Real Estate Agent with Broker Associate/Realtor/ISA with Nouveau Riche

FINALLY here in Illinois we are entering the season for outdoor enjoyment and pleasure. For those of us (in particular) in my neck of the woods; this time seems so long in the waiting that I want to immerse myself in every moment I can OUTDOORS, for fear tomorrow snow will be here again and I will be stuck indoors! 

Well, its not really THAT bad, but it has been a very elongated wintery season here and the smell of BBQ's, the warmth of sunshine, a summery breeze flowing through my hair while savoring a cool glass of lemonade; gives way to outdoor improvement projects. Landscaping and as I mentioned the other day; CURB APPEAL possibilities.

The decision to DECK the yard? or PATIO it is, of course, as individual of a decision as we are to our world around us. Cost, Convenience, Time, these are some factors, others include: are you building these "Homey appendages" for YOU? Is this your FOREVER HOME? or is this a project like Dave and I are doing? Re-habbing while living here with the goal of selling in the very near future? THESE questions are HUGE and the answers are MAJOR determinants as to your ultimate choice.

Here are some fabulous decks to energize your creative self and get the imagination salivating!

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Here is an interesting fact about wood, and composite materials that become part of your decision making process:

Composite Decking

Composite decking is a decking material that is composed of several different recycled materials, though mainly hard plastic and wood. This type of product came about to extinguish the problems of typical wood decking. Wood fades, molds, cracks, splinters, and needs to be treated and sealed regularly for the deck to maintain its original look and feel. When composite decking materials came on the scene less than a decade ago, it curbed many of the problems typically associated with wood decks.

The Decking Advantage
This type of decking is a little more expensive up front than wood materials. Where you save money is that you won't have to treat a composite deck or porch, it won't crack or splinter (causing you to have to replace individual boards), and this material has exact, uniform coloring.

While a wood porch or deck might be cheaper to build, it will continually cost the homeowner more money each season in maintenance and repairs. With composites, a little washing every now and again it all it needs.

Composite Decking Brands
There are as many as 10 brands of composite decking materials on the market today. Some brands are best used for oceanside decks, as they are more resistant to the salt in the air; some are the most solid; some offer more colors; some have more unique railing systems. The choice is yours as to which brand fits your exact needs.

Problems with Composite Decking Materials
When composites came out they were touted as never staining, never needing maintenance, and never fading. Now that a few years have passed, homeowners have seen the real truth behind these claims. While no product will ever be able to replace the natural beauty of wood, since composite decking materials are manmade, they can also be man-improved.


Certain companies that make composite brands have been working round the clock to improve their product. These products are now more resistant to stains, they don't fade like wood, but they do need a little maintenance. Early on it was said that these materials would never grow mold. The fact is that any material can grow mold. That is just the nature of mold growth. As a result, all you need to do is wash your composite deck every so often to keep mold from latching on (which is a good little trick for your siding, too).

Other advances have been installing grain patterns in the decking to imitate the look of wood, as well as offering several more colors than was possible 5 years ago.

Final Thoughts on Composite Materials:

Composite decking companies are making a product that will save you money by eliminating maintenance, repairs, and finishes, while providing the same strength as wood decking. Plus this is great for the environment.


Types of Pressure Treated Wood

These types of native softwoods will be available as dimensional stock in 2x4's, 2x6's, 4x4'x, and 2x2's for rail components. 5/4x6's and 2x6's for decking. 2x8's, 2x10's, 2x12's for joists, stair stringers, and beams. 6x6's for support posts.

Southern Yellow Pine - SYP is the most common deck framing material in eastern United States. It is strong and stiff and has excellent characteristics for pressure treating. SYP logs yield a high proportion of sapwood which works well to absorb preservative. It has a reputation for being dimensionally unstable and prone to shelling

Ponderosa Pine - Pond Pine is less strong than SYP. Engelman Spruce Douglas fir - It is very strong and is less prone to warping and spitting than SYP. Predominant material found in western United States and Canada

Douglas fir South - Weaker than Douglas fir Larch - Often available in the western United States.

Hem-fir - It is weaker and more prone to warping and splitting. It is also the cheapest and one of the most commonly available


Cypress trees have been used for thousands of years across the world for many significant purposes. The oldest living Cypress tree is located in Iran and is over 5000 years old. The ancient Egyptians used Cypress for the pharaoh's caskets, and in the Middle Ages Cathedral doors were carved from Cypress. In Greek mythology Cypress is associated with Hades, the God of the underworld.

In America, early logging companies harvested Cypress from Southern swamps and used waterways to transport logs to mills. This lumber was used for building across the U.S. during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Cypress reached its peak for production in 1913 and has been steadily declining ever since. Occasionally logs would fall off rafts, become waterlogged and sink to the bottom. Many of these logs were naturally preserved and are being reclaimed from the bottoms of sawmill holding ponds since the late 1800's and early 1900's and are called "sinkers". The minerals from the silt and mud have caused the wood to take on an interesting tint over time. The colors can be a uniform hue or in contrasting streaks of olive, tan, and cinnamon. It is a high quality unique product with a great story and is clearly the most environmentally responsible choice. Every "sinker" log that is being recovered is saving a tree from being cut down.


