Deck Building Designs and Building Phases

Jen Jones

Whether for a neighborhood party or a family barbeque, decks can provide a welcoming and spacious atmosphere for a get-together. Building a deck can be a challenging do-it-yourself project, but with following specific steps, the process will not prove to be too difficult for a beginner. The most important phase of building a deck is the planning stage. You need to be sure you have all knowledge, information, permits, and materials before progressing to the construction phases.

Phase 1: Planning

The first thing you must do, before anything else, is to check to see if you need a building permit. Although most locales do not require a deck to meet a local building code, regulations do differ from location to location. It never hurts to contact your local building permit office to make sure a building permit is not required. Information required for permits, include the basic design of the deck and a materials list.

Once legalities are taken care of, you need to figure out what the purpose of your deck will be. Decks can provide a place for large parties, outdoor cookouts, private sunbathing, or family relaxing. You should make sure your future deck will fit with your landscaping and that the deck will be used by people of all ages. Consider smaller distances between steps and handrails if you will be entertaining an elderly neighbor. If you have young children, make sure there is room for a childproof gate at the top of the stairs.

The main material used in building a deck is wood, but not just any wood. These wooden planks must be sturdy and have the ability to not be vulnerable to moisture, decay, rot, and insects. There are three main types of wood that you can choose from which will meet these requirements: natural wood, pressure-treated wood, and composite wood.

Natural wood that can be used for building a deck includes redwood and Western Red Cedar. These woods have consistent grains and low density, making them less likely to warp. Pressure-treated woods are treated with chemical preservatives, which make them easy to work with and inexpensive. Composite woods are made of a combination of both plastic and wood fibers to create an alternative to real wood that is low-maintenance.

The last part of the planning stage is the deck design. Your design does not have to be perfect, but you should use graph paper so your deck can be drawn to scale; one box (1/4 inch) per foot. You should have two deck plans: an elevation view and an overhead view. If you are having the deck raised up above the ground, you need to have an elevation view to show each layer of the deck with dimensions for each layer. The overhead view will show where each post or joint need to be and helps you estimate the amount of wood that you will need to purchase.

Phase 2: Preconstruction

There is one main step in the home improvement preconstruction phase of building a deck: laying out the basic support structure of the deck. The layout will allow you to establish the locations of the foundation piers using stakes and string. Measure the distances (width and length) and drive a stake two feet outside the actual dimensions. Attach a string to the top of each stake. This will outline the size and shape of your deck on the ground.

Phase 3: Construction

There are five main steps in the construction phase of building a deck: installing a ledger board, footings, posts, beams, and decking.

1. Installing a ledger board. The ledger board supports the deck and is fastened to the building. This board should be in place against the house and level before nailed and anchored into place.

2. Installing footings. Footings are typically concrete supports that will support the posts and must extend below the frost line, or two feet deep. You can either purchase pier footings or pour your own footings.

3. Installing posts. Posts are installed depending on how your footings are installed; they are either sitting in the holes or anchored to the footing. You need to make sure that the posts are located correctly.

4. Installing beams. Run a level string from the top of the ledger board to the posts. To install the beams, you will use one of three beam fastening options. The beams will either be on the outside of the joints, in between the joints, or in a notched position on the joints.

5. Installing the deck. Begin installing your decking with the board perpendicular to the house. This board will be the guide board for the other deck boards and should be installed bark-side up to reduce the risk of warping. You can install the deck boards in a variety of directions, but it is important to stagger the boards slightly to allow for any movement during seasonal changes.

Phase 4: Post construction

Once your deck is built, you can opt to add in stairs and railings if your deck is multilevel. To see how many stairs you need, measure the rise from the ground to the top of the deck. Divide the rise by seven inches (or the stair height you prefer) to indicate the number of stairs. If you need more than three stairs, consider putting in a handrail to each side to provide safety.

You can also opt to waterproof the deck by using a staining sealer. Before staining the deck, sand any rough spots and remove all sawdust with a broom. Make sure the entire deck is clean and free from sawdust before applying the sealing. Use either a paintbrush or a paint sprayer to seal the deck and allow the deck to fully dry.

Instructions for building a deck may seem overwhelming, but it is important to break down each step and fully understand them before starting on this project. By taking the initial steps of the project and obtaining all information possible, building a deck will not seem as overwhelming. If you think that it may be too much for you to handle alone, ask your neighbor for help or contact a local home improvement contractor.

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