Anyone Can Build a Deck… Right?

Anyone Can Build a Deck… Right?

In terms of carpentry, decks are relatively simple. However, that does not mean than anyone should build a deck.  We see a lot of poorly built decks, many of which create a good deal of damage even beyond the deck itself.  We have all heard of those tragic events of a deck or balcony failing, leading to death. Some of the more common mistakes we see are poor design, improper connection to the house, undersized framing, improperly built and unsafe railings, failure to properly flash and unsafe stairs.  At the very least, these can reduce the durability of the deck. They can also lead to serious injury, lawsuits and damage to the structure of the home.

None of this is to discourage the experience of the the do-it-yourselfer from taking on a deck project.  Yet, it is strongly encouraged to do the research necessary to build the project properly. And, of course, if you would like a beautifully designed, safe and long-lasting deck, we would be happy to help you.

Yes, we do more than Kitchens, Baths and Additions. Through the twenty plus years we have been in business we have designed and built many decks. Founder, Hugh Stearns’ first job in construction was building decks when he was 15-years-old. There is a host of materials to consider for your deck.

The design of a deck should fit the style of the home and provide an invitation outdoors.  In addition, the design should consider existing landscaping and site orientation. Also, it should consider the most frequent use of the deck. Is it intended to be a quiet out of the way retreat or a gathering place for entertaining? And, of course, the only thing better than a well crafted deck, is a screened in porch.

Smart Choices for Bathroom Flooring

Tile may be the traditional bathroom choice for most, but it’s not the only flooring type that performs well in a wet environment. Like any other flooring, bathroom flooring should be chosen with style, durability, and comfort in mind. A bathroom floor must be able to handle moisture and humidity from daily use and the appearance of sudden leaks. Choosing the right bathroom floor that can handle the required amount of water that sneaks its way onto your floor is the first hurdle that you will have to jump. It’s normal for a certain amount water to end up on the floor. Wet spots are usually caused by drips that occur as you get out of the shower or from the occasional overspray. These minor mishaps can be easily cleaned up but it is the month and the years of the small beads of water dripping around the rim of a shower base that could turn into a nightmare for any home owner as the years roll by. Also the bathroom is the one place in the house which contains the most plumbing, making it the place more likely to spring a leak.  In addition to the water that you can see, you also have to take into account the water that you cannot see – humidity, which affects some types of flooring more than others. To help you think about the right type of bathroom flooring for your home here are a few choices.


Tile is most likely the first option that comes to mind when you think of bathroom flooring and for good reason. It is the most popular and most commonly used flooring type. Its popularity stems from the fact that it can handle water well and comes in almost an endless variety of styles. You can chose from ceramic, porcelain, natural stone, or even glass. One downside to tile is that it is tough on your back if you stand on it for a long period. Also, in a room, where you are often barefoot, it can be cold. Other important factors to consider when shopping for tile are porosity and slip resistance. The higher the porosity of the tile, the more water it is likely to be absorb. The determining factors are the body of the tile and the surface of the glaze if used.

Grout Matters when installing Tile:

No matter how thin a grout line is it still tends to catch dirt. To reduce the appearance of dirt as much as possible make sure to choose a grout with a low absorption rate. The lower the absorption rate, the more resistant the grout is to staining and discoloration.


Linoleum was largely ignored for much of the 1960’s all the way up to the 1990’s. However it has made a comeback in the last 15 years, due largely to its status as a green product. Modern linoleum is often made of all natural products such as linseed oil, wood flour, limestone, etc., which are biodegradable and have little or no VOC (volatile organic compound) emission. It can be installed using solvent-free adhesive and is naturally water resistant. Linoleum is also homogeneous throughout, which means that its appearance show less wear and tears. It requires only a little sweeping and occasional mopping.


Another type of flooring that many people do not know exists as a bathroom flooring choice is cork. Cork flooring is made from bark that is harvested from the Cork Tree (Quercus Suber), which regenerates after the harvest. The bark can be re-harvested every 9-10 years without damaging the tree. Regulated forests, mainly in Spain &Portugal, are the producers of cork. Unlike bamboo, cork is a true green building choice. We at Stearns Design-Build recommend cork flooring due to its, sustainability, rot resistance, comfort, dent resistance, durability, and low acoustics. It is a healthy choice for the environment and people with no VOCs and it is a natural insect repellent with anti-microbial properties. Cork is also easy to maintain – a damp mop is all that is needed for efficient cleaning.


Today’s vinyl can imitate almost any bathroom flooring choice you can imagine in both appearance and texture. Vinyl flooring is composed of multiple layers: a wear layer, a decorative layer, a foam core, and a backing made of either felt or fiberglass. Fiberglass backing is generally the best choice for bathrooms because the felt backing reacts to water. The Fiberglass backing has a layer of vinyl on the bottom, making the product completely waterproof. Maintenance for vinyl is minimal, only requiring sweeping and mopping and the use of some manufacturer recommended products.