In addition to determining DECK or PATIO? Some other thoughts to consider (rather you are considering building a deck for the first time? OR its time to spruce yours up?


The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention) estimates that 40% of all unintentional deaths around the home are due to falls. One in five injuries that require a visit to an emergency room is due to a fall. Over 50% of these are falls that happen at home and most of these are falls from stairs and steps.

Railings and guards are designed to keep people from falling and injuring themselves. There is no doubt that properly installed railings and guards could help to improve these statistics.

What's a railing and a guard?
A railing is something to grip onto when you go up and down a staircase. A guard is something that keeps you from falling off a staircase, a deck or balcony. On a staircase, sometimes the railing doubles as a guard.

Common Issues:

Missing Railings:
Sometimes a staircase has no railing at all. Ideally there should be a railing on any staircase that has more than two or three risers. the actual requirement depends on your area and when the home was built.

Missing Guard:
A common scenario is that there is no guard on an open staircase to a basement. Today, many home owners have turned their basement into a recreation area and an open staircase is now a danger. Ideally a railing and guard should be added.

Guard too Low:
In some cases, an old home will have very low guards on staircases or balconies. Ideally, a guard should be 36 inches high, unless it's part of a staircase handrail in which case 34 inches would be ideal. In many areas, if the drop is six feet or more, a guard of 42 inches is required.

Railing or guard has large openings:
Railings and guards may have vertical spindles (called balusters). The hope is that these will keep people from falling through. In some cases, the spacing between the spindles is so wide, a child could fall through. Most authorities believe that a maximum opening of four inches offers the best protection.


The alternative to a deck might be a patio, (of course as the imagination runs or the budget flows, there are unlimited possibilities including deck/patio combinations)

Here's a few ideas for patios:

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Remember, as I spoke about the possibilities for CURB APPEAL, ---by incorporating color, perrenials, planters, a special rock you collected on your trip to the Grand Canyon? you CAN spend oodles of dollars; OR you could put your "thinking cap on" and creative masterpieces with frugal budgets!

Dave and I leave you today with this EASY RECIPE for a brick patio. This can be accomplished in a day; and to make it really unique? When you passed by the demolition of that old building downtown? Did you stop and ask what they were doing with the old bricks? Perhaps you can buy some to either build the entire patio? OR incorporate bits and pieces of history within the patio design? 

Perhaps you create some concrete blocks that you allow your children or grandchildren to put their initials into before it dries? or a special date?  Maybe your have some leftover bricks and how about putting a firepit in the center of the patio? Great for those chillier nights, throw a couple logs in and roast marshmellows for somemores?  We just did that last weekend!


How to Build a Brick-on-Sand Patio

A brick patio or walkway in your yard is a perfect accent for your house, plus being highly practical. Such a project is easier than you might think-particularly because there is no mortar involved. It's all done with just sand and brick.


While it's natural to put a patio right behind your house, consider some other areas. Is there a large tree where grass refuses to grow or always looks scruffy? How about a corner of your garden that could become your special private retreat?

On graph paper, make a scale drawing of your yard, using ¼ inch for each foot. Put in the house, trees, walkways, garden-everything. Then think about how you want to use it: mostly for your family, for entertaining, or just sitting out there enjoying the view. If you have hot afternoon summer sun, plan for some shade. Even consider having two or three smaller patios linked by a wide, curving brick walkway.


The patio can be any outline you like. In fact, the more you avoid the ordinary square, the more visually intriguing your patio. Think round, octagon, hexagonal, curving or irregular. Draw the patio layout on your graph paper, fitting it into the overall design and layout of your yard.

The outline might reflect the shape of another building, such as surrounding an octagonal gazebo with a wide octagonal patio. Or if you have a simple shop or storage shed in the backyard, add an irregular patio to enhance it.

Walkways, which are constructed just like patios, can be laid out with two hoses. Just drag them around in curving patterns, at different widths, until you find what suits you. Walkways should be at least 3 feet wide, and 4 feet is better.

If you are putting the patio in a wet spot, or next to a downspout on the house, dig a ditch through the patio area first and install a flexible drain line in a gravel bed. Connect it directly to the downspout and carry it to a natural drainage area or make a French drain for it.


To calculate your patio's size in square feet, multiply its length times width. If it is irregular, divide it into sections, calculate each one, and then total them. Or just count the number of squares on your graph paper plan. Here are some other formulas:


· Circle patio: Find the area by squaring the radius and multiplying it by 3.1416

· Hexagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .866

• Octagonal patio: Find the area by squaring the short diameter and multiplying it by .828


(Forgetting your seventh grade math? Square a number by multiplying it by itself.)

Plan on five bricks per square foot. Multiply your square foot total by five to see how many bricks you will need.

Selecting Bricks and Sand

Local home improvement centers carry an assortment of bricks or paving blocks. The cheapest bricks, called paving bricks, are made from concrete. The most expensive are usually used bricks that still have some plaster or mortar on them to lend character. A nice alternative for patios is building bricks, which are rougher than the paving bricks and come in different shades of red and brown.

