This comprehensive deck building checklist, with planning-stage questions and deck materials list, will get your project on the right footing.


Spare yourself some hassle and headache, as well as last-minute deck building budget busters, by planning out your deck. You can produce professional-looking deck plans even if you're not a professional draftsman. A pad of graph paper (use a 1/4-inch grid), a pencil or two, a good eraser, a ruler, and perhaps an architect's scale are the only tools you'll need. Though it won't cover everything needed for special upgrades, such as a fireplace or full outdoor kitchen, checking your plans against these points should keep your deck building project on the right track.

How to Draw a Base Map and Site Analysis

Good decks start with a base map, or a scaled drawing of your property. To get started, you'll need either a plat map of your home, or some measuring tape and a sketchbook. Once you have your drawing in place, you'll need to consider a variety of factors to plan the best spot for your deck. We'll walk you through all of these considerations so you can get ready to build.

Learn How to Draw a Base Map and Site Analysis

How to Satisfy the Inspector

Once you have your base map, start with rough drawings that show the basic contours of the deck. Then move on to scale drawings. Create a final drawing that details board placement. Ask your local building department about its specific requirements for plans. If you get stuck, we can help you move from bubble plans to master plans, here. 

The building department may have sample plans that you can use as guides for your own drawings. Most departments do not demand architect-quality plans, but do want to see where all the pieces fit. Inspectors don't like to squint over unclear drawings, and they may want to see a complete list of all materials.

Produce at least one plan view (how the deck looks from overhead) and one elevation (how it looks from the front and side). Include separate, enlarged detail drawings for all the parts that are complicated or unusual. We'll show you how to plan views and elevations here. 

Plans Save Time and Money

Though it may seem tedious, draw every framing piece; this shows exactly how many boards of which sizes you'll need.

With a complete set of drawings in hand, you won't have to estimate materials; you can count the exact number of boards and hardware pieces you will need. Buy several extra pieces of each size lumber, in case some are defective or damaged.

Detailed drawings also can help you spot ways to save money on materials. For example, if a plan calls for joists that are 12 feet 2 inches long, you will need to buy 14-foot boards and waste nearly 2 feet of each piece. By shortening the deck a few inches, you can buy less expensive 12-foot joists.

Drawing careful plans enables you to solve problems before you start building—it's better to waste pencil lead than costly lumber and your valuable time. The more detailed and precise you make the drawings, the more likely you are to catch design flaws that would slow the building project. For example, draw in outdoor receptacle boxes, faucets, or dryer vents that protrude from the side of the house; knowing that you may need to work around them when you attach the ledger will save time and minimize frustration in the middle of the project.

Key Questions to Ask

When Planning

  • Does the deck comply with area building codes?
  • Is there plenty of space for planned outdoor activities?
  • Is there enough space for amenities and furnishings, such as patio tables and chairs, and for the people who will use them?
  • Will traffic flow easily between the house and the deck?
  • Is it easy to access the yard from the deck?
  • Are individual spaces for specific uses designated on a large deck?
  • Will the deck work well visually with the house?
  • Will at least a portion of the deck be shaded, if desired, during peak use times?
  • If privacy is a concern, are privacy screens planned?
  • Does the deck include storage elements, such as built-ins or access doors?
  • Do you have detailed plans of the final deck design?
  • If you plan to work with contractors, builders, and other professionals, have you reviewed and signed contracts specifying all work, materials, and responsibilities?

When Choosing Components

  • Does your project list include all project components that follow?
  • Have you budgeted for all the project components? Most decks require:
    • Substructure (ledgers, joists, posts, beams)
    • Railings (rail posts, balusters, top rails)
    • Stairway parts (stringers, risers, treads)
    • Decking
    • Post anchors
    • Joist hangers
    • Bolts
    • Screws
    • Nails
    • Stain
    • Sealer
    • Paint
    • Alternate materials planned for decking and railings
    • Skirting
    • Fill for under deck, such as weed-blocking landscape fabric and river rock
  • Have you budgeted for all of the project labor? Most decks require:
    • Site clearing and prep
    • Digging footings
    • Pouring footings
    • Constructing substructure
    • Installing decking
    • Building stairs
    • Installing railings
    • Finishing deck

When Planning Special Features

  • Do the final deck plans account for any special features, such as an outdoor kitchen, spa, or gazebo?
  • Will structural elements adequately support heavy features, such as a spa?
  • If plans include adding a special feature later, will proper prep work-such as roughing in utilities-be done during initial construction prep work?

Comments (1)

July 9, 2020
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