Our Deck is Officially Legit

Back in May when we decided to redo our deck, I didn’t know that we needed a permit. After we ripped out the boards and the railings, my wife came to me and said, “We need a permit.” I said that’s ridiculous. We’re just replacing the boards. We’re not modifying anything. I emailed our county to ask and she was right. We needed a permit because we replaced woods with composites. I was like, “Oh shit!” So I started the application process and paid the fees. I followed the instructions and submitted my drawing for the deck I made in Illustrator.

While waiting for the permit, we continued to rebuild the deck. I couldn’t wait to get the permit because it will slow down the progress and I already took three weeks of vacation time to do the project. Every week, I received a rejection email from the county with a cryptic explanation: “You need to draw your deck on the plat. Your drawing needs to scale.” Week after weeks, I kept getting rejections. I gave up and asked my engineering wife to give it a shot. She did it one time and it was accepted. Our permit came when we already finished the deck.

The whole process was so stressful. We built the deck without permit. Although I followed the county’s specs and requirements, I worried that we might have to break down the deck if the inspection failed. For weeks, I kept pushing off making the inspection schedule. I finally made an appointment for yesterday. Because of the coronavirus, the inspection was conducted virtually through FaceTime. The process took about a minute. The inspector asked me what type of fastening we used and how high is the deck above the ground. That was it. He passed our inspection.

I was under stress for the past few months for nothing. The whole process was not bad at all. I should have just chilled out. I still am stressed the fuck out, but at least I can check one stressful item off my head. Let’s celebrate with dim sum.

Replacing Shut-Off Valves

Last year, we had a plumbing inspection by Home Service Doctors. The plumber recommended that we replace shut-off valves. He estimated a few hundred dollars for the three that were worn out and no longer shutting off water. I declined the service because I wanted to replace all of them (eleven total) and that would have cost me at least a grant. I thought I could replace them myself.

This weekend, I decided to take on this project. After looking up YouTube for instructions, which were straightforward, I went to Home Depot to pick up 11 one-forth-turn angle valves. Saturday morning, my wife and I dropped the kids over at my sister-in-law’s house so we could shut off our main water valve. Taking off the shut-off valves were as easy it looked on YouTube. Unfortunately, the most challenging part, which did not emphasized in a few videos, was how to remove the compression sleeves. We ended up buying a compression sleeve and faucet puller. It worked for some sleeves, but not for others, especially the valves underneath the sink with pop-up drains in the way. For those, I just left the old nuts and sleeves on and just replace the valves. If I have to do it again, I would do it that way instead of trying to pull off the sleeves. Initially, I was going to replace all eleven valves, but I only did nine for the three bathrooms. Each bathroom has two valves for the sink and one for the toilet. These are the critical ones anyway. I didn’t replace the valves under the kitchen sink and the bathroom in the basement. It already took the whole day with just the three bathrooms.

After new the valves were in place, we turned the water back on and that when the horror began. Water sprayed and leaked everywhere. The project turned into a disaster. One particular valve had water came out of the pipe. I might have pulled the sleeve too hard that I cracked part of the pipe where it was soldered. It was already late into the day. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. We called it the night. We went over our my sister-in-law’s house to have dinner and to sleep. I was half dead. I couldn’t even eat dinner. My mood was gloomy. I crashed on the the sleeping bag in the living room with my kids. Fortunately, my wife was not as worried as me.

Sunday morning, I woke up with a mild headache. I did not want to continue the job. I wanted to call the a plumber, but my wife was confident that we could do it. Apparently, she did some research on repairing the pipes using SharkBite materials, which do not require soldering. Of course, I went along with her. We let the kids stayed with my mother-in-law at my sister-in-law’s house and we headed to Lowe’s to get more materials. We went back to our house and we went straight to work. I cut the the drywall where the pipe was leaked. It turned out the pipe was more complicated than we thought. It has an elbow connect to a tee fitting, which meant we have to replace both. I gave up and called the plumber guy who used to remodeled my sister-in-law’s bathrooms. Unfortunately, he was unavailable. My wife went back to Lowe’s to pick up more materials to replace both the elbow and the tee while I stayed home tried to tighten up the screws as much as I could to stop the leaks. After tighten up the one with the leaking pipe, I turn the water on to test and to my surprise there was no leak. The pipe never cracked. The leaked was from the screw, but the water shot out too strong that it gave the impression the the pipe was leaked. My mood changed immediately. My headache was gone. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife the good news.

