Decks, Center City, Patios




When the homeowner for whom we built a pilot house and roof deck on Manton Street sent me a text about an additional deck, I was momentarily confused. Um, on top of the roof deck? I wondered. "2nd flr" he responded. Ah, silly me.

At the end of 2012 we had converted part of the roof and third floor bedroom into a pilot house, incorporating a large closet for the master suite into the design. We also built a roof deck with MoistureShield composite decking and railings. The deck and homeowner were later featured in a Philadelphia Inquirer article called Roof Deck is Liberating for Point Breeze Couple.

The homeowner wanted to add a deck off the rear 2nd floor of his 3-story row home. But we were also given two parameters– no support posts for the deck could block the cityscape view from the ground-level patio (outside corners were ok). And the underside of the deck needed to be watertight so the homeowners could sit outside and enjoy the view even during a rainstorm. Gotcha.

The basic construction of the deck was straightforward. We converted a window in the 2nd floor office / bedroom to a door and framed a 16-foot wide by 14-foot deck. We matched the MoistureShield decking and posts of the roof deck (luckily the line hadn’t been discontinued, always a risk in my world) as well as using the Mantis hidden fastener system to hide the screws.



To preserve the city view from the ground, we had to bridge the full 16-foot length of the deck without mid-span supports. We doubled up a 1 ¾” x 14” exterior grade laminated beam – I’ve seen too many decks eventually start to sag in the middle to take a shortcut there.



We hadn’t built a drainage system for the underside of a deck before. There are several systems available, but we wanted to keep labor and material costs at a minimum for our celebrity client, ha. So we designed a water run-off system using corrugated plastic pitched into a gutter which feeds directly into a storm water drain.

Not sure if the Inquirer will come back for the 2nd deck though…

Full Renovations, Bedrooms, Decks

When ANOTHER tree falls

A couple winters ago we had an ice storm that, in my estimation, did more damage to our immediate area than Hurricane Sandy. The power outages, downed trees and abysmal driving conditions paralyzed the region for days.





Soon after, I got a call from a neighbor of the client whose Wayne, PA house was wrecked by a tree during Sandy. He told me that a tree fell through HIS house during the ice storm.

Amazingly, again no one was hurt. But a section of his house looked like something from a disaster movie. And, standing at his front door, you can see the front door of my former client. That’s how close they are to each other.

The caller told me that, following the storm, he was standing outside trying to absorb the extent of his home’s destruction. My former client, bundled nearly to the point of unrecognizability, approached him with a folder.

“You’ll need this,” he said. “Here’s a tree guy, an insurance adjuster, a contractor, a storage facility for your belongings, an extended stay apartment…it’s all in here. Glad to share the knowledge.”

And I was glad to get the referral.

The reconstruction was streamlined by the fact that the homeowner wanted to rebuild the damaged area exactly as it was. Which made sense, as the tree fell through a (luckily unoccupied) guest room at the end of the house, so there was no need to reevaluate comprehensive systems . And the crushed windows, skylights and finishes had been of the highest quality and impeccable taste, so there was no reason to tinker.

When we were midway through the project, my new client asked me if that’s my thing – to find tree-damaged houses and rebuild them. “I never intended it to be,” I said. “It just so happens that you live two doors down from the last time this happened. I mean, seriously, what are the chances?”

Decks, Center City, Kitchens, Philadelphia

it's grilling season up here...

Most people who love the summer, I believe, don’t work outside. Especially on roofs.

Now don’t get me wrong – building roof decks, even if that’s all we did, would keep me very happy. I love them. Yet once the mercury hits 80 degrees down on the pavement, tempers topside start to flare. Productivity plummets. Also the wistful ruminations about graduate studies not pursued start to creep in (which, once we hit air conditioning, thankfully dissipate from our collective consciousness like a forgotten dream).

The lesson I’ve taken is: build ‘em in the cooler months, enjoy ‘em in the warmer.

We built this roof deck between last Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although the wind was biting at times and there was a grey pall over the city’s skyline, our concentration never faltered and the cold served as motivation to keep moving.

