Ask The Expert


Hello Robert,

I just finished reading your column and it reminded me of a project of mine. I don’t know if you have been asked this before but we have slatted patio cover that extends out 9 feet and is 9 feet wide. We were thinking about putting some plywood down and use it as a sun deck. What size thickness of plywood would you recommend for an 81 square foot deck? Thank you,

Paul K.

Hi Paul,

If you have an open slatted patio, then you probably have basic 1′ x 1′ footings in the ground. This will by no means strong enough for a deck. You’ve got to consider not only the dead load which is the additional weight of the flooring, waterproofing system, and handrails which you would need up there, but also have to account for the live load or people that will access the space.

You’re not quite ready for buying plywood just yet. The first step would be to get a contractor out there that knows what he is doing. He’s going to have to dig up those footings to verify the sizes because I doubt with an open slatted overhang that you would have adequate footings to support a deck.

Dear Robert,

My home is on a hillside. I have four floors and three of them are set into the hill which gives us a really strong musty smell especially if the house is closed over a long weekend. It’s almost overpowering. The lower level is the worst. We’ve tried air fresheners and have cleaned the ducts. The home is spotless but there is a constant smell that we can’t get out.

We have not found any leaks. We even had someone remove part of the lower level wall to look for and he assured us the wall was not leaking. Please let me know if you have any suggestions! Sincerely,

Lachele P.

Hi Lachele,

That is just the nature of the beast. There are not a lot of options available with subterranean living. You’re below grade with either a poured foundation or precision block.

I do have one recommendation. It’s not an overnight fix but it will help if you do have crawl spaces in your home. What you smell is a combination of stagnant air and damp earth. You can bring in some circulation by installing attic gable fans which will also help dry the moisture from the ground.

I worked at a property in Woodland Hills many years ago. They were some high-end condos that were up against a hill. The residents complained of the identical problem you are describing. The resolve was the installation of gable vents and attic fans in the crawl spaces.

I put the fans on mechanical timers so they would cycle on during the day and off at night due to noise. The fans would pull fresh air from the outside which would then circulate and exit through the vents. After about six months of those fans running seven days a week, the earth started drying out to where 80% of the smell had dissipated.

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Robert Lamoureux of IMS Construction, Valencia, CA, has 30 years experience as a Commercial, General, Electrical, and Plumbing contractor. The opinions expressed in “Ask the Expert” are not to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after a thorough visual inspection has been made. 

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