When she came back from Lowe’s, she also brought back a few SharkBite’s shut-off valves so we can try out. With the two valves that I could not get the leak to go away, I took them out and replaced the with SharkBite’s. When she installed SharkBite’s valves, I was amazed how simple it was. She simply marked the copper pipe and pushed the valve all the way in to meet the mark and that was it. There was no leaking and no tightening. If I could have done this project all over again, I would just go with SharkBite’s valve. It saves time and hassle. Actually, I did come across in my research about the SharkBite, but I ignored it. It seemed too good to be true. Now I am beating myself up for not considering it.

Once again, my wife saved the day. This lady is amazing. When I am pessimistic, she’s optimistic. With our next project, I will run by her first before I do anything. I told her, I am just going to be her machinery—a pretty bad one. Nevertheless, I’ll just do whatever she tells me to do. Unlike me, she does much better research and she does not feel down when things go wrong.

We dodged another bullet. I thought it would be a disaster, but it turned out fine. I truly despise house maintenance. It takes time away from my days off to relax. It also takes time away from our kids. I told my wife that for next project we will contract out, but she wanted me to do it and we will include the kids so they can learn to do as well. They need to learn how to do fix things around the house. It will be beneficial to them. I have to agree with her. In retrospect, I could have learned so much from my dad. He built houses, theaters, and temples before he retired. And yet, I know nothing about construction or house maintenance.

Fixing Hardwood Floor Gap

Our hardwood floor had a huge gap between the boards. This ingenious video from Adriel Denae shows how to do it quickly and cheaply. Thanks, Adriel!

Redoing Our Deck (Part 7: Final)

We did it. The re-decking project is now completed. It is not perfect, but I am satisfied with the final product. I am glad it is now done. It feels like tons of weight has lifted off my chest, literally. The project was a great learning experience for me and it has definitely boosted my confidence. As someone who loves to build virtual homes more than real homes, I came to realize that I am not as bad as I thought when I have to get my hands dirty.

Of course, I could not have done it without my wife who has more confidence in me than I do in myself. She knew I could do it and had been there with me every step of the way. She researched, made suggestions, did all the calculations, and made me redo parts that weren’t quite right. Sure, we had some tense moments, but we communicated and worked things out. I loved our collaboration. We didn’t move mountains, but we accomplished something together. I have nothing in common with Barack Obama, except that we both married up. He became the president of the United States, but I have a new deck.

I also could not have done this without the help of my mother-in-law. She took care of the kids so we can focus on this project. Although I took a week staycation, I did not get to spend much time with the kids. I felt guilty letting them spend lots of time on their digital devices. They helped out a bit in the beginning when we broke down the deck, but they rather stayed inside when the weather was getting hot. I don’t blame them. Đạo, our oldest son, helped out a bit here and there, but he also was tied up with video games. The good thing is that I still have to take another week of vacation time by the end of this month. With social distancing still in effect, I am not sure what we can do, but I am fine with just staying home, reading, blogging, and playing with the kids so my wife can focus on her work. Also thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband for lending us the tools, which saved us quite a bit of expenses.

The biggest motivation for redoing the deck ourselves was cost saving. We could not afford $15,000 to $20,000 to hire the professionals. Initially I budgeted $900 for the materials if we simply replaced old woods with new woods. Then we decided on composite materials and my wife estimated $4,000 and she was close. My rough tracking is around $3,332. You can see the break down at the end of this document.

The project took us three weeks to complete. It was not as hard as I thought. It just takes time, patience, and many trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. If you’re thinking of redoing the deck yourself, you can do it. I am not even a good handyman and I could pull it off. For resources, I find Lowe’s video and instructions to be easy to follow. YouTube also has plenty of good instructional video.

As I was working on this project, I thought of my father-in-law. I wish he were still here with us. I would have learned so much from him. I still recall one time he asked me to help him fix a wood gate when I came over to his house. At the time my wife and I were still dating. He knew his daughter would be in trouble if she married someone who couldn’t even hit a nail’s head straight on with a hammer.

Even today I still can’t hit a nail straight on its head; therefore, I preferred screws. Even with a screw, I stripped its head at times. Thankfully I have his daughter to guide me through. I want to dedicate this project to my father-in-law. Rest in peace, dad!

