Napa Journal

The California lifestyle

2013-04-20T19:00:00Z The California lifestyleKEVIN COURTNEY Napa Valley Register
April 20, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Nothing defines the California lifestyle more than the backyard deck. That’s where we all supposedly live half the year, happily sipping margaritas and grilling steaks while aspiring to a Sunset magazine photo shoot.

If we probe further, less festive facts emerge. We learn that decks do not have an infinite life. Eventually they self-destruct. Boards sag, nails pop, pockets of rot appear.

That’s my deck.

It must have been glorious when it was new: 600 square feet of knot-free redwood, with built-in seating and planter boxes and a graceful step-down toward the pool.

That was 18 years ago during Cheryl’s first marriage. She designed it for an active family accustomed to hosting pool parties.

When I came on the scene 10 years ago — a post-divorce, post-pool party era — the first signs of deck distress were appearing. Perpetually shaded planks in a damp corner had developed a certain bounciness. We were on a slippery slope, but didn’t know it.

Bounciness progressed to freakish bending, requiring the installation of a chaise lounge to block the area to pedestrian traffic. If we’d been more honest with ourselves, we would have put up yellow crime scene tape.

In time, nails began rearing their ugly heads on the center of the deck. I would tamp them down with a hammer, but that was hardly a fix. The family adopted a new rule: Walk barefoot at your peril.

Such a rule was totally at odds with the California lifestyle, but so were toes wrapped in bandages.

When the stairs leading to the pool started giving way, I decided to take them apart and fix them. In retrospect, this was a moment of lunacy.

The take-apart was not difficult. What I saw underneath was horrifying and beyond my understanding.

I crudely covered up my hole and blockaded the top step with an assortment of deck ornaments. Specifically, a plaster rabbit and a decorative watering can.

Things got worse a year ago when we had the spa fire. Firefighters yanked the charred spa out of the deck, leaving a gaping hole that suggested the aftermath of urban combat.

At this point, your average Californian, seeing his lifestyle reduced almost to rubble, would have called in a contractor to make things right.

We did not do this. We erected more barricades to make the spa pit off limits too.

We delayed corrective action for various reasons. New decks cost a lot. We weren’t using the old deck all that much (for obvious reasons). Lethargy.

Our attitude changed when our home insurer sent out an inspector, post-spa fire, who nearly broke her neck trying to negotiate the rotten stairs down to the pool. Why she didn’t back off when she saw the plaster rabbit, I’ll never know.

After she submitted her report, we got a sharply worded email from our insurer saying we needed to correct our situation in 2013 or have our coverage dropped.

The letter was an alarm bell in the night. We hopped to it.

We’ve spent the past two months trying to find the right contractor to tackle the deck project. It’s been daunting.

Contractors all have references. Contractors all talk a good game. Bid prices were all over the board, creating more confusion. What’s the low bidder plotting? Is the high bidder going to deliver BMW quality?

Our own uncertainty about decking materials bogged the process down. Did we replace redwood with redwood or go with a man-made product that would be essentially maintenance-free?

We went round and round on this. Cheryl was pro-redwood. I favored colored, textured plastic, which held the promise of being the last deck I would have to build in my lifetime.

We agonized for weeks over this. Contractors shared stories about decking materials that were often contradictory. Product websites confused as much as they illuminated.

Yet, little by little, the pieces fell into place. Several contractors won favor for offering helpful insights. Several bids were rejected as out of whack. Cheryl accepted plastic.

Last week, the contract was signed. On Monday, a load of decking materials was dropped in front of our house. By late week, the demolition of the old deck had begun.

I’ll be taking photos of the before and after. My insurance representative is going to be very happy.

Kevin can be reached at 256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, P.O. Box 150, Napa 94559 or

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