As usual, we framed the deck from the house’s side wall to side wall, using the masonry below as structural support rather than the roof. The spiral staircase, leading from an existing balcony outside the master bedroom, was custom-built of galvanized steel with diamond plate step treads to prevent slipping.

Federal_rail detail.jpg

We chose pressure-treated wood for the decking and railings to keep material costs more reasonable than composite, allowing the homeowner to add several“bells and whistles.” These details include built-in planters with a fixed bench, horizontal plank railings and a 6-foot privacy fence.

But the deck’s true gem is the fully functional prep kitchen and grill station. The cabinetry was custom-made by our lead carpenter, which he milled out of a felled cedar from his own property. We retrofitted a granite countertop leftover from our clients’ recent kitchen renovation and reshaped it to fit our purposes. We ran electrical outlets both for general use and to the permanent refrigerator. We also installed a working sink with hot and cold water.

OK OK I admit it – by the time we hit the last week in December, I was grateful to be wrapping up. It was starting to get a little too damned cold. It's funny, how some springtime weather and fresh flowers help you to forget.

See more here.

Center City, Decks, Philadelphia

Roof Deck for a Weary Traveler

I had been discussing a roof deck project with a Center City homeowner for nearly a year. Scheduling was prohibitive, as his job requires travel for months at a clip. Then in early August I got his email (from somewhere in Europe): “OK Dave, I’ll be home from Labor Day to the end of September. Can you get drawings, permits, material and a finished deck on my roof by the time I leave again?” It’s never easy.

His house had an existing deck off the second floor bedroom, which we totally removed and rebuilt. Although the framing wasn’t in awful shape, we had to provide sufficient support for the (very heavy) new staircase, and the existing layout interfered with the stair reinforcement. The client liked the privacy of high railings on the lower deck, so we used a “shadow-box” approach for the new ones.

Construction of the new main deck was pretty straightforward. We used a MoistureShield composite decking and railing system with aluminum balusters.

My favorite moment of the project was when his next-door neighbor climbed up near the end of the project. I braced myself for a noise or dust complaint. Instead: “I want the exact same thing. How much to build me one, too?”

We finished, final city inspection and all, with two days to spare. The homeowner is looking forward to enjoying his new roof deck in the spring – when his travel ends for the season.

Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Roof Deck with Pilot House in South Philadelphia


The clients for whom we recently built the tri-level roof deck in South Philadelphia were thoughtful enough to invite me to their deck warming party. I chatted with a young couple that had recently moved a few blocks away, and before long we were in their kitchen hunched over deck plans. The only access to the roof would be interior steps. Luckily the large master bedroom on the 3rd floor could sacrifice about 4 feet along one wall for the purpose. So we designed a pilothouse - the small, shed-like structure on city roofs that allows covered access to the roof.

Before opening up the roof, we relocated their bedroom door and framed the interior work, including a closet under the new staircase.

Setting the pilothouse walls on the rear corner of the roof presented a new challenge – the adjoining house was a story lower and 15 feet shallower than our clients’, so we couldn’t capably access the rear or one side of the pilothouse, even from ladders. Our solution was to pre-fabricate those two walls by framing, sheathing, siding and even flashing them before installing. And of course, as we’re set to stand the two walls up and secure them to the roof and reach other, the wind turns gusty. Typical.

Once the hole in the roof was cut and the walls were up, we moved quickly to roof the pilothouse and get it insulated and weather-tight (Hurricane Sandy was on the way that week, I should mention). We then installed pre-made oak steps to match the home’s existing stairs.

We also installed a powered ventilation fan system in the roof and at the top of the pilothouse to keep air circulating.

The homeowners were kind enough to also invite me to their own deck warming party this past New Year’s Eve. But this time, beckoned by a rare quiet evening at home with the family, I had to decline.

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Basements, Bedrooms, Decks, Full Renovations, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Hurricane Sandy Hits Wayne (Part 2)


Read the first part of this story. Talk about a perfect storm. A project of this scope can take 4-6 months to plan – foundation and chimney repair, HVAC, windows, siding, electrical, insulation, interior finishes… the list is endless. And we had to get the work moving quickly so the homeowners could get out of the hotel. Oh, and it was smack in the middle of the winter holiday season.