Total Cost

  • $3,332


  • Materials for posts: $255
  • Seal tapes: $110
  • Wood filler $10
  • Water sealer for post: $15

Deck Boards

  • Fiberon composite decking: $1320 (including Trex’s hidden fasteners)


  • Fiberon railing system: $870 (including sleeves, base mountings, and caps)


  • Fiberon composite decking: $180
  • Wood: $70
  • Nails & brackets $60
  • Grass: $50
  • Concrete blocks: $40


  • Trim $200
  • Fairfax County Permit: $112
  • Wrecking Claw: $50
  • Triangle rule: $10
  • Drill head: $10

Redoing Our Deck (Part 6)

The stairway has been a challenge for us. It took two days for my wife and I to debate, calculate, and strategize. According to the Virginia Residential Code, a stair with a height of 30 inches or higher required guards and with four or more risers required a handrail. Our stair is 27 inches; therefore, we don’t need guards. If we can make our stair with 3 risers, we don’t need a handrail either. Because the maximum height of a riser is 8.25 inches and we our riser 8 inches, we still have 3 inches extra.

Our choices were between a four-step stringer or two boxes stacked on top of each other. We decided on the boxes. Each box will be 8 inches tall. We just need two boxes plus the riser from the deck. For the remaining 3 inches, we’re going to fill up with dirt and flattening out our yard. We wanted to make the boxes a bit bigger and wider so we can also use them as a bench to chill out or for me to have a drink or two.

With my wife’s engineering mind, she did all the calculations for the stair. I just had to follow her direction. She is a tough boss with uncompromising inspection and attention to details, but I wouldn’t get too far without her. I had started to create the framing for the bottom box she had drawn out. Tomorrow I will finish up the top box. Once that’s done, I’ll place both boxes on concrete deck blocks and attach them to the deck. It is a simple concept, but takes a lot of materials. I hope we can wrap up this project by the end of this week. I really miss reading. I can’t wait to pick up Vietnamese books I have reserved at our public libraries.

Redoing Our Deck (Part 5)

We wrapped up the railings today. Although the Fiberon’s ArmorGuard rail kit made the installation easy, I couldn’t have done it without my wife. She did all the measuring to make sure I didn’t mess up. We worked together to and got the job done. I am happy with the result.

We will be tackling the stairs next. I am not sure what to do yet. I am trying to keep it to only three steps so that we don’t have to include the handrail. I also wanted to make the stairs wider than the original and now I realized that I to have have four stringers instead of two. The original stairs didn’t even have a foundation or footing. It seems to be a bit more challenging than I thought.

Once the stairs are done, we just need to add some finished details including the trim board and the post caps. I hope to wrap up this project in the next few days or the end of this week the latest.

Redoing Our Deck (Part 4)

We finished installing all the Fiberon boards. Unfortunately, we faced two issues: functional and aesthetic. When I cut the boards around the posts, I didn’t leave space for the boards to expand when the weather changes. I should have read up on it before installing the boards. I don’t have a problem with taking those boards out and trimming them some more because they seem to be crucial for the longevity of the deck.

The second issue is absolutely unnecessary and my wife and I discussed from the beginning. I was cleared that we were not going to cut boards since they fit our deck. They were not perfect, but very close. Initially, she agreed and now she changed her mind after we screwed in all the boards. I don’t mind that all the boards are not lining up in a straight line. It gives a feel of handmade quality. Unfortunately, my wife is absolutely adamant and wanted to cut the boards so that they are all even. We argued a bit over it. I am frustrated with her stubbornness. If we messed up with the cutting, we will throw $1,500 down the drain and restart it. Then again, I don’t want to hear her complaining for the next ten years that I didn’t do the right thing. I cut corners by not cutting the edges.

So now we have to unscrew all the boards and re-shift them so that they are flushed on one side and then prepare to cut on the other. Fortunately, the Trex Universal Hidden Fasteners make unscrewing and realigning the boards easy. Still, we now slowing down the progress. I have to take vacation time next week (or I will lose it) to work on the deck. I hope that we can wrap up this project by next week.

Redoing Our Deck (Part 3)

Installing the 4×4 posts was the most physical demanding part of redoing our deck. I had to drill, hammered, and added anchors to secure the posts. Eight posts took me three days to complete. By the last two posts, I was exhausted.

Over the weekend, my wife and I went to Home Depot to buy deck boards. We settled on Fiberon. We also bought Trex Universal Hidden Fasteners. The cost was almost $1,500. Because we switched to composite, the materials are a bit more than what I had expected. The board installing took two days. I worked mostly with my wife, but the kids helped screwing the nails as well. The only painful part was cutting up the boards around the posts. Other than that, the hidden fasteners worked very well.

