a ragged hole in your home to see nothing but a jumble of twisted, broken deck boards and smoldering posts.

You panic. What went wrong? You used galvanized connectors and pressure-treated lumber in all below-grade applications. None of your joists exceeded the allowable spans. You even splurged and bought the latest in engineered decking material with a 30-year warranty.

“Honey, I heard something go KER-chick-BLOOEY! And then SPEEEWW!” your wife says, walking out of the bathroom buttoning her pants.

“Yeah, deck blew up,” you say, frowning and pointing over your shoulder at the burning remains of your month-long labor of love. “What a mess.”

“Did you use the right size joist hangers?” she asks.

“I think so,” you say. “The 2 by 6 hangers supposedly work for 2 by 8s, as well.”

“How about the screws on that composite decking material? Ron said to use those special screws.”

“I ran out and had to use a few regular screws,” you say, slowly. “Do you think that could cause the deck to explode?”

“Maybe. Ron seemed pretty serious about those screws. You should call him in the morning,” she says.

You nod. You want to kick yourself. It was probably the dammed screws.

Before you take a shower, you help your wife assemble a shoe rack she bought at IKEA. It’s pretty basic: a few cam and dowel connectors and some laminated particle board. She sets it in the closet, piles her shoes on it, and heads downstairs to watch the evening news.

Later, as you’re standing in the bathroom toweling off, there’s another terrific explosion, this one on the other side of the wall. You look up in time to see the closet door as it skips and skitters across the carpet and smashes through a bay window. A huge fireball belches into your bedroom, incinerating your pillows and down comforter.

Your wife comes running up the stairs: “I heard something! It was like, TICHOW! GUZOOM! Waffle, waffle, waffle.”

“I – I think your shoe rack just exploded,” you say, softly.

“I swear that IKEA stuff is so cheap!” your wife says, and then fixes you with a concerned look. “You did tighten all the cam connectors, didn’t you?”

You pause. “I think so.”

“Honey! How do you expect things to stay together if you don’t use the proper fasteners?”

You shrug: “I’m pretty sure I tightened them.”

Deep down, however, you know. You forgot to tighten them.

For dinner, you make yourself a sandwich with last night’s meatloaf, some bacon, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and a wonderful tapenade from your aunt Rosie. It’s a glorious creation, you think, opening the refrigerator door to dig for a Fresca.

As you do there’s yet another explosion, smaller than the last two but monsterous just the same. Your sandwich goes off like a stick of dynamite, blasting the granite countertop into pieces and knocking several cabinets off the wall. Dishes shatter across the floor.

Your wife comes running into the kitchen in a terrycloth robe. “My God! I heard a CHOW-DOOOSH! SPLINCHOW! Bish! Bish! Bish! Bish! Just like that.”

“My freakin’ sandwich just exploded!” you cry.

“Your sandwich? That’s weird,” your wife says. She looks down at the broken remains of the countertop, your shattered dishes, and an assortment of sandwich-making supplies. She bends over and fishes a piece of a bottle from the wreckage – a mayonnaise bottle.

“Did you use this?”


“It’s expired, honey! Of course you’re sandwich exploded! And it’s a good thing or you’d probably have food poisoning!”

You sigh, and take her face in your hands. You kiss her, then hold her body against yours. “Everything I make seems to blow up in a spectacular fire ball,” you say. “Maybe I should stick to sending mafia guys to prison.”

“You’re right,” she says. “No more construction projects for you. Just keep hunting down and prosecuting these homicidal maniacs. That guy – what do they call him?”

“The Big Blaster?”

“Yeah. He should be heading to big house after you present your final case on Monday.”

“Hey,” you say. “Let’s go for a midnight drive through Little Italy.”

“With the windows down?” she asks.

“With the windows down! In our car that’s been sitting unprotected in the driveway all weekend.”


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