Once the roof was put back together and shingled, we fired several rounds at once. Our mason tore down and rebuilt the chimney, which will actually function better and draw more air than the prior construction.

The foundation at the rear of the house sustained some cracking from the tree, so we followed a structural engineer’s report and provided additional concrete and steel reinforcement. Also in the basement we installed a new perimeter drain system, as the basement historically got water as a result of heavy rains (in the photo you can actually see the water gathering as we began to dig the perimeter drains).

We replaced the existing air conditioning unit, which was nearing its life expectancy, with a 16 seer, 4-ton, two-stage heat pump. Combined with new spray foam insulation in the roof and floor cavities, as well as a new two-zone heating system for the two levels of the house, the heating and air conditioning system will make the house exponentially more efficient.

Another opportunity was opening up the main living area on the first floor. We removed the wall dividing the living and dining rooms, relocated the existing electrical and ductwork, and installed a steel support beam to hold the floor joists above. This element alone will change the entire dynamic of the first floor, providing significantly more space and light.

We recommended installing a vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom. We had the attic space, and the typical rectangular room needed a little flourish, if you will.

See the final project.


Basements, Bedrooms, Decks, Full Renovations, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Hurricane Sandy Hits Wayne (Part 1)


It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare. Settled in for the evening to wait out the worst of Hurricane Sandy, a couple was watching television in their Wayne family room. They had lived in the house for most of their adult life, raised three children there and planned to remain well into their golden years.

A loud crash rocked the house – and their worlds. An enormous oak tree had fallen from the backyard directly through the roof, basically crushing the master bedroom.

The damage, as you can see in the photos, was extensive. Most of the main roof needed to be rebuilt, the chimney shifted and sustained major cracking, and the rear deck was severely damaged. The debris from the roof and tree, as well as rain through the open roof, caused damage throughout most of the home’s interior.

Amazingly, the homeowners walked away without a scratch. “It’s a good thing that ‘The Voice’ wasn't a half-hour shorter,” they joked (after recovering a bit).

Of course I empathized deeply with their situation. They had to immediately load their belongings into storage and relocate to an extended stay hotel. Once we began planning together, though, we were able to muster up some optimism – beyond the obvious repairs and rebuilding, we had an opportunity to make their house more attractive, functional and efficient in the process.

As a remodeler, my dream project.

Read the second part of this story.



Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation, Patios, Resources

Choosing the Right Railing for Your Deck or Patio

Cable Railing

A critical decision in building a deck or patio is the railing system. One has to consider safety, durability, code compliance and aesthetics.

Railings represent a surprisingly significant portion of the overall deck cost (the below options range in material price from about $22 per linear foot to over $100). Yet they’re a great opportunity for design creativity and a chance for the homeowner to put his or her distinctive stamp on the project.

Here are some popular railing options to consider (see larger photos at bottom of post):

Cedar Railing
Cedar Railing

Cedar railings (or redwood or cypress) are a versatile and affordable option. I prefer the horizontal look, with minimal spacing between boards for privacy and to discourage tykes from climbing. They provide a warm, natural atmosphere and allow variation of the railing height for different sections and applications. A selection of grades are available — from clear vertical grain and clear all-heart (which can get pricey) to grades in which tight knots are permitted. These softwoods require minimal maintenance, although they will fade to neutral gray over time unless they are periodically sealed. By putting a piece of composite decking on top of the railing, we can provide a handrail and visually tie the cedar railing into the deck.

Metal Balusters
Metal Balusters

Metal Balusters (spindles) can be used with pressure-treated, cedar or composite posts / supports. On a large deck, especially, the composite spindle cost can add up, so the less expensive metal balusters provide a nice compromise. Using metal balusters with pressure-treated or cedar posts / supports is one of the most affordable and maintenance-free railing options, but the natural wood introduces a new material to the composite deck and can offend those with delicate design sensibilities.

Metal Railing
Metal Railing

Metal Railings (aluminum, iron or steel) also provide a wide style range, from simple to ornate. Metal railings come in sections, which allow high strength for long, unsupported spans. They need very little maintenance, and plain aluminum railings can be very affordable. As you get into iron or steel railings, though, they often require custom manufacture and can become expensive.

