(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 20, 2008)

First thing you need to find is a spot to put your recycled materials until you have enough to complete your project. After you have a spot for all that free wood, you need to log on to your local www.Craigslist.com or go in and sign up for "yahoo groups freecycle". Both websites have a local focus and are a great source for free materials. It may take some time to collect enough stuff, but you will be amazed at the amount of things that can be had for free. Also keep your eyes open for houses being torn down or moved, I was able to get several hundred sq ft of siding, 2 garage doors with openers, 10 interior doors, 2 exterior doors, a hot water heater, a 12' sliding glass door, a dishwasher, range, electrical panel, garbage disposal, laundry sink, and some cabinets for the garage, all free for the taking. All this from just one house, and I could have gotten more but the excavator came the next day and demolished the house. You never know when all this stuff might come in handy.Image Just keep in mind a few projects you want to get done in the next year or two and start collecting!

I found a 1500 sq ft cedar deck free for the dismantling. It took me 2 saturdays and one very large crowbar to remove two trailer loads of cedar decking, pressure treated beams and joists, and of course dig out the pier pads. Now I had this huge pile of materials in my backyard, do yourself a favor and sort your wood into stacks off the ground and remove all the nails. It is much easier when you have the wood sorted into stacks of each length (2' increments) to grab the right piece for the job. Next is site preparation (where you want your new deck), dig out any vegetation or sod. Then figure out where your main beams will go, ideally you want a beam to support the joists every 8' or so. Once you figure out where they will go you can locate your pier pads, figure one at each end of the beam and one for every 8' of run. If have a 10' or 12' run you can cantilever the end of the beam up to 2' past the pier pad. Dig in your pier pads to about 3" above grade and make sure they are level. dont worry about getting them level with each other unless you are placing the beam directly on them. The last step before you start building is to place some back plastic down to keep weeds in check, cut out around each pier pad to allow drainage.

Next where to put the beams, first figure the final height of your deck next to the house, mark a level line at this height. Now for some math, first minus 1.5 inches of decking, then your joist dimension (usually 7.5 inches for 2x8) then your beam dimension (again usually7.5 inches). This is the bottom beam height near the house. Ok now for the other side, for a long lasting deck you should slope the deck away from the house at about 1/4" per foot, so say you deck runs 14' from the house the outside measurement should be 3.5 inches lower than at the house. For a easy way to do this cut a 1" square bock of wood and tape it to one end of your 4' level, instant 1/4" per foot drop. You can go less but it wont drain as well. Now you can cut your posts to the right height to support the beam, remember measure twice cut once.ImageImageImage

Once you get all your beams in at the correct height you are ready to mark out the joists. Every 2' is normal, leave the first one a couple inches from the house so it doesnt trap moisture against your house, then every couple feet out to the edge. Now the fun part...where it all comes together, place your decking boards out across the joists and start screwing them in, make sure you leave a 1/8 gap between the boards as they will swell when wet. When you get all your boards screwed down you can wash your new (Used) deck down with some laundry detergent in warm water and a stiff broom. Hose off and let dry and you can put on a coat of sealer. Once dry it ready to enjoy for many years to come.


My 14x34 deck cost about $150 to build, not including my time. I spent $90 on deck screws, $40 on posts (for a future pergola) and about $20 in fuel, hauling materials. Not bad for 4 days worth of work. I was even able to add some custom touches such as the built in flower boxes and a rounded step. I had enough materials left over to make a pump house, benching in the greenhouse, shelves in the house, another small deck for the hot tub ($9 in screws) and i still have some extra stuff. And in 20 years or so when the decking is beyond its lifespan I can look for some more free decking to replace it with. Some helpful tips if your going to do alot of recycling buy a big crowbar (3' or more) and a sawzall, oh yeah and a couple sledge hammers, and buy stardrive screws they dont strip out as readily. Happy recycling Caleb


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