Morgan has created several Top 10 Lists for a variety of home improvement topics - From time to time this page will be updated with some of his most popular ones
Morgan's Top 10 Deck Tips !
1.Exterior decks do not need to be attached to the house.
While most homeowners are going to want their decks to come right up to the house the actual deck structure can be free standing, supported entirely by the posts and footings. This technique means that the exterior sheathing and siding of the home don’t have to be compromised with ledgers, screws or lag bolts.

2.Once any deck is over one to two feet from the ground railings should be used.
Building and safety codes will vary from one community to another but the rule should remain the same. Even a one-foot drop from a deck edge can cause an injury, even if it’s only a sprained ankle. Proper step heights are only about 7 inches so a 12-inch drop can be a problem. Always consider railings once any deck rises over one foot from the ground around it. At lower levels the railings don’t have to be too constricting, just there.

3.Railing spindle spacing must be calculated carefully.
There is often the impulse to space spindles “evenly” along a run, in other words to simply divide the distance equally and install spindles accordingly. Aesthetically this may work, but problems with safety can pop up. Building code guidelines will vary but one rule of thumb that works for most is the following: Less than 4 or more than 10. Spacing should be either 4 inches or less or 10 inches or more. A space between 4 and 10 inches can trap a child’s head and cause injury or even death. Obviously once a deck is built above the three or four-foot height mark the spacing should be sufficient to stop someone from climbing through.

4.The spacing of the floor support joists is critical to strength and safety.
12 inch centres are better than 16; 16 inch centres are better than 24. Naturally the closer the floor joists are to each other the stronger the finished deck will be. Contrary to most opinions it doesn’t cost a lot more to make a deck stronger. For a large second-floor deck, say 500 square feet; the cost is going to run around the $10,000 mark. Adding a few floor joists isn’t going to have a significant impact on the final cost but it will impact on the safety and quality of the final product.

5.As in 4 the size of the supporting joists will have an impact on the safety and quality of any deck.
2 by 10s are always better than 2 by 8s or 2 by 6s and so on. Large joists supported by large beams attached to large posts will provide the ultimate strong deck. Try to imagine how many people you could have standing on a 20 foot by 25 foot deck structure (50) and then multiply that by an average of 175 pounds, it could be as much as four tons!

6.Are solid surface deck coverings are better than boards?
There really isn’t any rule of thumb about what you finish off the deck surface with. The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether you want to use the space under the deck for anything. If it may end up being a storage area, a studio room, or even an extra bedroom, then the whole deck idea has to be changed. If it’s simply going to be used for lawnmower or garden tool storage then things can be looked at differently. Many homeowners have other patio areas under decks and don’t need the waterproofing qualities of solid surface deck coverings.

7.Composite deck boards, whether they’re made with recycled materials or some other type of man- made substance may be easier to maintain and last longer, but they do have some drawbacks.
Composite deck boards have become an attractive alternative to treated wood and cedar. They do last longer and are mostly maintenance-free, but will cost between double and even triple of their natural counterparts. Another issue I have with some of the products is the way they end up looking a few years down the road. I always advise homeowners to do their homework and research any expensive purchases carefully. Try to find some installations that have been exposed to the elements for some time, and see if they’ve faded or changed in some unattractive way. Most cannot be refinished or refurbished like real wood.

8.Treated wood when compared to cedar or natural fir seems to be scary.
Yes treated wood used to contain arsenic, along with a bunch of other chemicals, but even then there were minimal concerns once the materials had dried and been coated or sealed. The new treated woods have a variety of new additives in them to repel bugs and rotting but they still remain a treated material. When you look at the practical uses of most decks and the abuse they go through there really isn’t any other alternative to treated wood for planked deck surfaces. Red cedar is beautiful but not durable. Clear fir, untreated, is expensive but also a much higher maintenance material requiring regular sealing or staining. Once any treated deck is dried and sealed any safety or health concerns are eliminated.

9.Deck size should always be chosen carefully.
Once a deck is built it’s built. Lay out ropes, hoses or even boards and play around with the size and shape before committing to a size. It is often advisable to go bigger at first and scale down as you arrive at a final size and shape. Try to remember that railings, landings, stairs, any existing bay windows or other feature on the existing home will impact on the final actual walking and sitting area of the deck. Lay out lines and then move some furniture into that area to see how it all works.

10.Stairs and landings are almost always overlooked or left to the end.
Remember, getting up and down from a deck can only be done one way, by the stairs. They are critical, necessary and also have rules and safety guidelines attached. Standard stair stringers can be bought at any lumber yard. The usual run for a step is about 11 inches with the rise being around 7; this must be adhered to for every step including the top one and the bottom one. There may be some fussing to get them right but they must be right. 

Morgan Jensen
Top Ten Things That Fail! 

