Spring is in the air

Now that we’re marching towards spring, the pace is really starting to clip around here. The number of contracts for decks and three-season porches always jumps through the roof this time of year, which is good for business and it’s always nice to get to tackle the new challenges that come with searching for ways to meet the different needs of each individual client. I mean that’s one of the main things I love about the job. It keeps you on your toes.


No two decks are alike, with all of the different variables to take into consideration. You’ve got to look at the structure that’s already in place, and it’s an entirely different game depending on if you’re looking to build a deck up from scratch, do a conversion into a three-season porch, repair an existing deck, or sometimes scrap a poorly-made (or just simply worn out) deck and start over. Plus you’ve got to take a look at the foundation and prep it for building, select from different building materials that are available, get all the right permits…the list goes on. For some people it’s a headache, but for me it’s a puzzle. It’s all part of the mental game—planning and strategizing—that appeals to me.


A few weeks ago, we were in the pre-planning stages of this contract for a three-season porch that a client wanted to add as an extension to their house, out into their backyard, and we ran into a challenge that I hadn’t had to deal with in a while: namely, tree placement—bad enough that I started off the bat by telling the client that we were probably looking at needing to contact a tree service if we were going to be able to move forward with the project.


At first the client was a little bit resistant. We’d already marked out the footprint of where the porch would be, and the tree was about 4 feet outside the tape, so he’s thinking that’s enough space. But if you’ve been in construction for any amount of time at all, you know the risks of starting in on a big project without taking all of these factors into consideration (even those factors that might seem small).


So I tell him that yes, it’s possible that we could build the porch and it would be just fine. The tree could potentially live out the rest of its life without causing any kind of potential harm to the surrounding structures. But, you can already see some structural defects in the tree, these things called “cankers” where the bark looks like it’s sinking in and some of it’s gone altogether. And I remember (from when I had this in one of the trees in my own yard) that this typically means the tree is sick with some kind of disease, and since it’s already visible on the outside it’s anyone’s guess as to how deep this damage goes.

Just what is a tree canker?

The bottom line is, you’re better protected if you get this checked out and dealt with before we jump in to the construction process, especially since I can tell you that it’s going to be a lot easier (hence cheaper) to get a tree service in to remove this tree (if necessary) before they have a brand new porch to worry about in terms of collateral damage.


After we talked it out, he agreed with me, saying that if he was going to invest in a new porch it certainly does make sense to do all these preparations first and then at least there will be no surprises (and potential financial pitfalls in the future). So he hires a crew to come in from Des Moines called “The Tree Doctor,” and they are over there within the hour for an examination. Sure enough he points out the wound around the trunk, says sometimes these types of structural faults can heal themselves, but only if it’s less than 25 percent around the trunk, and as you can see this one is at least 40-50 percent.


This is why, he says, you can already see some of the branches have started to die high up and the tree. And it’s not a foregone conclusion that the tree will necessarily suddenly crack or lose limbs, but as time goes on and those branches get weaker and weaker, it becomes a bigger and bigger threat that high winds are likely to cause some pretty huge damage.


It was neat to hear him explaining what was likely to happen to the tree as the disease progressed, and he showed us some other symptoms that I hadn’t noticed myself, wouldn’t have known to look for, but now I can add to my repertoire for future pre-planning. My client decided to have the tree removed, so my project was put on hold for the rest of the day while they got a crew out to take care of it. But stay tuned for future updates on the project as we move on from here and get closer to commencing physical construction on the porch.