So, there’s this tree in my way…

Building a deck around a tree is not difficult and can really give your deck that “Wow” factor (plus avoiding that oh so un-eco-friendly solution of cutting the tree down!)


Your framing needs to be close enough to the tree to support the decking ends, yet far enough away so the tree has room to move (in the wind) and grow.  I keep the decking 2-3” away from a full grown tree so the framing should be 5”+/- away.

Any joists that run into the tree need to be headered off, this is similar to building in a stairwell opening in a floor system.

First, install your joists on layout except those that the tree location interferes with.

Second, install 2 pieces of blocking between the 2 joists on either side of the tree, one on the house side and one on the rim joist side. (You’ll want to double up this blocking if you’re spanning more than 4’)

Third, install the remaining joists on layout between the house ledger and the blocking.
Fourth, install shorty joists on layout on the outside edge of the tree from the 2nd piece of blocking to your rim joist.

Fifth, cut blocking w/ 45º angles and nail to interior corners of the box around the tree.

Tree is fully blocked and ready for decking

Your framing should now be within 5” of the tree on all sides.  (You may need to adjust your joist layout slightly or add additional blocking to keep the box within 5” of the tree).

I normally start at the house and work out so in this case, I lay down decking until the tree interrupts the course.

Decking Ends cut in contour of tree

Set the deck board down in place on the deck and trace a line following the tree’s contours on the board, keeping the final cut 2-3” away from the tree
Cut out the line using a jigsaw and clean up the edges w/ a router and 1/8” roundover bit.
Install the deck board.

Subsequent rows on either side of the tree get a similar treatment –

  • Rough-cut the end of the deck board to the tree,
  • Butt the rough cut up to the tree and trace the final cutline,
  • Cut the final line w/ a jigsaw, clean up w/ router and roundover bit,
  • Install the deck board keeping that 2-3” gap.

At each row, I pull measurements from both sides to make sure everything lines up on the far side of the tree.

When I get to the far side of the tree, I trace a final cut line on the full-length piece of decking, cut and install.

Continue on w/ your decking until you’re finished, install all handrails, clean up and voila!  You’ve now got a tree in your deck!


Flashing your projects (without getting arrested!)

Flashing your projects (without getting arrested!)

Flashing – this is what can make or break a deck’s lifespan.  And no, I’m not talkin’ about running around in a raincoat and little else!  Flashing tape and/or metal flashing will divert water away from critical points on your deck, preserving the wood and maintaining a solid structure.
The three main areas I’ll cover here are beams, ledgers and handrail post blocking.

Beams –

If you build East of the Mississippi, chances are you use doubled or tripled  2x as your support beams.  These are just beams built up by nailing multiple 2x members together.  Any time you nail 2 pieces of wood together, you create a spot for water and debris to sit on…and eventually rot out.  I pulled a built up beam apart to find this amount of rot between the plys.

One problem is you can’t see the rot as it’s hidden between the 2x plys.  It will continue to degrade until one day, the beam fails – most likely when there’s a hefty load of people on the deck.

Solution? Run a strip of 4” wide flashing tape across the top of the doubled beam (6” wide for triples) to prevent water from seeping down between the plys.  To eliminate topside penetrations, use hurricane straps such as Simpson H1s or H2.5s to secure your joists to the beam w/o running nails through the flashing tape.
For those builders who use 4x solid beams, the use of flashing tape will prevent debris from sitting on the beam top, hastening rot.


One additional thing I do is build ‘hats’ out of metal flashing for the tops of my 6×6 support posts.  This keeps water from wicking into the exposed end grain and rotting out the tops of my posts.
One important thing to note – if you use metal flashing (aluminum) w/ ACQ pressure treated wood, you MUST put a barrier between them.  The chemicals in the ACQ pressure treated wood will eat the aluminum flashing in short order.  What I do is skin the bottom of the metal w/ flashing tape so the metal doesn’t touch the pt wood.  If you have access to MCQ treated wood, this isn’t an issue for you.

Ledgers –

Can NOT stress the critical nature of this connection ENOUGH.  95% of the deck failures you read about across the country happen because the ledger failed for one reason or another.   I will cover proper ledger connections in another blog, but for now, let’s talk flashing.

I flash ledgers in a multi-part process.
1. Install Z-flashing over top edge of cut house siding (beneath ledger board)
2. Install flashing tape over top of Z metal and up the side of the house to top line of ledger.
3. Under French and sliding glass doors, I install metal flashing and caulk to seal that area from water intrusion.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled off old ledgers to find the house wall rotted out under the French or sliding glass door!  Not a pretty sight!

4. Install ledger board.
5. Install 4” flashing tape over top edge of ledger board and up the house wall under the house wrap.

Handrail Blocking –

OK, one more thing on flashing…if you’re building a deck where the handrail posts will be top-mounted (usually in a metal post situation), you’ll want solid blocking under the handrail post location.  That way, the lag screws will have a large chunk of wood to bite into, providing a secure connection for the post.Again, you’ve got wood nailed right next to wood so… flash that sucka!

Stylin’ Decks – Using non-wood decking to create multi-tone projects

In addition to qualities such as decreased maintenance, scratch resistance and mold/mildew resistance, non-wood decking also allows you to create multi-colored decks. This opens up a whole new realm of style for your next outdoor project.
Wood decks have long been a single color simply because it’s wood and also because it’s too difficult to attempt to stain it multiple colors. With the advent of color choices in non-wood decking, that mindset can be challenged.

Mix up colors in a single brand and line of decking to make your next project ‘pop!’

BORDERS – High end deck builders offer the option of installing border boards around the deck perimeter to hide end cuts and give a more “finished” appearance.

STAIR RISERS & FASCIA – Another option is changing up the color in your vertical surfaces.

HANDRAILS – Some non-wood decking manufacturers are now offering mix-n-match handrail kits w/ balusters in one color and rails/posts in another. Barring that, you can always custom order your own rail parts in the desired colors.

SEAM BOARDS – When a deck is longer than 20’, an alternative to random butt joints is to run a seam board down the middle of the deck, perpendicular to the deck boards. If you’re using different colored perimeter boards, use that same color for the seam boards. Seam boards require extra framing, which will be covered in another blog.

PINSTRIPING – This is a new effect that I invented! At least, I’ve never seen it on any deck or picture before…
Rip a deck board down to 1 1/2″ and screw it (every 8″) to the side of a perimeter board to create a pinstripe effect on your deck. Position the ripped edge against the side of the perimeter board so the finished edge is showing at the gap.