Award winning deck builder Brendan Casey discusses the challenges he faces when refurbishing an existing deck, and some of the questionable framing methods left behind by previous builders.
Brendan Casey, founder of Casey Fence & Deck in Frederick, MD, is a master in resurfacing existing deck structures to breathe life back into an outdoor space. This has led to multiple national awards, including an award in the category of refurbished decks at the 2022 NADRA National+ Deck Awards.
Over the last 42 years of building decks, Brendan has seen it all — from rotted lumber compromising the structural integrity of a deck, to some questionable framing methods left behind by previous builders. We spoke with Brendan to break it all down and discuss the challenges he runs into when resurfacing a deck on top of existing framing.
What made your award-winning re-deck so special?
“That was a crazy job. It was all on a cliff over a lake, a beautiful setting, a wooded lot.
When we got out there, I walked out on the deck and I thought we were going to be able to resurface it without replacing the framing. But, when I got to the lower level, we found that we needed to replace about 20 joists because there was a lot of rot in that area. So we accounted for it, we planned it and we replaced it.
There was also a big band board all the way around the deck that was not in great shape. So we actually got out there with LedgerLOKs and shot them through the band board to draw it back in, to make everything look right and hold right.
We even changed the board pattern, which originally ran parallel to the house. We switched it and made it run parallel to the railing, which gave it just a little bit more character.
We had to do a lot of unique little on-the-job things to make stuff work. It was a cool job and obviously a nice bonus that it won us a national award.”
How do you prepare for refurbishing a deck?
“We will do an inspection before we go out and before we would contract anything. When I look at the job, I walk out on the deck and I bounce up and down and if I feel a lot of movement underneath my feet, I tell them they’re not a candidate for resurfacing. I can just feel it – You have to go with your gut in those situations.
If I can walk under the deck, I’ll get underneath it with my knife and I will jab into some of the joists. If my knife is sinking into a lot of the joists, I’m telling them they’re replacing all of the joists. I go around the corners and see if the posts are rotting. If I have to replace the posts, I’m replacing the whole deck. We try to find a way to make it work for them, but sometimes you just can’t resurface.
Sometimes I tell them [the customer] that we definitely need to re-frame portions or a majority of the deck, and they say they won’t do that. So, we end up walking away from more than 25% of jobs. The minute we start debating, I bail out. We want people to hire us because they want us, not because of the price of the job. We want them to hire us because of our knowledge and our experience.”
What are some of the worst situations you’ve encountered on a deck upon inspection?
“I was inspecting this one deck, and I was walking around it, trying to find out why it was so cockeyed and out of whack. Then I saw this splitting wedge holding up the whole deck. She [the homeowner] met with some other contractors and was on the verge of signing a contract to resurface the deck — she didn’t even know. I showed it to her, and that convinced her to let us tear the whole thing out.”
“Another time, I found that somebody used a flowerpot with some concrete in it to hold up a staircase. The homeowners were upset when they saw it — they hadn’t noticed it either. It’s amazing the things you’ll find when you go looking.”
What fasteners do you use when replacing the framing on a deck?
“We account for a bucket of LedgerLOKs on every deck, that is a standard order for our jobs. We go through those things like guys use gun nails — because I trust them.
So when we’re trying to draw together pieces of framing, we’re using LedgerLOKs. We’re not going to nail it, we’re not going to screw it. We’re going to break out LedgerLOKs. When we take out all the old railings, we put a six by six block of wood between the two joists underneath where the post is going to go. Then we use five inch LedgerLOKs going into both joists, two on each end into that block of wood.”
LedgerLOK is a ½” lag replacement designed for fastening ledger boards to the house. It can also be used for a variety of other applications due to its high level of strength and durable exterior coating. FastenMaster also offers several other structural fasteners for deck builders — including TimberLOK, HeadLOK, VersaLOK and ThruLOK.
How do you set yourself apart from other builders?
“One of the things we realized when we first started the business was that there was so much competition out there. We could either be the shepherd or the sheep, and there were hundreds of sheep, and I just didn’t want to be a part of the pack, and that mentality of racing everybody to the cheapest price. We chose to be the shepherd and lead the pack.
When I show up at somebody’s house and see that blank canvas on the back of a house and a pile of material sitting in the driveway – I strive to make it into a piece of artwork on the back of their home. I’ve always felt like there was an artistic value to what we did.
There’s over 500 guys within 50 miles of my base of operation that claim to build decks. I can’t compete with 500 guys. I can compete with two or three, but my biggest competitor is me.”