Construction and Renovation

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Trex Decking, Recovering & Renovating Your Deck

So you have an old deck. You want a new deck. You've heard about composite. Here you are...


You've probably been researching Trex and Azek deck products. Both are similar, both lead the market. The information to follow should apply to both manufacturers. 

Your old deck is probably pretty tired looking. You've been putting this off for a while. After all composite decking is lifetime so you pay the price up front never to return again. Assess the old deck, not the decking the framing. In the case of the deck pictured, a good shove took the railing and rim joist off giving us a good look at the structure itself. 

Look for Rot

Rot presents itself in pressure treated wood as dark almost black staining. If you see a lot of black staining poke it with a screw driver. If it's soft it needs to be replaced. In the case of this deck we were able to reinforce the old structure to add strength and living space. 

If you need a lesson on deck framing it's best to hire a professional. Composite decking doesn't have the structure or strength of wood, especially when heated from the sun. You will use more pressure treated framing lumber with a composite deck than with a traditional wood deck. 

Once you're properly framed and blocked you're ready to lay decking. It's important to start from the outside and work in. Decide how much overhang you want and fasten your outer most edge board. The longer deck boards the better. Cuts or joints in the deck are prone to cupping upward in the sun and require extra fasteners. With this deck we used 20' deck boards. Lay the boards longs and scribe your end cut with your edge board. Its common that a deck isn't square. It's even more common that composite decking isn't straight or consistent in it's spacing. 

Once you have your field laid and fastened it's time to scribe the end to your edge board with equal spacing and cut. We used the Trex hidden fasteners in the field with grooved deck boards but on the edge boards and any place needed an extra fastener we used Cortex plug fasteners. In the ends you'll see two holes where we drilled Cortex in at an angle to the rim joist. This is where the boards will want to curl up on hot days. On all other cuts, miters, notches etc. leave plenty of room for expansion. At least an eighth of an inch but color and exposure will vary expansion. 

Railing Systems 

Railing systems are tricky. They're packaged and labeled like IKEA furniture. If you're savvy at assembly IKEA, you may just be an ace with composite railing systems. We did a cocktail rail here. Trex suggests leaving the ends of the deck board cut but the inside of Trex is different from the outside. We miter cut and returned the rail so the finish would be consistent. 

This deck has been covered with Trex composite decking and railing and wrapped with Kleer PVC facia. The only maintenance it will need is an annual cleaning. 

Design & Planning; Computer vs. Hand Drawn

Computer Aided Drawing (CAD), it's time to get with the program

I've been struggling with my concept drawings more and more over the last couple of years. As clients become less visual there is a greater need to provide clear visual aid. Where I used to be able to sketch representations by hand or describe a plan verbally walking around the home or yard I find myself falling behind the times. There is no question that a visual representation shows the client you understand their needs and gives them the confidence to sign the contract. More important is a clear visual representation of what you intend to build or what the client wants built.

I took drafting in high school. I've always been good with plans and architectural drawings. I worked in commercial land development for a number of years reading prints and working with engineers. Unfortunately it's seldom in the budget to spend much time or resources on a great elaborate plan for a residential project. So when I draw a plan for a client it's usually to scale and carefully detailed but it's basic- and sometimes rough. And then there are the changes, erasing and redrawing or white out, it can get pretty ugly. I fooled around with color but I find black and white works just as well.

But have you seen a good computer aided drawing? It's the closest thing to the real thing without being a photograph. 

I've tried to implement a program called Sketch Up a handful of times. It's usually the middle of the busy season and time is my limiting factor. I get frustrated or fall behind and resort to the reliable pencil and paper to quickly turn out a design.

I'm committing to Sketch Up once and for all!

I met a handful of contractors at a Boston area networking event last night and one of the big take aways was their use of computer aided drawings. It was a staple in all of their projects. They create a design and it includes all of the measurements and specs. They give a copy to the homeowner and a copy goes to each of the guys on the ground. Everyone involved understands the project because they have a picture of it, even before the shovel hits the dirt. 

So while I wait for my old 2013 version of Sketch Up to update I thought I'd share my fear and excitement as I try to update my own skills and practices. Plus if I put it out here in the internet world I feel more accountable to stick with it despite any frustration or excuses I may find in weakness as I reach back to the pencil and paper. 

- It's finished updating, better get to work!

Scratch that, after multiple attempts to open the program and even restart the laptop there is nothing happening... Not a good start.

So after switching computers, I'm at the desktop and so far so good! I'm afraid to spend too much time on any of my clients' designs at the risk of losing inspiration, so I'm going to start with something that exists. I'll start with the barn, it's a box, simple enough right?

I found myself getting hung up on details like soffit returns and plant material. The actual barn has pigeon coop returns and not having the skill to represent that in Sketch Up was frustrating. But overall I think the representation is accurate and plant material is irrelevant in this example.

I sent a picture of the barn rendering to my good friend Justin Miner, owner of Gain Strength & Conditioning in Portsmouth. He seemed impressed so I said, "I'll draw your place next."

And so I did. Gain is in an industrial park in south Portsmouth so exterior details weren't a problem this time. Keep in mind that while I know the measurements for my barn, the gym was a lot of guess work and so is not correctly scaled.

I got the gym drawn up much faster than the barn, so I decided to practice a little concept drawing (the whole reason I'm doing this anyway) and add the loft space Justin has been dreaming about for the last few months. Originally he envisioned a space above his current office but using the tools of Sketch Up I found that space above his office is limited due to the slope of the roof. I slid the loft over, moved a door and added a stair case and BOOM! In no time the idea was drawn.

