Everything You Need To Know About Building a Freestanding Deck

Enhance your home's exterior with a freestanding deck. This guide will walk you through the how-to instructions for getting the job done.

A freestanding deck is a beautiful addition to your home's backyard landscape. This type of deck structure is self-supported and not directly attached to your home. It's often the most practical choice for homes with brick or stucco exterior walls, which can make installing ledger boards difficult. A freestanding deck can also be placed away from the house as a standout feature or built around a pool.

As a place to make new family memories and host plenty of company, a freestanding deck is something you want to last a long time. If you plan to build one yourself, it's important to learn about the special considerations for supporting and constructing a freestanding structure. With basic building knowledge, you and a helper can tackle these steps with ease. It won't be a project finished in an afternoon, but after all the work is done, you'll be left with a stunning freestanding deck. Refer to this guide to building a freestanding deck for everything you need to know about this exterior project.

back yard patio seating ornamental plantings
Caitlin Atkinson

Types of Lumber for Freestanding Decks

Pressure-treated lumber is often the most affordable choice and can be used for both the visible parts and structural members of a freestanding deck. However, without proper upkeep, decks made of pressure-treated lumber can lose their looks: The wood has a tendency to warp, split, and turn an unsightly gray color. But with a little extra care, a treated-wood deck can look great for many years. First, choose boards that are straight, dry, and free of large knots. Pressure-treated wood can twist and warp as it dries, so stack it tightly until you install it and fasten it securely. After a month or so, check to see whether any fasteners are working loose. If so, remove them and install longer fasteners.

Other types of deck lumber include naturally resistant species, such as cedar and redwood, which are more expensive but will resist rot and insect damage. Imported woods like ipe and composite decking materials are even more durable, but they're also pricier and often difficult to work with.

Laying Out a Freestanding Deck

The first step to building a freestanding deck is planning where the deck will sit. You can build the deck right next to your home so it functions like an attached deck, or you can choose a location farther out in your yard. When laying out a freestanding deck, construct batterboards to use for your foundation. These temporary posts will help ensure precise lines and corners. From there, string a grid along the posts to measure out the confines of your future deck. When you're all done, you'll be ready to head to the hardware store to purchase the materials you need to build the deck.

outdoor patio furniture set on wooden deck
Kimberly Gavin

Freestanding Deck Footings

As beautiful as your deck looks from above, it's what's underneath that can matter the most. After you have the dimensions of your deck laid out, you're ready to start forming the footings and layering a protective barrier. The footings will set a strong, safe foundation for your freestanding deck while layers of sheeting and rocks beneath your deck will stunt the growth of unwelcome weeds. For each footing, you'll dig a posthole, smoothly fill it with concrete, and check for air bubbles. Then rake 1 to 2 inches of gravel over the surface area your deck will cover.

If you're building a freestanding deck next to your house, keep in mind that the soil near the foundation of a new home (soil that was backfilled after the concrete basement was poured) is unstable. Local codes usually require that concrete footings within 3 feet of the foundation must be 8 feet deep. To avoid the time, effort, and expense of such deep footings, you can instead use heavy-duty beams that rest on footings placed farther away from the house. Run beams made of 2x10s perpendicular to the house, which will be strong enough to cantilever 3 feet past the footings. The middle beam supports both deck levels.

Installing Freestanding Deck Posts

After a day or two of letting your concrete postholes set and begin to cure, it's time to begin installing posts. Serving as the bones of your deck, the posts are arguably the most important part of your freestanding structure. Use these instructions to learn how to set, measure, and level the posts to perfection. This step takes about 30 minutes per post to complete.

red and black patio furniture
Marty Baldwin

Freestanding Deck Beams, Headers, and Joists

A solid, strong beam is essential to your freestanding deck. To make your surface as safe as possible, we suggest using beams made of three 2x10-inch wood boards. This might take longer than traditional techniques that use one large solid beam, but it's often easier to install correctly. Don't cut corners on this step, because the beam holds the joists which hold the planks of your deck. A safe place for your family depends on your attentive work.

With a strong set of beams built, it's time to begin installing the beams, headers, and outside joists. A framing plan will help you space and measure the joists properly and allow you to map out details such as the length of the headers. You'll want a handy helper for this installation. Together, you will be leveling beams, cutting header joists, and lifting the entire frame onto the set beams. When you're done, you'll be able to see the freestanding deck coming together.

Inside joists hold up the surface planks of a deck. It is important that these are level, precisely spaced, and most importantly, strong. For this step, you'll begin by measuring and cutting the joists. Then use a blocking technique to prevent the joists from warping. With a strong foundation like this, your deck can serve as the base of fun family memories for years to come.

Other Freestanding Deck Ideas

For a classic, uniform look, consider laying 45-degree angled decking, which is an attainable project for a DIY homeowner. After measuring and cutting your planks with a power miter saw, you will drive nails into the joists, attaching your planks. A chalk line will help you cut your edges to perfection for a smooth, crisp finish.

Complete your freestanding deck by building a set of stairs. Just like your deck, the stairs will need a foundation followed by a surface of wood planks. Use the skills you already have learned to build strong, sturdy stairs. For an extra finishing touch (and added safety), you can also build a short handrail as well, though it is often not necessary.

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