Bricks are heavy-about 500 to a ton. Since you will only be able to transport a few dozen at a time in the trunk of your car, ask the brick supplier to deliver.

Be sure to wear gloves while setting the bricks. They will quickly wear a blister on your fingers otherwise.

The other part of this patio equation is sand. You can buy packaged sand and haul it home, but for a project of any size, it takes a lot. Have it delivered from a sand and gravel yard, or go there and have them fill the back of a pickup.

How much sand will you need? It's difficult to provide close estimates as with bricks because commercial sand is always sold wet and weighs much more than dry sand. But you are going to need enough to cover the patio site 2 inches deep. A 12-foot square patio will need about a ton of sand.

Brick Patterns

There are a wonderful array of brick patterns to choose from. To experiment, buy a few dozen bricks of your choice and lay them out in different patterns for your patio or walkway. This allows you to adjust the width and length of the edging in advance so the bricks fit precisely. You also minimize cutting.

Some patterns will not require any cutting, others some. The diagonal herringbone requires the most cutting, but is particularly attractive.

Cutting Bricks

Experienced brick masons can cut a brick quite precisely with a single blow of their trowel, but we lesser mortals use a circular saw with an abrasive blade. This results in neat, clean cuts. Buy several blades because they wear quickly.

Without fail, wear safety glasses while cutting brick.

Patio Edging

An essential part of a brick-on-sand patio is the edging. That's what holds the bricks snugly in place. Without it, bricks work loose and sand dribbles away.

In planning your edging, decide if you want it flush with the ground so you can run a mower over it and any adjoining grass, or if you want it raised.

Here are some different edging types to consider:

· Treated lumber: Because the edging will be in the ground, use treated lumber or naturally decay resistant wood such as redwood or cedar. Old railroad ties also make excellent edging. To stabilize raised wood edging such as railroad ties, drill a 1/2-inch hole about a foot from each end and then drive a 2-foot-long piece of 1/2-inch diameter reinforcing bar through it into the ground.

· Bender board: This material, usually about 6 inches wide and a 1/4-inch thick, is perfect for curved areas. Put four or five of them together to beef up the edging. They are also good forms for raised concrete edging.

· Bricks on end: Dig a trench, set the bricks on end, and tamp the dirt around them.

· Concrete: You can dig a ditch in the ground as wide as you want the edging to be and at least 6 inches deep, then fill it with concrete and trowel the top smooth. When you dig away the dirt inside the perimeter, the exposed concrete becomes the border.

• Aluminum: Some home supply centers sell lengths of preformed aluminum edging that is held in place with steel pegs.


Once the edging is in place, excavate the interior of the patio or walkway to a depth of 5 inches. Use a flat-bottomed shovel to keep the base of the excavated area smooth and level.

Next, and importantly, put down a layer of special cloth available at most nurseries that allows water to seep through but prevents weeds from growing into your patio.

Lay down approximately 2 inches of sand over the entire area then walk on it and tamp it firmly. A length of 4-by-4 post makes an excellent tamper.

Leveling the Sand

The packed sand is then leveled with a screed. This is made from a straight 2-by-6 up to 8 feet long. If you have a narrow patio or sidewalk, the screed to fit just across that area. On each end, cut a notch about 3 inches long and 3 1/2-inches deep, or the depth of a brick.

Rest one end of the notched screed board on the edging and the other end on a temporary edging board. This temporary board must be parallel to the edging and the same height. Use a level on your screed board to check it.

Pull and work the screed board across the sand with the "ears" of the screed resting on the edging boards. As you drag, the screed will smooth and level the sand to a depth of 3 1/2-inches, about the thickness of a brick. If a low spot is left behind, add more sand and run the screed over it again.

When you have completed that section, you can start laying bricks even though you have not screeded the whole area.

Laying the Bricks

Fit the first brick snugly against the edging and then place each successive brick tightly against each other. Place each brick without sliding it or you will push a little ridge of sand between the bricks. You don't want any spaces between the bricks.

After you place each brick, push it down firmly or give it a rap with a rubber mallet or piece of wood to set it in the sand. Check that all the bricks are level as you proceed.

Continue laying your pattern over the screeded area. When you have to kneel on the recently placed bricks, use a scrap of plywood to distribute your weight more uniformly.

When the bricks reach the temporary screed board, move it over the same distance and screed the next section, with one end of the screed now resting on the newly placed bricks. Check again that everything is level.

Finishing the Patio

When all the bricks are down and even, sprinkle the surface with a generous layer of clean dry sand. The particles will fill the brick joints like little wedges and lock them in place. Here is a good place to use sacks of dry sand from the lumberyard. Or if you only have wet sand, spread it on the patio to dry for a day or two. Wet sand will not work its way between the bricks.

Once the sand is dry, sweep it back and forth. Sweep a lot! Let the sand remain on the bricks for a couple of days while you continue to walk on it and sweep. It takes awhile for the sand to fully settle into the joints.

Finally, sweep the bricks clean and admire your handiwork. Enjoy!

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