Dwelling on #DesignersBuilding – A DIY Blog Series

This blog series is an account of what happens when an architect, me, pushes past design and single handedly tackles some renovation; from design through demolition and to construction. I look forward to sharing with you my discoveries, the challenges, and the solutions. Please share your stories of renovation and remodeling in the comments, DIY or not.


END Game

The weather is starting to allow a little taste of fall in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The cool mornings and late afternoons make me wish I had this project finished, so we could lounge out and enjoy the finished space.  At the same time, the satisfaction of finishing each milestone myself, knowing that it has saved us thousands in hiring a professional contractor is rewarding. Keep in mind though, I would not take this work on if I had not had years of construction experience.  The biggest mistake I see DIYers make is to get in over their head, and let their ambition get in the way of getting a job done right.  Doing home construction wrong is a big mistake to make on the most substantial investment you will make in your lifetime. This is not to say that a home owner could not do research and practice any skill on mock ups and low risk first time projects. Understanding and feeling comfortable with all the tools needed and steps involved is key. Repeating the tasks required in practice will reveal the tricks of the trades that can have a telling effect on the final product.

Looking Back

So far, the posts in this series have covered each phase of our screened in porch project. In case you would like to review these, they are Homework – Demolition leading to Homework – Demo to Framing and the previous post, Homework – Framing Finished.



Framing to Staining

Let’s look at sealing the frame work that covered in the last Homework post.  Once the framing was installed, an important step remained before applying the stain and screen, sealing the gaps. Those little gaps could allow bugs to crawl in and make our screened in porch a less than desirable place to be. I calculated the linear footage of seams and joints and went (back to) the hardware store to get waterproof stainable exterior latex sealant – DAP Window, Door, and Trim in the cedar tan color to match the stain we would eventually use. That came out to 6 tubes according to the specs published on the hardware store’s website.  That has multiplied to 12 tubes with almost two left to seal up the soffit underneath the deck to complete the bug resistant envelope, despite what the website published for linear coverage.


With a bunch of rags collected to clean up excess sealant, loaded the caulk gun and went to town on each seam, end joint, and corner. Sealant was also required for the gaps between the brick wall and the T1-11 siding plate installed before the first column. This was a messy job but well worth it in the end. Besides sealing all the air gaps where little crawlers could infiltrate our screened in sanctuary, the sealant helps with a nice finished look at the joints.  Once the stain was applied, the new framing nicely matched the existing cedar posts.


Standing Guard

Handrails and guard rails are required by the residential building code to be installed at a minimum of 36” high and must be able to support a minimum of a 200 lb. live load and 50 lb. live load on the infill.  The infill, or the material between the posts, below the top rail and down to the walking surface, shall not allow the passage of a 4” sphere.  This sphere requirement is to prevent kids from getting their heads stuck between the rails. I used a sting line and line level, like I did for the rails on the screened area, to keep that 36” minimum level around the deck. Again, if I had measured 36” off the deck surface, the slope inherent to the deck structure would have translated through and caused the rails to be out of level and that wouldn’t look good.


The rail design is a pair of 2×4 framing for the posts, with a 4×4 block at the base, another 2×4 block at the top, and a 2×6 top rail.  A bevel cut on the 4×4 block will shed water away from the deck and another in the 2×4 spreader block at the top of the post add some visual interest.  The top rail is set at a 1/2” reveal to the outside of the deck. The infill material is going to be panels of sheep and goat fence that will be cut to fit into the surrounding frame created by the wood rails and posts. Before building and attaching the posts, I notched the existing deck boards to allow the posts to rest on and be screwed directly into the structure.  To do this I built short mock ups, shown above with my partner in charge of quality control. The mock ups of the posts and the corner post allows me to trace the direct size of the notches. I then cut the notches out using the circular saw where possible, a Dremel tool with a cutting bit, and a 1” chisel and hammer to finish out the corners and fine tune the edges.


I visited a friend at a local millwork shop to get a grove cut into the lumber for the rails using their table saw and a 3/8” dado blade set up.  Dado cuts are made with a system of stackable blades that cut clean grooves at thickness adjustable in 1/8” increments. The cut depth is set on the table saw. These grooves are to accept the sheep and goat fence infill panels.


The post against the brick wall was a bit tricky.  I bought 3x 3/8” expanding masonry anchors to secure it to the brick veneer. Between that attachment and the 3” wood screws attaching the other end post into the corner column on the porch, the deck rails will be good and sturdy.  The paired 2×4 posts allow a 3 1/2” space of clear view, adding to the transparency of the rail assembly.  That and the sheep and goat fence infill will allow great sight lines through the railing, much more than typical 2×2 pickets that you see a lot of on deck builds.



Screen On

Screen Tight system comes in four parts: the track, the screen, the spline, and the cap. The roller blade in the picture is also a Screen Tight product and helps roll the spline into the track and hold the screen tightly in place. While I am writing this, I have only installed one small section over the screen door, and it is looking good.  I’ll show a picture of the whole system in the next post, but here is a little mock up to show what this system looks like.


That brings the Homework series up to date with the work so far.  I will have another post on the every other week schedule to give you an update on the next push.  The corrugated details and soffit are ahead, along with staining and finishing the deck rails and installing some structural bracing.  Until next time, live nicely!