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Question DetailsAsked on 8/7/2013

I'm looking for an easy way to excavate under my deck. Any thoughts?

When my home was built, a lot of excess ground was left under my deck. I want to excavate some of it so I can put cover and river rock to make it look nicer. The ground is very hard and tramped down, and the deck is only about three feet above it, so it's not practical to swing a pick under there. Is there a tool that would make it easy to break up and remove the ground without damaging the deck above? The deck extends about 15 feet out from the house.

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This is what I use to excavate in tight quarters like under decks or in crawl spaces - get a heavy duty one, not the light-weight gardening ones - worth the extra 10-15 bucks. I got mine at TrueValule years ago - I know WalMart hardware also carries them, at leat in our store.

Obviously will not dig hardpan or bedrock, but great for packed dirt and rocky soil. Dig with the prongs to loosen embedded rocks or hard dirt, or the hoe end for looser dirt, then turn on its side to drag the dirt back towards you (drags more material at a swipe on its side).

For loose dirt or gravel or cobbles (for anyone with that issue), a snow rake works great - come about 16' long (in pieces), aluminum so very light, about $50.

If you are working alone on this job, the snow rake would also work for pulling the loose dirt out after you have loosen it up with the 2 prong tool, or if you have back problems and cannot work in underneath very long - it would allow you to reach in under and pull the loose dirt all the way from the back to front from out in front. Is aluminum, so I would not count on it being in good condition for roof use after this exercise.

Easiest way to use the 2-prong tool if you do not use a snow rake is to start at the front and work toward the back in about 2-3' "deep" swipes (as far as you can conveniently reach at a time), windrowing about a foot high pile of loose material in front of you before you pull it back out from under the deck, so you are increasing your working headroom as you work back in under the deck from the edge. Of course, once you get the windrow within 3-4 feet of the open edge you can reach in under with a garden rake to pull the windrow out. Work from exposed ends too to minimize distance to drag the material.

When you get further in under the deck (or crawlspace) or if you are digging more than a couple of inches deep, I have found a 2 person operation works best - build a 1/4 or 3/8" plywood sled (with 2x2 edges for skids) with a rope works best, as you can kneel on it directly and it holds a lot of material as you scoop onto it, or alternatively hold a cheap shallow plastic snow sled or a large roof-clearing snow scoop shovel in front of you while raking the dirt into it, then the other person pulls the sled or scoop out from under (standing outside) with a rope to empty it. Have it trailing a second rope for you to pull it back in under with. Using this method saves you having to pull the windrow a couple of feet at a time to the front of the deck.

Remember when you are doing this to not ding the waterproofing layer on the outside of the foundation, be careful about utility lines (TV, phone, and electric are comonly only a few inches down - get free locates) and maintain a visible slope away from the house for drainage, so you don't pool water along the foundation.

Bear in mind, if you put river rock under there it will trap debris and leaves in no time unless you put fine wire mesh all around, which sort of negates the whole beautification purpose of doing this. If you do put in river rock (assuming you mean cobbles) then I would suggest filling the voids between the rocks with pea gravel, so only the top couple of inches of the rocks stick up - then you can get under there with a leaf blower to clear out debris every year or so. Pea gravel also quite effectively suppresses weed growth if it is at least about 3 inches thick, whereas bare river rock is ideal conditions for weeds and especially tree seeds to have moisture and protection to grow. I would emphatically recommend against crushed rock - use rounded river cobbles, because angular crushed rock traps debris quite effectively. I would also recommend against any sort of fabric or plastic under the rocks/gravel - just traps windblown and deck wash dirt, and makes a perfect little moist, dirt-filled starter bed for seeds.

Also, from a cost standpoint, you really cannot see very far under the deck, so generally a band of decorative rock extending only about 3-5 feet back from the posts will do the job. With a 3 foot high deck, you rarely see further back under than that anyway, and if the dirt further back in is scraped down smooth as you dig, weeds and trees will not start easily in it and it willl still be easy to leaf blow. Do NOT rake leaves on bare dirt under decks with garden rake prongs - leaves furrows to catch seeds and promote growth - use a leaf rake or the flat side of a garden rake.

One other thing some people to it decorative rock to the posts (assuming you have an overhang), then black or green open-weave landscape fabric (not closed-weave - does not let area under deck dry out after rains) stapled to the back of the posts and turned out under the decorative rocks to hold the bottom edge down. If you do this, leave a "door you can come and go through for instpection or maintenance. One bad thing about doing this it is creates a closed-in space that keeps birds out, which is what wasps and hornets like, as they can come and go through the deck board gaps but predators like magpies are kept out.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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