Next, we will work on the the railings, stairs, and trims. We are doing each part at a time instead of planning ahead. This way it gives us the time to focus on each section and that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. The only issue is that we just have to make many trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot for materials and tools. Fortunately, my brother-in-law has almost any tool I would need. He loaned me seven types of saws. Some of them I don’t even know how to use. I can now use the table saw, circular saw, and jigsaw with confidence. I am actually not as bad as I thought with home improvements.

Redoing Our Deck (Part 2)

With the help of my two older sons and their cousin, we pulled out all the deck boards and railings over the weekend. On Monday, I woke up at seven in the morning and went to Lowe’s to pick up 4×4 pressure-treated timbers and other materials to continue the project. I didn’t get to work on the deck because I had to switch to my full-time job at 9:30 am.

I was going to jump back to the deck project after work, but my wife insisted that I needed to get the permit from the county. Instead of doing physical labor, I called the county and emailed about the process. I spent time reading and gathering information. I went ahead and submitted my application and paid the fee. I also submitted the paperworks I think they needed. I hope the process will work out smoothly. I am not doing anything much really. I am just replacing the woods.

This morning at 7 am I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot to pick out more materials. I didn’t get to work on the deck as I had planned in the morning so I did some after work hours. I cut up 4×4 timbers. I am hoping to install the posts tomorrow morning. The project is so far so good. I am not in a rush, but I wanted to keep the project moving.

I debated whether I should go with wood or composite. I kept switching back and forth trying to figure out which method is simpler. Right now I am leaning toward composite. I really don’t like the idea of maintaining the wood every summer. We’ll see!

Redoing Our Deck (Part 1)

Our deck has been neglected. In the past 12 years since we moved in, I stained it once. Needless to say, the woods have been badly deteriorated. I have been wanting to redo it every summer, but I rather spend time with the kids and go on vacation.

Now that the kids stay home and spend more time on the deck, I don’t want them to get splinters. It has come to the point where I have to do something about it. In the past couple of days, my wife and I had been discussing this project. We went from repainting to replacing, from woods to composites, and doing ourselves to hiring professionals. We looked up YouTube videos and did some research.

I wanted to get a few estimates and one of our neighbors had just completed his deck. He hired a professional company for $20,000. He informed me that the starting price is $15,000. I thanked him for sharing the information. Dropping fifteen to twenty grants for a deck is just too much for me. I don’t see it as a necessary spending, especially at the time when people struggle to pay their bills. If I could have it my way, I would rather do away with the damn deck.

After examining the structure of our deck carefully, the frame is still in good shape. I just need to replace all the boards and the railings. Although I am not a handyman and I have low confidence when it comes to home improvement, I think I can pull this off.

I went to my brother-in-law’s house to borrow a few electric saws. Then I went to Home Depot to pick up a Wrecking Claw for $50. This tool made removing boards painless. In half a day, we pulled up half of the decks already. My sons used it to help me pull up the nails. I used the saws to cut off the railings. Tomorrow we will finish up pulling out all the woods.

My calculation for the woods would be about $500. I am sure my work won’t be as nice as the professional, but I can save $14,500. Why do these companies charge so much? With the tools and the materials available from Home Depot and Lowe’s, doing it yourself seems possible if you are willing to do it. Even if I don’t want to do it myself, I have no choice, but to do it myself. I just can’t justify the cost for hiring a professional, especially for something that I don’t think necessary.

What about when people hire me to create a professional website? I don’t charge $15,000 if I could do the job for $5,000. I assume why my freelance is failing. I don’t feel good overcharging my clients. In contrast, companies do not feel bad overcharging me.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law hired a contractor to build a patio. I am not sure how she found him, but she complained that she could not find any information on his work. She advised him that he should have a website showcasing his projects then she recommended me. I came and talked to him about it. I quoted him around $2,000 for a simple website with work samples, testimonials, information about his services and his company, and of course contact information. Unfortunately, he told me he could not afford it. He charged my sister-in-law $40,000 for the job and he could not afford $2,000 for his business website? I don’t get it.

I am not sure where my ranting is heading, I just know that I am suck at doing business. I would love to be able work for myself, but I know I won’t survive. I don’t have the skills of a business-savvy person.