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Well, it was finally the time to send our deck to the great beyond where decks go that have overstayed their welcome; the local dump. What precipitated this expenditure was one of our neighbors casually mentioning that our deck should be condemned. She is one of my wife's best friends, so her comment opened our eyes to what we've been putting off for way too long. It was time for our unsafe, and too small, builders deck to go. This is a project that one doesn't take on on their own, so I hired a local Amish builder and his crew to replace the deck with a new one in about 5 days. The builder is DLS Builders, and here is a log of their efforts (just click on the pictures to blow them up).
To better understand the need for a new deck, one has to understand that our current deck was 1) too small to effectively enjoy and entertain, at about 8 feet by 10 feet. It was also unsafe. Here is a picture of the old deck and garage stairs, standing proud above our yard, unaware of their soon-to-be fate:

Here you can see the safety reasons behind our decision to replace the deck: The first picture illustrates rotting boards, one of which has been replaced here, the second and third pictures showing the railings having pulled away from their nails.

In one of these pictures you can see that the only thing holding the railing together was a rope light. However, out of safety concerns, we always positioned a slider in front of this area to prevent someone from leaning on this railing.

So after paying over $400 for a building permit, which I thought was ridiculous, Dave and his crew arrived to dig holes for the inspection. In these two pictures you can see them at work, Dave with the traditional Amish hat:
On day two, the deck was torn down and construction began. Here are some pictures of the deck coming down (the railings just came down with their bare hands; no tools required; kind of scary, really). And the basic framing and stairs were completed. If you look closely at the second picture, you'll see that the siding on either side of the sliding glass door has vertical stripes on it. This is where the railing connected, and the siding was in terrible shape, with mold, nail holes and dirt marring about 7 pieces of siding on each side. So I had Dave buy new siding and install it. This, along with our discovery late in the process that we would need another post and rail section, added $1,000 to the cost. I hear about cost creep with home renovations, having to budget more than you think, and by gosh it is actually true.

The next day, the decking was finished and most of the stairs:
Although the deck probably took only 5 days of solid work, because of issues with railing parts and small things, it took about 7 full and partial days to complete. If I had done it on my own with a couple of friends, it probably would have taken all summer. And the vinyl railing systems are tedious to work with, so although I didn't enjoy writing the checks, all in all it was worth it. Here are pictures of the new deck, 16' x 16'. I would have liked to have gone 2 feet wider in each direction, but then I would have had to buy 20' Azek decking, and the cost was just too much given what I was already spending. I did splurge on the railing system, however, choosing the spindle 'Traditional' style over the boxy rectangular system that you so often see in vinyl railing on decks:
I also upgraded the lighting fixture from this: to this: We were going to go with lighted posts, but the cost was too great, so we settled on upgrading the lighting fixture instead. The post caps aren't glued on, so we can always go with solar powered marking lights at some point in the future, but they aren't cheap and we have a lot of posts.

And here is our view from off of the deck: You'll notice the power lines, but we don't any more and they ensure that nobody builds on 'our' corn field, so we'll always have the view of our back yard and farmer's field.