Building a Deck for Your Home
Outdoor Decks and Patios:
Few home improvements can match a wood deck for
usefulness, beauty and enhanced value to a home. For
adults, patio decks offer outdoor living space for
entertaining, sun bathing and dining. For children,
they provide an excellent outdoor play area.
But the best news about a deck is that it is an
ideal home improvement construction project for the
average handyman or woman.
Deck Design is Straightforward.
advanced carpentry skills or sophisticated
tools are needed. If you can hammer a nail,
saw on a straight line, and read a level,
then building a deck should present no major
What's more, the use of pressure-treated
lumber helps assure that your project will
be virtually maintenance-free and will
provide enjoyment for decades to come. You
won't even have to paint or stain the wood,
unless you want to. Left unfinished, it
weathers to a rustic gray.
is a good idea to seal the deck periodically to
prevent the wood from checking, however.
There's enough information in this article to help
you design and build an attractive wood deck.
However, if you don't find exactly what you want
here, be sure to post a question in our
forums, and ask our site
email us here.
Building a Deck: Tools
Building a deck is easier and usually better done when
proper tools are used. Certain property and construction
conditions may necessitate special tools, but the following
list will suffice for most deck projects:
For safety, the following are recommended:
Preliminary Deck Planning
The location and design of your deck should be influenced by
*Anticipated use (private sunbathing, large parties,
family relaxation, outdoor cooking)
*Air currents (allow flow of gentle breezes, block out
*Existing structure (should be compatible)
*Sunlight (desire sun or shade)
*Privacy (screen certain areas, avoid street noise,
*View (emphasizes a good view, mask a poor one)
*Safety (children or grandchildren, senior citizens)
*Access to home (adjoin kitchen, living room or bedroom)
*Terrain (elevated deck, ground level, split level)
*Other personal needs and preferences
It's important; of course, to make certain the deck
does not seal access to any utility or drainage
lines. If you aren't sure of the location or depth
of buried electric, telephone, gas, water or sewer
lines, it's a good idea to ask your utilities before
building your deck.
Keep in mind how you intend to use your outdoor
deck. Will it accommodate benches, lounge chairs,
perhaps a table for outdoor dining? How many people
will be using the deck at any given time? These are
elements which must be considered in planning for
proper size and design.
Once you have decided on the basic size, shape and location
of your deck, check local deck building codes. You may find
that there are restrictions as to height and size within
your sub-division or community. A construction permit will
probably be needed, but don't apply for one until you've
finalized your planning.
Don't order any lumber or start work until you're sure that
your plans meet local requirements. The information provided
here should meet any local codes, but you will need to check
to see if there are any particular requirements in your
Building a Deck: Deck
Here are some additional suggestions that may help you in
building your deck.
Always nail a thinner member to a thicker member.
Drive nails at a slight angle toward each other for
greater holding power.
When toe-nailing, stagger opposing nails so they pass
Nails and other hardware should be hot-dipped
zinc-coated (galvanized) or equally well-protected
material. Otherwise, weather may cause them to rust,
leaving streaks on your deck.
For maximum holding power, use ring- or spiral-shank
nails. They can help reduce warping of lumber.
To reduce splitting, when nailing close the the edge of
a board, drill a pilot hole about three quarters the
diameter of the nail. For dense or brittle wood, blunt
the points by striking them carefully with a hammer.
Blunt nails cut through; sharp ones pry apart.
Place nails no close to the edge than about half the
board thickness and no closer to the end than the
thickness of the board. When nailing closer to the edge,
Use 16d nails on nominal two-inch decking. Use two at
each joint with 2 x 4's laid flat; use three for 2 x 6's
Mill ends may not be square. Resquare and trim the ends.
Take this step into consideration when figuring lengths
and finished deck size. IT is a good idea to leave all
the deck boards slightly longer than the finished size
and cut them all to the final dimension after they are
all nailed down.
With lag screws, use flat washer under head.
Use washers under nut and head of machine bolts and just
under nut of carriage bolts.
Wear gloves to help avoid splinters.
Tops of upright structurals and joist ends should be
beveled to a 30 to 45 degree angle for drainage to
minimize moisture (see fig. 18, page 11). While
pressure-treated wood resists end rot, it remains
subject to splitting, checking and chipping caused by
moisture-induced swelling and subsequent shrinkage,
therefore sealing the deck is a good idea to protect the
staining wood, follow the manufacturers' instructions.
Wood should be dry for best results.
Remember, you are about to do finish work, not rough
framing. The results will be visible for years to come.
There is no substitute for good construction techniques
and workmanship. (This is not intended to scare you,
just remind you.)
