Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Proper Planning of Your Back Yard Project

The enthusiasm for a new project often overcomes the logic of planning that project properly.  Nowhere in the realm of the home handyman is this more true than in back yard upgrades and, in particular, decks and fences.  Yet, it is with proper planning that you will get the greatest enjoyment out of your project in the long run.
One of the common pitfalls of a homeowner installing a fence is the failure to check property lines accurately.  Past mistakes and mis-measurements often are compounded by assuming that the original fence line was accurate. If you do indeed build in a manner that encroaches on a neighbour’s property, he may end up owning the fence, or, worse, could remove the fence or claim damages from you!  A second failing is to properly assess the soil, the sunlight, the need for gate strength or the lines and geometry of the fence, resulting in shifting fences, frost heave, access restrictions and lawn or gardens that are killed by poor lighting.
The problems resulting from proper planning are more severe where a deck is involved.  The first concern is to know and adhere to your local building code.  For example, in the City of Winnipeg, homeowners need a permit if they build a deck that exceeds twenty-four inches above grade.  Even a modestly-sloping wheelchair ramp requires a permit.  There re restrictions on how far back from a property line a structure must be, and those distance vary, depending upon whether they are located in the front, back or side yard.  Similarly, fences on each perimeter have maximum height restrictions.
For piles and footings, it is vital that you check to see that there are no power lines or gas or water mains running across your property.  Cutting into one of those vital utilities could result in severe injury, extensive damage and even death!
But, beyond the need to conform to building code, a properly constructed deck is essential to avoid damage, failure or injury.  Anchoring a deck is critical, for example, but if done incorrectly can result in extensive damage to surrounding areas or structures.  Anchoring to a building requires ensuring that   you are anchoring to a solid component, rather than just into a fa├žade or weakened piece of lumber.  Poorly planned deck supports can result in the deck shifting or collapsing, while posts and piles that are not properly set can cause warping, shifting and rot.
Even the location of a structure requires careful planning to get maximum enjoyment from it.  Consider how it will be used today, as well as how it may be used in the future.  Consider how it will impact on nearby structures.  Look at how and when it will receive light, and how sheltered or exposed it will be to the elements.  Look overhead, to see if it will impede with power lines.
Instead of rushing ahead with a project, hoping to enjoy it before that first warm weather of summer expires, take the time to plan carefully, consult with professionals, understand your requirements and explore all options.  Then, dive in! Carefully.