Composite Railing
Composite Railing

Full Composite Railing Systems are offered by most composite decking manufacturers. They provide deck uniformity, come in a variety of colors and don’t require any more maintenance than the composite deck itself (occasional cleaning). These systems are quite expensive, though, so they aren’t the default railing selection one might assume. We often use elements of composite railing systems (see Metal Balusters, above) combined with natural woods or metal to keep railing budgets from getting out of hand, especially on larger projects. See more photos of this deck.

Steel Skeleton / Softwood Railing
Steel Skeleton / Softwood Railing

Steel Skeleton / Softwood Railings are a welcome discovery I recently made while driving through South Philadelphia. I literally slammed on the brakes, took pictures, and dialed our steel manufacturer for pricing. A viable option for either a patio or deck, these railings combine a solid steel structure with short segments of softwood (usually cedar or redwood), resulting in a contemporary yet warm look. The cedar (as mentioned above) requires periodic sealing or it will eventually fade to gray — a small price to pay (in my book) for such a sharp-looking, durable railing.

Cable Railing
Cable Railing

Cable Railings, or wire rope railings, use horizontal or vertical stainless-steel cables in place of spindles or glass. They’re a terrific contemporary architectural approach and enhance the view with minimal obstruction. Frames can be built with a variety of wood, steel, extruded aluminum stainless steel metal post-and-rail components for different settings. These systems are certainly on the pricey side, though, and horizontal cables can provide climbing temptation for youngsters.

Glass-Panel Railing
Glass-Panel Railing

Glass-Panel Railings also provide a largely unobstructed view of the surroundings. They can be built with large glass panels or individual balustrades. They suggest a contemporary look, but rail frames and posts can be designed to accommodate a variety of architectural styles. Although using monolithic tempered, laminated tempered or heat-strengthened glass significantly reduces the possibility of breakage, they do require occasional cleaning to maintain optimal appearance and view. These railing systems are also among the priciest available.

There are myriad additional railing options, including vinyl, lattice, composite wood, galvanized metal sheets, etc. The above materials provide a solid base from which to start, and we are always open to exploring new and creative ideas.


Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Deck in Fairmount, Philadelphia


“I’ve had it with the dirt, David!” Happily, the Fairmount homeowner was talking about her backyard, not my own propensity for creating dust.

She was losing the struggle to keep her stylish town home immaculate, but she certainly had formidable foes — her twin 5-year-olds, who enjoyed nothing more than digging and rolling around in her overgrown backyard and then tracking through the house.

After considering several landscaping and hardscaping options for the yard, we agreed on the thoroughly dirt-free solution: deck it.

In came the pros. We removed the existing pergola, damaged fence panels and half-buried tools and toys. After digging and pouring nine footings, we were ready for framing.

Our framers barely broke a sweat putting together the deck’s structure — it actually took longer to screw down the 500-square-feet of composite decking than to build the frame itself.

We then replaced or secured any loose fence panels, keeping less than a ½” gap between the deck edge and fencing in any spot. Yet we were careful to leave a nice opening for the homeowner’s treasured fig tree.

Mission accomplished, or so I thought.

When I stopped by to chat the following week, I noticed that the tykes had dumped a planter of dirt in the middle of the deck and were building their version of a backyard sandcastle.

But can you blame them?

View photos from this project.


Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Renovation of Manayunk / Philadelphia Garage and Deck, Part 2

Below you'll find some pictures of the completed project for the Manayunk garage reinforcement and deck. You'll see that we took care to ensure that the drainage membrane has a clear shot into the new gutter, keeping the rainwater off the garage roof. Just in case, we also covered the garage roof from inside with a masonry waterproofing sealant.

Since we spent all this time reinforcing the concrete garage roof, of course we didn't want to haphazardly drop a 300-square-foot deck on top of it. So before framing, we carefully measured and transfered the locations of the vertical steel columns below to the deck area above. Then we put masonry block footings for the deck directly on the locations of the steel columns, transferring all the weight of the deck to the columns and new footings below. Double 2x12 beams spanning the block footings provided the basis for the deck joists.