(Republished here from a 2005 article I wrote for a local newspaper)

Part One

10. I bought a good quality driveway sealer, followed the instructions, and it still peeled off in some areas.

Well, here’s one that comes up every year for a few people and the answer is usually quite simple; you didn’t follow the instructions to the letter. For example, never pressure-wash an asphalt driveway the day before applying sealer, the moisture that’s driven into the asphalt can hinder bonding. Always use the exact roller they recommend, not the one you think you should use, most acrylic manufacturers want you to use a thick foam roller, and not the fluffy cotton one you used to use. Two thin coats are better than one thick one, if you try to apply too thick a coat it will skin over before it has a chance to dry and cure.

9. I re-seal the joints and corners on my aluminum gutters every year and they still leak.

There really is only one effective way to seal gutter joints and that’s with the old-fashioned black, gooey roofing tar compound. Silicones and exterior caulking will not adhere to damp dirty gutters no matter how much you try to clean them. Clean them the best you can, scrape away any old caulking and then smear the tar up and down along the joint, in both directions about 6 inches and feather it out at the end. Use a putty knife or a flat piece of wood but be generous and don’t rush.

8. I had brand new vinyl windows installed, double-glazed and the works and there is still condensation on the glass.

You can buy and install the most expensive windows in the world but if there’s a moisture problem in the home it won't always help. Homes need to breathe and ventilation is critical, not only for condensation but also for good health. Bathrooms need exhaust fans, as do kitchens, and attic systems need to work properly.  If a moisture problem persists look into the humidity levels in the home.

7. We had brand new, top of the line cushion floor linoleum installed about 2 years ago and its seems dull and worn right where we
walk the most, what has happened?

Many people seem to think that a bit of ordinary dish soap on a linoleum floor is a harmless thing to do. It’s not. Many dish soaps today have ammonia in them, this is what makes them antibacterial, and this ammonia, along with the other harsh detergents in them, make them terrible for cleaning anything other than dishes. Use the product that the manufacturer recommends.

6. The mats I bought have caused yellow stains on my linoleum floor and I can’t get them out.

First, it wasn’t the mat, not exactly, and second, the stains are probably there for good. These yellow stains occur when you damp mop the floor and replace the mats too soon, especially those mats that have a rubber or foam backing. Although you may think the floor is dry it actually isn’t, lino is like skin, it can be porous, and you have to give it time to completely dry before you replace mats.

Top Ten Things That Fail !

Part Two

5. I installed a storm door with a pump closer on it and it just doesn’t close properly, never has.

Often the closer is okay but where it was attached to either the door or the doorframe isn’t. The part that attaches to the door needs to be in the right spot or the door will never work properly. If it’s a little bracket that can slide back and forth then experiment with a move to the right or the left. If it actually screws right into the door you may have to remove it and screw it in a different place. Check the instructions that came with the door carefully

4. We did our own tiling in the kitchen and after grouting we were left with a haze that just won’t come off.

When you grout a tile floor or wall you have to smear and press the grout in everywhere, that’s just how it’s done. Once you’ve gone along and sponged off the excess grout, you’ll have to “buff” off the haze while its fresh. Its just like waxing a car, you’ll need a stack of old tea towels or lint free rags and a bucket of clean, warm water. The haze must be buffed off diligently with a clean cloth, which you will then throw into the bucket of water (so you can wash them later). Buff again and again with fresh, clean cloths until you’re satisfied all of the haze is gone, it may take a while.

3. For 12 years we had carpet in the basement and never had a dampness problem. About two years ago we installed laminate flooring and now our whole basement is full of mold and mildew underneath.

Cement floors need to breathe; they are porous and are constantly emitting moisture, no matter how dry or clean they appear. The carpet you had, even with underlay, allowed the floor surface to breathe and the humidity to escape. The laminate floor, a solid surface, has trapped that moisture and it has no where to go. This build up has combined with mold spores (they’re always there) and has created a perfect environment for your problem. If moisture build up is a concern you need to consider using some sort of subfloor panels that will allow the cement to continue breathing. 

2. No matter what I do I can’t get rid of the algae on my stairs and deck and the moss build up on my roof.

Algae and moss keep coming back because we never get rid of the spores and microscopic things that they grow from. For serious algae around the outside there are some very strong, bleach-based cleaners that work hard to kill those spores. Also opening up airflow and allowing more sun in helps. For roof moss, once again use the strong bleach cleaner made for that, avoid chemical products full of iron, and then install zinc strips under the shingles at the peaks and ridges.

1.I have replaced the caulking around my tub over and over again but it still gets black and slimy and won’t stay put.

First you must totally remove all the old stuff that has built up over time. Clean the slime and dirt away first, then peel and scrape the old caulking off. If the caulking is old, dry and hard you may have to soften it with a caulking remover made for that. Be very cautious about what you use because it could damage the tub finish. Rinse after with vinegar and dry thoroughly. When you are sure its dry apply a good quality silicone using a small, steady line and then leave untouched and dry for another 24 hours. I know that if this is the only bathroom it will be difficult.

Have you ever done anything around the house and had it be a complete success? Yes, probably, but most often there will be something about the job that just wasn’t perfect, right? Here is my 2005 “Top Ten” list of things that fail according to some of the many people I’ve talked to in the past year