How To Build A Proper Deck

They can be a small extension off a family room, bedroom or dining area; or they can be a spacious “outdoor” room large enough for a party. Decks can be single-level or multi-level; they can be some of the simplest “first” projects for a beginner or elaborate examples of sophisticated craftsmanship.

Decks are quite often the first project many beginning do-it-yourselfers tackle, but it’s important to understand the basics of deck construction. Decks are built in specific steps. By taking those steps one at a time, building a deck can be fun and easy.

Read on below for the best information on how to build a deck.

Planning Your Deck

The first step is to design and plan your deck. Location is important. Determine its primary use, such as a place for large parties, family relaxation, outdoor cooking, or private sunbathing areas. Do you desire sunlight or shade? Do you want privacy? Is there a view you wish to enjoy? How would the deck fit with your general landscaping? How would the deck fit with your existing structures? Consider the safety factors. Will the deck be used by children or older persons? Remember that decks are basically support bases for people to walk on, as well as to support items like flower planters and furniture. They must be constructed strong enough for this support.

Measure the area of the proposed deck and temporarily stake it out with small stakes. Make sure there are no utility or drainage lines running beneath the deck. Contact the local building authorities for any permits, and any code rules or limitations. Some cities, municipalities, communities, or subdivisions may restrict the size and height of the deck, as well as the materials. Determine the basic design of the deck, such as posts, beams, and other spacing, and prepare a materials list. With this information, you can apply for any permits needed.

Materials Required

Decks must be constructed of long-lasting, moisture-, rot-, decay- and insect-resistant materials. Three basic types of materials can be used.

First, there are naturally insect- and moisture-resistant woods such as redwood or Western Red Cedar. For example, Western Red Cedar fibers contain natural compounds called “thujaplicins” that act as preservatives. As a result, the wood will have a long life without the need for chemical treatments. Plus, the even, consistent grain and low density make cedar less likely to swell, warp, cup, and twist than other soft and hardwoods. As a result, it lies flat and straight. Cedar is also free of the pitch and resin found in other softwoods – a quality that makes it ideal for a wide range of finishes, whether you choose a lightly tinted semi-transparent stain or a two-coat solid color finish.

Second, pressure-treated woods with chemical preservatives, such as Wolmanized Natural Select, are readily available, inexpensive and easy to work with, making them the most widely used material for outdoor structures.

There’s also the option of composite decking materials, which are made from a combination of plastic and wood fibers to provide a low-maintenance alternative to real wood.

Availability, cost, the final design of the deck, as well as personal preferences will determine the materials to be used. Check with your local building supply dealers as to the materials available in your area.

Designing Your Deck

Regardless of how low or high it is built, a deck consists of several basic parts: the footings; posts or vertical support members; the beams or horizontal supports; the joists; the decking and finishing details such as railings and steps. The size and spacing of the different members depends on the design of the deck and the woods being used. The charts at the bottom of this article show the spacing for Wolmanized Natural Select Pressure Treated lumber and for non-stress-graded redwood (Construction Heart) lumber.

Laying Out the Deck

It is important the deck be laid out square, and also square with any building it is to be attached to. Even if some of the deck is free-form or rounded, the basic support structure must be squared.

The first step is to determine the height of the deck. If the deck is to be attached to a house or building, measure the height of the house floor above your grade line, or at the doorway. Allow a 2- to 4-inch step down from the house floor to the deck level so water won’t be allowed to enter the building. Then measure one side to the length needed and drive a stake. Fasten a string to the house at the height determined. Using a string level to create a level line, fasten the string to the stake. Measure for the second corner stake, making sure the measurements are the same. Then measure the distance between the two lines attached to the house and adjust the outrigger stakes so they are the same distance apart. This provides the basic shape. Drive stakes and construct batter boards about 2-feet on either side of the outer stakes. Before fastening the batter boards in place to the stakes, extend string lines across to the batter board tops and, using a string level, make sure the tops of the batter boards are level with the string positions on the house and level with each other.

Repeat to locate the outer deck edge. Measure 4 feet from where the string lines cross over the tops of the outside corner stakes along one of the string lines. Mark this location with a felt-tip marker. Measure 3 feet from where the string lines cross on the opposite line and mark this location as well. Measure the distance diagonally between the two marks. It must be 5 feet. Move the strings in or out until you achieve this measurement. This ensures a square, 90-degree corner at this corner. Repeat for the opposite and last corner. Remove the stakes and relocate them directly underneath where each string crosses. This establishes the outside corners. To check for squareness, measure diagonally between each corner stake and the deck corner at the house. These measurements should be equal.

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