Another durable and stylish choice for bathroom flooring that has become a trend in recent years is concrete flooring. Concrete flooring lends a modern, industrial look, which is quickly catching on. It can be poured using local ingredients lending to its green appeal. Concrete also handles water well if sealed properly, which is an ongoing maintenance issue. On the other hand, concrete almost always feels cold to the touch. Daily maintenance for concrete flooring is minimal, requiring only minor sweeping and some mopping when needed. But you should check the sealer of the floor every year. If a drop of water beads up, the floor is well sealed, but if it absorbs into the concrete, apply a fresh coat of sealer. This rule of thumb applies to all flooring.

Wood, Plastic or Composite: A Customer’s Guide to Decking

Composites are the new face of decking The most notable changes in the decking market have come with the creation of synthetic decking materials. Most synthetics require less maintenance than wood, but are far from perfect. They are more expensive than basic wood decking materials and although much more weather proof than wood, they are not immune to weather damage. No decking is perfect, but the variety of natural wood and synthetic products on the market today are providing both home builders and home owners a longer list of possibilities and options than ever before.


Wood appears to be America’s deck material of choice, making up more than three-quarters of decks built in the United States. It includes a broad range of choices form pressure treated softwoods to imported exotic and domestic species of wood that are often naturally more resistant to insect and moisture damage. The cost and durability tends to vary quite a bit. Wood is a renewable resource, so, from a green perspective that is a positive. However most of the best wood for exterior use comes from the rain forests, which from a green perspective, we strongly discourage.

Pressure treated soft wood

Southern yellow pine treated with chemical preservatives is fairly inexpensive and widely available in the states. This type of decking is available in a variety of grades and standard lengths. Freshly pressure treated wood has a characteristic green hue that fades with exposure to rain and sunlight to brown and then to gray. It can also twist and develop checking or cracks in the board with exposure to weather. A regular application of deck stain or a wood preservative can extend the life of the deck and give it a more polished appearance.

Pros: Natural wood; widely available; some grades are inexpensive.

Cons: Relatively soft; clear grades are expensive; needs finish to maintain color and minimize checking or cracks in the boards of the deck; the treatment process uses chemicals that are unhealthy and not good for the environment.

Locally Found: Many types of pressure treated wood decking are found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

Naturally Resistant Wood

Some species of North American softwood are naturally resistant to decay and insects without chemical treatment. They include redwood and several types of cedar wood. These types of wood are especially soft and as a result are not as scratch and damage resistant as other types of wood. They range in color from deep red to light yellow, and weather to gray. Though more resistant, these species are not much of a match for out hot humid climate.

Pros: Natural wood; widely available; some grades are inexpensive.

Cons: Relatively soft; clear grades are expensive; needs finish to maintain color and minimize checking or cracks in the boards of the deck.

Locally Found:  Many types of naturally resistant wood decking are found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

Imported Exotics

An array of tropical hardwoods are imported from South America, Africa and the Far East and are used for decking material. Exotic woods are much harder than weather resistant domestic species, making them much more impact and scratch resistant. Many of these types of wood are extremely durable, requiring little to no maintenance. These types of wood are typically clear and knot free. They come in colors that are often rich, reddish brown that fade with exposure to a silvery gray. The most recent addition to the selections of exotic wood is bamboo decking. Technically a grass rather than a type of wood it has gained popularity in the recent years. None of the exotic woods can be considered green as they travel a long distance to get to us and they contribute to the reduction of the rain forest.

Pros: Dense, hard, resistant to rot and insects without chemical treatment with a dramatic color and grain.

Cons:  Expensive and planet killing.

Locally Found: Exotic decking woods are seldom found locally and can be ordered only through various online lumber retailers.

Non-chemically treated wood

There are several types of wood decking that are specially designed to offer protection against insect and weather damage without the use of chemicals. One type is thermally modified wood which is heated to temperatures up to 500°F, a process which makes wood sugar inedible to mold, fungi, and insects. The process also improves the stability of the wood by lowering water absorption. This type of decking needs no chemical additives but UV resistant finish helps to preserve the original color of the wood.

Pros: Nontoxic, noncorrosive, long warranties, more stable and resistant to insects and fungi.

Cons: Expensive and limited availability.

Locally Found: Non-chemically treated wood is seldom found locally and can be ordered only through various online lumber retailers.


Although wood makes up over three quarters of the decks built in The United States, more than any other type of material, the number of man-made substitutes has expanded into a variety of choices. All synthetic decking are designed to be low-maintenance alternatives to real wood that does not decay, split, bend, or is vulnerable to insect damage .

Wood Plastic/Composites

Many composites are made out of polypropylene or polyethylene, a mix of wood and plastic. The plastic used in the composite decking material is often recycled and is somewhat soft. The wood/plastic blends were supposed to overcome problems associated with wood decking, but it too can support the growth of mold and sometimes even rot.

Pros: insect resistant, low maintenance, resists checking and splintering, and often made from recycled material.

Cons: May support mold and mildew and the color may fade.

Locally Found:  Some types of wood plastic/composite decking can be locally found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.

All Plastic Decking

Wood free synthetic decking is made from a variety of plastics including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene and polyethylene. Different types of plastics contain different properties for example high-density polyethylene is highly flexible and resistant to high impact. Wood free plastics don’t require any maintenance beyond some light cleaning. On the down side, some types of all plastic decking have the distinctive look of plastic.

