boston globe

Deck-building made easy

By Larry Eisinger

Last year, building a deck was the most popular outdoor home improvement project. More than 1 million decks were added to homes across the country, and projections this year indicate that number will increase, simply because an outdoor deck is the best way to expand the living space of a home.

A new deck may or may not require the help of a professional, depending on its design and location. Of all the steps in the building process, attaching the deck to the house has probably been the most time consuming. Putting up the ledger -- as the first horizontal board attached to the side wall is called -- often required removal of the siding, drilling through ledger, siding, sheathing and band joist, then running half-inch bolts at about 36-inch intervals. Flashing was then added so water would not collect behind the ledger.

Paul Stratton, a builder from Milan, Ohio, decided there must be a better way -- so he invented and patented the Stratton Bracket, the offset hanger illustrated. It mounts to the side of the home directly over the siding and is held in place with half-inch lag screws that extend into a stud or, preferably, the band joist. It is offset so the first deck plank is about a half-inch away from the side of the house, thereby permitting water to pass and not collect.

Stratton has been specializing in building decks for six years. He has erected nearly 300, ranging in size from 100 to more than 1,900 square feet, all hooked on his bracket.

Aside from saving time and monney, the bracket, most importantly, makes possible prefabricating a deck in sections. Each section is hung from brackets.

To use the Stratton Bracket, first, snap a chalk line at the desired height. Mark off each bracket for the width of the section to be build and then drill a 5/16-inch hold for the lag screws. To prefabricate a section, the size of which is determined by the bulk and weight, endnail the ledger to the deck joists with three 16-penny ring shank galvanized nails, which eliminate the use of conventional joist hangers. When a section is complete, rest it into the brackets and, once the yard-end vertical posts are in place and the deck made level, drive longer lag screws in the lower hole of the bracket.

This bracket's usefulness is not limited to decks. It can be used for hanging steps or even a removable workbench.

The product is available in kit form. A four-bracket starter kit, complete with lag screws, is all you need for a 14-foot-wide deck using 2-by-6 joists.

Over the years, many new deck products and building methods have been introduced, but this product promises to be one of the most successful, for the simple reason that it makes deck building easier, faster and more economical.