When you take on a home improvement project yourself, you build more than just a beautiful home—you make lasting memories and relationships along the way.
That's exactly what father and son Dennis and Connor McCormick did. In 2020, with no experience, they set out to rebuild their deck and created a beautiful outdoor living space that will last for years to come.
I sat down with Dennis and Connor to hear the story behind their project and how they built not just a deck that will last another generation, but a father-son bond that will last forever.
Watch our conversation above, or read a recap of our Q&A below.
What prompted you to build your deck?
Connor McCormick: I'm lucky enough to have a father and a landlord all in one. This deck is attached to my childhood home. One of the things my dad and I identified quickly when I came home from college was the need for a new deck. It was in rough shape and needed some work, so that was the impetus.
Dennis McCormick: I would say Connor's being kind... The prior deck that was here was in pretty severe disrepair. What I wanted—particularly because Connor lived here—was to give him an accessory to the house that would last a long time, that he would not have to mess with, and wouldn't be encumbered by it because of a busy life schedule, a busy family schedule, and a busy professional schedule.
Do you have previous deck-building or repair experience?
DM: We put a band-aid on the deck prior to [this project], but it looked like a deck that needed a band-aid. So we decided we were going to tear it down to do whatever needed to be done.
Having no previous experience, where and how did you begin?
CM: We were kind of lost puppies, I would say. [As a son does,] I went to my dad. He said we had no choice but to go to Dunn. One of the resources [Dunn] connected us with was Joel. He's a professional in the industry with more than 30 years under his belt.
[Joel knew] things we certainly would not know, like building up to code. [He also provided] little tips and tricks only an industry professional [with three decades of experience] would know. We were able to pay him a little bit of a fee to have him at our beck and call, which I feel was money well spent.
What made you decide to build this deck yourselves?
DM: There were clearly economies of scale. We knew having someone do a turn-key deck would not be inexpensive.
CM: Speaking with Joel, he said [a contractor] would probably get it done in about five days and it would be about $25,000. My dad and I made it out for less than half of that.
As first-timers, how was the deck-building process?
DM: We made our own fair share of mistakes—mostly I made the mistakes. Connor would sit back and diplomatically say, "I think that's the wrong angle you just cut."
We did it very bare-bones, from the ground up. I went down and rented a jackhammer. Connor was on the business end of the jackhammer taking out the old piers and pilings and I kind of sat back and watched him. It was fun.
Were there any obstacles that were more memorable than others?
DM: Ninety-degree-angle cuts are way easier than not. We knew going in that having [the deck] be level and plumb really alleviated a lot of other challenges, so we were very mindful about that.
I did, in fact, cut the power cord to a Skil saw one day—that was a bit of an obstacle. They just don't run very well when they don't have power!
Was there any advice you got that stuck out to you?
CM: I'd say one key piece of advice is utilizing hidden fasteners. From the outside looking in, my perspective was: The deck fasteners are hidden, they look way sleeker, they're going to be a hundred times more difficult to install. After top-screwing just a few boards and [getting a little obsessive] in wanting to make sure all the screws were perfectly aligned in the correct places, [I realized] the hidden fasteners were absolutely the way to go.
The other thing was something Joel imposed on us: Just remember, you're not building a piano, you're building a deck. Whenever we got a little frustrated or at a rough part of the project, we just said that to ourselves and reminded each other of that. That was very fortuitous of Joel.
Did you find that doing this project as a family was a positive experience?
DM: I felt like putting a deck together with my son working side-by-side was going to be just terrific, but it was far greater than I ever had imagined. It was a cathartic experience.
CM: You can say you have a great relationship with your dad but try building a deck and you'll know exactly where you stand. I knew where we stood before. My dad and I have an awesome relationship.
Building a deck is a big undertaking. What does completing a project like this do for your confidence?
CM: My wife and I have a dog now, so I use those steps daily. There are many days where I step with good vigor on them because I know I built them with my dad and that they're standing there and staying there. Just having that sense of accomplishment is huge.
What advice would you give someone who doesn't have experience with home improvement projects?
DM: Spend some time with the people at Dunn Lumber. I think they will never steer you wrong. The people and the counsel and the guidance and steerage we got from Dunn Lumber was like hiring a professional. The advice they gave us went so, so far. It was really great.
Do you feel confident you could do it again?
CM: With [my dad's] help, yeah. I wouldn't be able to do it solo, that's for sure.
DM: This was the equivalent of a [previous] week-long fishing trip in Alaska where there was a lot of communication and dialogue and connection with family. Family is everything.
CM: The bonding experience was unreal. [Whether you're] throwing lines in the water or drilling fasteners down—it's all the same at the end of the day. You're just hanging with your pop.
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