Decks consist of six parts: footings, posts, beams, joists,
decking and railing. In planning for these you have three
basic considerations: function, structural stability, and
aesthetics of your deck will probably be most noticeable in
your choice of railing and decking, but the location of
posts and beams can have a major effect on the appearance of
a raised deck.
almost every instance, your choice lies between several
small pieces of lumber or comparatively fewer large ones. A
railing, for example, may be held by 2 x 4 posts spaced
every 16 inches or less, or it may have 4 x 4 posts capped
by a 2 x 6 spaced as far apart as eight feet. (Note: a 2 x 4
isn't always 2" x 4". Actual size of finished dry lumber is
typically 1/2 inch smaller than the nominal size.
Your best guide at this stage is to look at various deck
plans and inspect decks completed by friends and neighbors
to help decide what you like best.
Choosing decking lumber presents similar alternatives. A
popular choice is 2-inch thick lumber in widths of 4 or 6
inches. These can be alternated to make more interesting
patterns. There is also 5/4 decking, which has rounded
(bull-nosed) edges to give the deck boards a more finished,
Develop your own design using the
tables and information that
follow. Clicking on the table reference will bring you to
the table page. There will be an easy return link back to
here on the table page. Take a look at the
Tables 1 through 5. The
figures given are for maximum spans using pressure-treated
wood. Inferior grade wood will not safely span the distances
in these tables. More on how to use the tables will follow
design and construction information presented here is for
normal usage. If special loading conditions are anticipated
or unusual circumstances exist, consult a competent
SUPPORTING A DECK
Elevated decks have generally been supported by 4x4 and 6x6
solid timber posts. Under a properly designed deck, these
can provide very satisfactory support. Deck posts support
the deck above, they are its foundation. The first
consideration, then, should be the ability of a post to
support the structure and the people on it.
ACCESSORIES AND CONNECTORS
Some of the special connectors and accessories that you
should be familiar with are:
Make sure all connectors, nails, screws, bolts and related
hardware are hot-dipped zinc-coated or otherwise rustproof.
Remember, pressurized wood will remain in serviceable
condition long after ordinary nails and connectors have been
weakened by corrosion. Rust will also cause unsightly
stains. The same conditions that cause untreated wood to rot
also cause metal to rust.
Expansion bolt (for bolting into the cement foundation,
ring shank nails
post fasteners (to fasten a wooden post to a cement
USE THESE TABLES TO HELP PLAN YOUR
DECK Let's say
that your deck will extend eight feet from the house and be
14 ft. long. If it is to be just above ground level, there's
little need for a railing. However, higher decks call for a
Table 1 shows the
appropriate beam size. For example, the distance between the
house and the beam is 8 ft. Using (2)2x12's as your beam
members allows a span of 7 ft. between posts, a convenient
figure for a deck 14 ft. long. A beam can be built up from
two small pieces either nailed together or placed a few
inches apart on either side of a post. Be sure you have a
post under any joints in your beams.
To calculate the size post needed, multiply the beam spacing
(eight ft.) by the post spacing (7 ft.). This gives you the
load area-56 square feet.
Table 2 shows that
for a load area less than 72 sq. ft. and a post height under
6 ft, a 4 x 4 post is adequate.
Decking in this example will be a 2 x 6 boards, laid flat.
Table 3 shows the
safe spans for the decking.
Now refer to
Table 4. As in our
example, your joists must span the 8 ft. between the house
and the outer beam. That can be achieved with 2 x 8 joists
spaced 24 inches apart. To avoid any springiness in your
deck, however, you should design with joists 16 inches
railing is desired, refer to
Table 5 to determine
proper post sizes and spacing requirements. Be sure to check
your local code here since the space between balusters is
usually specified to be sure the small heads of children can
not get stuck between them.
After deciding the type, shape and size of deck you'll
build, the next step is to estimate the materials you'll
need. If you use a ready-made design, and the materials list
is provided, this work is already done for you. But if you
design your own deck, or use a variation from a standard
plan, you'll have to estimate material requirements. In
estimating, it's better to overestimate since you can always
use any excess material in other projects, such as benches
or planter boxes. There is nothing worse than running out of
material and dashing off to the lumber yard before they
close (hopefully) right in the middle of the project. (On
the other hand, you may just looking for a break!)
First, draw a simple sketch of the deck; decking, rails,
footings, posts and beams. Sketch the deck to scale, perhaps
¼" per foot. To save money, stick to standard lumber sizes
and lengths to the fullest extent possible. For example,
deck boards are usually stocked 2 x 4, 2,x 6, or 5/4 x 6
inch and 8, 10, 12,14 and 16 foot lengths. I usually keep a
sale flier from the lumber yard handy to be sure I know what
sizes of lumber stock. For the decking, calculate using
actual dimensions (5 ½ for a 6 in boards) and don't allow
for spacing between boards. (More on that later, but I
recommend little or no gap between the boards).
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