The adjoining neighbor was a little concerned about access, since we built over the existing passway, so we built gates on either side of the deck (with a nice little ramp for said neighbor).

We installed a garage light on a switch as well as an outlet in the garage (in case they want to vacuum their cars in the shade). We also put up a motion-detector light on the face of the deck, towards the parking lot, for a little security and to provide additional light as they approach or leave the garage.

A safe and solid deck and garage for many years to come. And, for those who are following, they had a beautiful baby girl.

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View photos of the entire project.

Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

Renovation of Manayunk / Philadelphia Garage and Deck, Part 1


It's always rewarding to get a phone call from an old client about a new project. This call came from the young couple in Manayunk whose kitchen we did almost a year ago (see Manayunk Kitchen Remodel). No longer newlyweds, they were expecting their first child and wanted to ensure things were safe and sound for her arrival. Their house sits on a steep hill (as many in Manayunk do), and it has a funky layout. The backyard is the roof of their garage, which sits a story below their first floor and faces a small neighborhood parking lot. The garage has a 12" thick concrete roof, on top of which was about another foot of dirt and grass. The garage, which hadn't been used in decades, had a simple steel door and was dark, stinky and dank with moisture.

They were concerned about the structural integrity of the concrete roof and, hoping to use it as a functioning garage, wanted to alleviate the moisture while making sure their backyard wouldn't collapse onto their car. Good idea.

Our in-house structural expert helped design a plan to open up the garage for access, reinforce the roof, install a new drainage system and then build a deck on top, giving them over 320 square feet of new living space in the process.

We began by removing the existing garage entry door and most of the exterior wall of the garage. We then dug footings along the side walls and installed four steel I-beams along the roof of the garage, using a steel lift to set the beams onto steel columns. Thank goodness the mason brought four big guys along, or I think I'd be in a permanent back brace.

Then it was time to remove much of the existing grass and dirt, grading the yard towards the front of the garage. We covered an industrial drainage membrane with four inches of clean crushed stone, providing an optimal drainage system to run into the new gutter.

Check in next week to learn about the new deck and our finishing touches.

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View photos of the entire project.

Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation, News

Match Remodeling in the News!

We were thrilled to be prominently featured in a full-page story in the daily Metro Newspaper recently about roof decks. The article ran in the Philadelphia, New York City AND Boston editions! Hopefully while you were sitting on the bus, train or eating lunch in the park that day you had a chance to see it (if not, here's a link).

The print version even included a photo of one of our showcase projects (unfortunately it's not included in the online version).

I guess sometimes the good guys do win …

Decks, Home Improvement, Remodeling, Renovation

How We Build a Safe and Enjoyable Roof or Backyard Deck


This week I'm taking a more serious tone to discuss a very important topic (and not just share the joy I take in our work). The fact is, we’ve earned a reputation as one of Philadelphia’s top builders of backyard and roof decks because we understand the critical elements in a safe and secure deck. The most important factor to consider when building decks is safety (waterproofing runs a close second in roof decks; I’ll address this topic in a later post). And two important components of a safe deck are the ledger-to-house connection (whenever possible) and railings.

An improperly attached ledger can lead to a deck collapse, as tension and compression forces work to pull the ledger away from the house. The primary force pushing down on the ledger is gravity, known as the vertical load (the weight of building materials plus the weight of people, furniture, etc. on the deck). In addition, lateral loads (such as wind and swelling / shrinking of the deck framing) can exert horizontal force away from the house.

We take extreme care to follow the 2012 International Residential Code for fastener-placement of the ledger board to the house. The IRC spacing guide includes specifics for the number and type of attachment bolts, the bolt stagger pattern, and their exact placement on the ledger board.

Railing posts must always be fastened to the deck framing with two galvanized ½” carriage bolts each (not lag screws) that are secured with washers and nuts. Yet we always take the extra step of attaching the posts to the inside of the perimeter of the deck. Then we use wood blocking to anchor them to the framing, helping to resist forces pushing on top of the post and reinforcing the framing itself.

This approach to railing posts takes more time, more material and decreases the useable deck space by a little bit — but these nominal differences become insignificant when considering the safety of those enjoying our decks.

The photos below show a roof deck we recently built in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

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