How to Build a Deck: What You Should Know

Building a deck is a doable task, but it takes research and skill. Here are a few things you'll need to know before tackling building a simple DIY deck.

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There are thousands of DIY decks built each year, some by novices, some by experienced home DIY pros. Unlike a paver patio, a DIY deck is a more complex project that involves careful consideration of materials and construction. Here's an overview of key terms and questions to ask before thinking about building and designing a deck.

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Do you understand deck construction language?

As you research how to build a deck, you're likely to run across some common terms. They include:

  • Decking: Decking is installed over a frame.
  • Joists: Joists are horizontal pieces that help to support a floor or ceiling. Rim joists are the outermost joists in a frame.
  • Cap rail: A cap rail adds a decorative finish to the tops of rails.
  • Beams: Beams support a deck horizontally.
  • Posts: Decking posts support a deck vertically.
  • Footings: Footings are the way a deck supports a base and its load.
  • Face: A board's wide surfaces.
  • Edge: The longer sides of a board.

Can you make a deck building plan?

There are a variety of sources for creating deck plans, including online planning tools and services available at home supply stores. Before you plan, you deck design though, you'll need to check with your municipality about codes that affect your proposed project. Once you've created a plan, you'll also need to generate views from various angles and elevations. You will need to get building approval from your city in order to proceed with the plan, too. If your deck involves digging, you will also have to have a utility evaluation so that you do not hit any underground lines.

At minimum, your planning list for building a deck should include: 

  • Research and decide on materials
  • Conduct site analysis and determine deck location
  • Draw plans and elevations
  • Estimate material quantities and costs; develop budget
  • Apply for building permit and schedule inspections as required
  • Modify plan if necessary to meet code; resubmit permit application
  • Order materials
  • Grade site and install drainage lines
  • Organize materials and set up on-site workstation
  • Strip sod and prepare site
  • Attach ledger
  • Set batterboards and lay out site
  • Locate, dig, and pour footings
  • Set anchors and posts
  • Install beams and joists
  • Lay decking
  • Build deck railings and deck stairs
  • Apply deck finish

Can you complete these DIY deck tasks?

Building a DIY deck involves multiple construction skills. Those include:

  • Driving nails both straight and at an angle into decking.
  • Drilling post holes and traditional holes.
  • Measuring angles to ensure that the deck is square.
  • Building stairs with the correct rise.
  • Pouring and leveling concrete, as well as sand or gravel. You will also need to set posts and beams if your deck is elevated.
  • Measuring and allowing for sills in your house related to placement of the deck surfaces.
  • Digging deck footings to reach below the frost line, if appropriate for the region. This may involve using a posthole digger or an auger.
  • Installing railings if needed. This involves semi-skilled carpentry.
  • Removing and replacing siding and flashing on your house. Your deck will connect to your home, and you may have to take off pieces of the house and fix them.

Can you acquire decking materials and tools?

The three most common power tools -- circular saw, saber saw, and drill -- are all you need for most deck work. Here are the decking materials and tools to look for to get all of the work done right:

  • Circular saw
  • Carbide-tipped circular saw blade
  • Jigsaw
  • Jigsaw blades
  • Power drill
  • Twist bits
  • Spade bits
  • Quick-change and magnetic sleeves
  • Mitersaw
  • Router
  • Rounderover bit
  • Hammer drill
  • Power auger
  • Fasteners -- common nails, box nails, ringshank and spiral nails, finishing nails, casing nails, screws, lag screws or carriage bolts
  • Joist hangers
  • Angle bracket
  • Deck post caps, post anchors
  • Lumber
  • Concrete and prefab tubes or precast concrete piers for footings

Research, research, research

There are whole books that detail plans and specific steps to follow when learning how to build a deck. Review the options at your local library or bookstore and make sure you understand the requirements, tools, and expense before attempting to build a deck.

How to Choose Deck Materials

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