Pros: Low maintenance, fade and scratch resistant, and splinter free.

Cons: More expensive than composites and some have the look of plastic.

Locally Found:  Some types of all plastic decking can be locally found at your local Lowes, Home Depot’s, or McCoy’s hardware stores.



You have a layout of your tile project on paper now it is time to prepare the surface to receive the tile.


If you are setting tile to a concrete slab, you will want to make sure that the surface is clean and dust free. In new construction concrete is seldom covered to protect it from drywall mud, paint, and other debris.  So, depending on where you are laying tile, this could be a fairly involved process. Most residues can be mostly removed with a floor scraper. To remove concrete residue such as small pieces or drips stuck to the slab use a cement brick, a coarse stone with a handle. Always mop the concrete before beginning to get as much fine dust up as you can.


Use at least a 4-foot straight edge to check for high and low spots.  Mark these spots. The low spots can be filled with self-leveling cement made for this purpose. Check the floors again.  If there are persistent high spots, a different cement will need to be used to float them out.

If there are cracks in the slab, a crack separation membrane can be put down.  This is a mesh material that helps prevent the tile from cracking. Tile is brittle and here in Bryan and College Station our clay soils move a great deal. So, no one can guarantee against tile cracking, but a crack separation membrane will help hedge the bet.

Wood Sub-floors

It is important to make sure that floor joists are spaced, at the most, 16” on center and that they are properly sized for the span that they are crossing. Deflection in your joist or subfloor will cause the tile to crack.    Wider spacing will require additional sub-floor or bracing.  As joists on 16”centers are most common, we will proceed with that assumption.  There will need to be a minimum of a 1 ¼”sub floor consisting of a layer of tongue and grove plywood and cement backer board.  If the area is to be wet there will also need to be a shower pan.  Plywood sub-floor should be both glued and screwed to the joists.


All previous flooring and debris will need to be removed before putting down cement backer board.  The floor will need to be checked for high and low spots using a straight edge that is at least four foot long.  Floors can be straitened using a self-leveling compound or by carefully shimming the plywood sub-floor.

Backer Board

When putting down cement backer board, it is a good idea to dry fit the entire floor before beginning to set the backer board to the plywood. Leave a 1/8” gap at all edges.  Once everything is dry fit it is time to put the backer board down.  Start by spreading thin set and scratching it with a ¼” by ¼” notched trowel. Set the backer board into the thin set and screw it according to the recommended screw pattern using the recommended screws.  Use a straight edge as you go to insure that the backer board is going down smoothly. Using mesh tape and thin set, float all of the seams between pieces of backer board.



In the Brazos Valley interior residential walls are almost always wood studs with 1/2 inch drywall. In homes built before 1960 tile will often have been set to what is called a mud bed.  A mud bed is a layer of cement over felt paper with mesh in it.  This layer was typically between ¾”and and 1” in thickness. Starting in the late 60s it became very common to set tile directly to drywall.  When demolishing old tile it is always a good idea to get all the way down to the studs.  Once the studs are exposed use an 8 foot straight edge placed on the surface of several studs at a time to check for straightness. If the studs are bowed, take the time to straighten them. It is also a good idea to check corners for square so that adjustments can be made prior to the tile going on.


Once your framing is straight, you are ready to start preparing the substrate.  The first layer should be30 # felt paper attached to the studs working your way up from the bottom overlapping each subsequent row The concrete backer board should be put on with noncorrosive screws placed every 5” on the studs. Take your time to make sure the screw set neatly with no part protruding from the backer board.  Leave a 1/8”gap between boards.  Tape the boards with fiber tape and float with thin set. Also float over the screws.


Life cycle Assessments

One of the key tools in Green building is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA.) LCA is a technique to assess the environmental impacts associated with each product, process, or service, by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs to a project;
  • Assessing the aging process associated with the input;
  • Evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs through their lifespan;
  • Interpreting the results to help make an informed decision.

Key advantages

  • Quantitative accounting of environmental impacts;
  • Exposes trade‐offs not found through single attributes;
  • Supports holistic design.

This process is often referred to as cradle to grave or cradle to cradle. The idea is to look at a products full impact though its life. Cradle to grave is an assessment until a material is disposed of.  Cradle to cradle is and assessment of a material until it is reborn thorough reuse or recycling.

This way of looking at something does not only apply to things like kitchen sinks, counter tops and floor covering.  It can apply to all aspects of how a building is used.  For example one important evaluation is how people will age in place in a home.  This can be a more literal look at a cradle to grave assessment.  It is well worth considering the lifecycle of people in a home. This can impact sustainability, finances and quality of life.   Creating a situation in which people can live independently, or with assistance, in their residence helps reduce cost, increase independence. There are many factors such as size of the home, number of steps and stories and of course more obvious things like grab bars.

Whether we are building a custom home or remodeling an existing home, putting ourselves in the frame of mind to think through the various life cycles involved in a house can help us create a home the works well for the environment and the people living in the home.