Copying a structure or landscape that already exists is tough, but conceptualizing is awesome! As I worked through the gym I found myself using tools and features almost instinctively. Moving on to designing something new like the loft space was using those same tools to pull what I had in my head and apply it to the design image. 

I cannot wait to continue practicing and designing features for my clients in their homes and landscapes. 

Rehab for your Lawn

After months of dry weather and in some areas, extreme drought conditions our lawns are showing signs of stress. Some are bouncing back better than others but all are in need of help in some way or another. Many homeowners rely on automatic irrigation and heavy fertilization programs to maintain a lush green lawn. Water restrictions and indefinite water bans made regular lawn maintenance difficult and in some ways detrimental. 

Turf grass is opportunistic. When conditions are right the grass will flourish, usually. When conditions are poor grass will show it's weaknesses and in some cases throw in the towel altogether. 

The key to a consistent lawn is tough love. 

Don't bother trying to repair your lawn during hot summer months. They're known as cool weather grasses for a reason - they thrive in cooler weather. Spring can be a good time to make repairs but the window is often short and unpredictable. Fall is the best time to give your lawn attention. Set it up for success in the fall and send it off on it's own, see how it does and if it needs help, wait until next fall to try something else.

The above picture is what most New England homeowners saw in their yards as the summer came to an end this year. Patchy tufts of green. 

A lawn is typically made up of a variety of grass species. When the lawn is thick, all varieties of grasses are doing well. When the lawn is patchy like the picture, the weaker grasses have gone dormant or died off and left the stronger or more opportunistic grass to thrive. 

First: When the nights have cooled enough that you see substantial dew in the morning, cut the lawn short. You should have been mowing tall all summer, between 3.5 and 4 inches. Now it's time to go down to about 3 inches. 

Cool nights and shorter days lessen the need for irrigation, increasing the success rate for grass seed. Cooler weather also slows the spread of weeds and other warm weather invasives like crabgrass.

Next: Aerate! Deep core aeration. Lot's of holes! Aerate immediately after you mow when the lawn is shortest. Some people like to mow again after aeration to pulverize the plugs. This is a matter of preference. Both have their benefits. 

After aerating, fertilize and seed. The product will make it's way into the holes .

A few days to a week after aerating and seeding you'll see signs of life. The picture above is the same patch of grass in the first picture. Notice the young grass shoots in the middle of the picture. 

Top dress with compost or topsoil after seeding, the same day or up to a few weeks later. The above spreader is used to spread a thin layer of compost over the lawn. The same can be done manually with a shovel, a rake, a strong back and a team of help!

The idea here is to add organic micro nutrients to the top layer of soil which will help retain water, and fertilizers in the seasons to come. It will also help to sow in new grass seed. 

When you're finished your lawn is likely to look like hell. You may wonder why you're doing all of this and how it's going to help. After a few weeks you'll see noticeable improvement in color and thickness. Your lawn will winter better and come back faster in the spring. But the real reason you're doing all of this is to get it through next summer. You want deep healthy roots that will store water between rains and find water during droughts. You want thick grass that will feed itself between fertilizer applications and grass that can stand up to foot traffic and heavy use. Strong grass will resist disease and infestation. Strong grass will require less water and fewer chemicals. Strong grass will cost less.

Although you may spend more time mowing...


This is a rehab, not a regimen. This is something that should be done if your lawn is in decline or showing signs of distress over the long term.

This may be used as a maintenance practice but I don't suggest doing so more often than every four years. 

Do not use herbicides until grass has filled in. Herbicide can negatively affect grass seed and seedlings.

A service like this is likely to cost anywhere from 8 to 12 cents per square foot of lawn.

Caring for Your New Plants

You've planted a new garden or had a new landscape planting installed and your care is vital to it's success. 

Mature plants (grown plants or seedlings that have been started elsewhere and by way of a pot have been transplanted to your yard) require extensive care. Imagine taking a child in his or her early development years and moving them to a new environment, they will require careful attention and care to recognize his or her needs to continue crucial development. The same goes for mature plants. 

More attention than less

It's best to pay more attention than assume the plant will be fine. Make it a part of your daily routine to check on your plants the first week after planting. Not all plants leave the nursery healthy and signs or stress are likely to show in the first week after planting. Some stress can be turned around with your help.

Water Water Water

Don't worry about drowning your plants. Plants in the landscape aren't likely to drown unless they're planted in a swimming pool. When a potted plant is watered the water stays in the pot until the plant uses it or it evaporates. When a plant in the ground is watered, the water runs over and through the ground. As the soil dries the plant will need more water until it establishes new roots in its new home. There's no rule of thumb as to when a plant establishes but when you're making daily observations you will notice a plants health improve between watering. 

Rain helps but is not enough

Rain water is very helpful in the early weeks of a new planting however it shouldn't be the only irrigation. Rain water will help slow the evaporation and runoff of the water from your hose but it won't be enough for the new plants. So put the rain coat on and get out there.

The First Summer

If you plant in the spring and see no visible signs of stress when you stop your watering routine the plant has established, for now... Greenhouse and nursery grown plants are used to being hooked to an automatic irrigation system. With this they have only just begun getting water and nutrients on their own. A hot dry summer may take it's toll on a new plant because of how easy it's life has been thus far. If you see signs of stress you may need to water at any time in it's first year. 


Be careful not to over fertilize in the first season. Use a slow release fertilizer or starter fertilizer. Root growth is the number one priority and most fertilizers will encourage foliage in exchange for root growth. If this happens, the plant may not winter well or make it through a dry season. 


Resist the urge to prune in the first season. Remove any dead branches or foliage and cut back old flowers. Pruning can cause unnecessary stress to a plant and stunt growth in other ways. Be ready to prune next year when the plant shows signs of strong healthy growth.