The Deck Saga

One of the things David and I loved about this house was the deck. It was huge, with a gorgeous view--you could see for miles. It also had a lot of rotting wood on it. The supports were still good; only the surface and handrails needed to be replaced. I started the project myself, but it quickly turned into a nightmare--trying to pull rusted screws out when their heads have rusted right off is no easy task. So after doing one section of the floor, I called in some "pros" to finish it.

They were terrible. I picked a top-rated contractor off Angieslist, but found out later that it was more like a referral service...and the guy they referred me to was sloppy and unprofessional. As they were finishing up the project, I started noticing little things--ends of boards weren't cut straight, the bottoms of the railings weren't a consistent height--and I tried to get some of them corrected, but got kind of brushed off. They half-assedly resolved one of my complaints (made one section of railing even with the one next to it) and rushed through the rest of the job.

When they finished, I wasn't really happy with it, but at that point the project had dragged on and had been stressing me out for so long that I just wanted it behind me. We were planning on moving, anyway, so the uneven bits that would annoy me wouldn't be an issue soon.

This section of railing looks pretty nice, actually. It has warped quite a bit (more on that later), but it's basically okay.

Here's a pretty decent bottom gap. I'd prefer it a little higher (code says it can be up to 4"), but this is okay. Note the crooked cuts on the balusters, though.

Hmm, that's a significant change in height. And what is going on with those balusters?

Okay, this is ridiculous. Even without measuring, this is a glaringly obvious difference. At this height, I can't sweep leaves and debris off the deck. Nice job on the balusters, though.

Wait, I take that back.

Great patch job, guys. I'm sure nobody will notice.

As the wood dried, it warped. Rather a lot. Gaps like this started showing up.

Further inspection showed that each top rail (even the ones over 8 feet long) is only attached by a screw at each end and a single screw in the middle, like this. Of course the wood is warping--it isn't even f#$%ing screwed down!

Straight lines are for sissies.

How wide should this gap be? Eh, good enough.

So it's a year later, and the house didn't sell. The deck has been bugging me, but I tried to ignore it until about 3 weeks ago. We had a guest who was leaning on the railing, and the railing just...collapsed. The section of railing he'd been leaning on tore away from the post and dropped about 3 inches. The height of our deck is no small drop--we're on a very steep hill. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that if he'd been leaning forward more, he could have been killed.

Note the broken screw. This entire section of railing--over 8 feet long--was attached to the post with three screws. Two at the top and one at the bottom.

It turns out not only are they all attached with 3 screws, but the screws are so close to the edge of the wood that even slight warping can tear them out.

That was enough to motivate me. I called back and was told that I was past the "satisfaction guarantee" window, but they would send someone out to look at it. They sent the same guy (fantastic), who looked it over, seemingly unconcerned. He reattached the railing, put a couple more screws in the rest of them, and made a vague promise to come back next week to even up the bottoms of the railings. Take a look at the splendid job he did reattaching the railing:

Apparently it's too hard to line a railing up with the one right next to it.

Note: same number of screws, just a little further from the edge and sunk way into the wood.

And here's what the rest of them look like now.

Two weeks have now passed, and not a word from the contractor. I've had it. I don't give a damn if the we get an offer on the house tomorrow--I paid to have a professional finish my deck, and got an ugly, unsafe mess. I'm not going to just pass the problem off to the next people to buy the place, hoping that they decide to get it redone before someone falls and kills themself. In addition to everything above, the posts aren't even properly attached. They're not bolted on--they've just got a few screws in 'em.

Note: that bolt does not go through the post. The 4 wood screws under it are all that's holding the post on.

Five screws! I guess that's better...?

Um...five and a half?

I would really appreciate any advice on what to do here. My plan so far is to print out these pictures, go down to the main office, and demand to speak to someone else about it. I can threaten them with a bad review on Angieslist, which may or may not affect them, with the volume of positive reviews they have (there are a sprinkling of terrible reviews in there, which I cynically suspect are from people unfortunate enough to have ended up with the same guy I got). Maybe I could take them to small claims court to try to get my money back, at least (though I'd still be stuck with the cost of the wood, since I bought all that when I was planning to finish it myself).

Beyond that, I have no idea. What I want is for them to just fix the damn thing, but I fear that's unlikely to happen. It would require a lot of wood to do right, and I sure as hell don't want to pay for that again.

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