Building a stand-alone deck is simple and can be done quickly. All you need is a few tools and the right materials to construct your deck. If you are looking to build a new deck or repair an old one, there are many ways to go about it. The most common method involves a plan crosswise of the deck, with the joists resting on top of the posts, supports and beams. You can also work from underneath the deck if you’re trying to fix issues with older structures.
A freestanding deck is a deck structure that’s self-supporting and is not attached to any structure. Also known as “floating decks,” they’re built apart from the house wall and are considered much easier to construct than a standard deck (which is usually attached to your house). Additionally, freestanding decks usually don’t require a building permit.
A stand alone deck is a freestanding deck, as opposed to a built-in. The term standalone is often used to describe a large, free-standing deck that extends off of the side or back of the house and is tall enough for adults to walk around on comfortably. A free-standing deck may also be referred to as an independent deck or detached deck.
What is a Freestanding Deck?
A freestanding deck is a self-supporting deck structure built independently from a house wall ledger board attachment. Some freestanding decks stand alone in an open area. Above-ground pool decks are often built freestanding in this fashion.
Why Build a Freestanding Deck?
Some decks can’t be attached directly to the house using ledger boards because of a house cantilever or a brick veneer. In other cases, such as stuccoed houses, many builders prefer to build a freestanding deck to avoid the mess and difficulty of cutting and flashing stucco. Some older houses may be built with uncertain wall construction that may not be strong enough to support a deck addition. These decks can be built freestanding using an additional beam and posts situated next to the house wall. It is important that these frost footings are installed on top of compacted soil to prevent them from sinking. Many new houses have unsettled soil surrounding the house foundation that was backfilled during construction. You may be required to install these footings below the house foundation.
What to Consider Before Building a Freestanding Deck
Freestanding decks greater than 2 feet above grade must be able to resist lateral and horizontal movement by providing diagonal bracing. Because there isn’t a house to anchor one end of the deck, uplift and racking forces are greater issues that must be addressed in the structural design.
Diagonal bracing in the form of 4x4s bolted between the support posts and the beams at 45-degree angles can help resist movement on the deck parallel to the house. These braces are very common to support livestock fencing, especially corner posts. You’ll see a diagonal brace extend from the top of the corner post down to the bottom of the next closest fence post. Do this on both sides of each corner of your freestanding deck.
Diagonal decking and sway bracing installed under the joists can reduce racking forces. Buried support posts can help brace the deck and resist uplift from strong winds that could tip a freestanding deck over. However, buried posts are susceptible to wood-destroying insects. Structural hardware can connect deck posts above the ground to the concrete footings. This hardware is designed to resist uplift forces.
Any freestanding deck that’s higher than 4 feet above the ground should be designed by a registered residential structural engineer. The Internet is littered with videos of deck collapse videos and the threat of a collapse is a real danger. It’s easy to strengthen a freestanding deck to prevent collapse and an engineer will show you exactly how to build a safe structure. The money spent on a plan created by a structural engineer is the best money you’ll spend on the project.
How to prepare
While we mentioned above that you don’t need a building permit most of the time when constructing stand-alone decks, that’s not always the case. You should do some due diligence and check out the building codes and permits you might be required to obtain in your community.
Remember that some places demand a construction permit regardless, while others don’t require one if the structure isn’t attached to your house. Additionally, if your freestanding deck will be temporary, you probably won’t need a permit. However, it’s best to check just to be on the safe side.
Once you decide where you want to set your stand-alone deck, you need to decide how you want to place it. Ideally, your freestanding deck should be placed on a bed of gravel, but you can also safely place one directly on the ground. Building on a gravel bed helps keep the wood used to construct the deck above the earth. By putting a gravel barrier between the wood and the ground, you’ll help the wood stay dry and last longer.
You could also raise the deck off the ground by using concrete blocks to support it. Just for your information, you could choose to use regular concrete blocks that don’t have holes, or you could spend some extra cash for blocks that are designed specifically for building freestanding decks.
Before you decide to go all out, spending boatloads of cash on your freestanding deck project, you need to consider your carpentry skills. Do you have the know-how? If you plan to do everything yourself without hiring outside help, it would be best to keep your designs relatively simple. That’s especially true if you’re a beginner.
You may wish to limit the shape of your deck to either a rectangle or square. Additionally, it would be best if you constructed it low to the ground. If you have a bit more experience, then you may choose to expand your horizons a little and consider add-ons like a trellis or some type of roof. Remember that you’ll need to measure the space where you plan to put your deck and then calculate the amount of materials you’ll need to construct it.
Since every deck will be different, the size, shape, and overall complexity of the design will determine the specific quantities of materials you’ll need. First, of course, is wood. There are a few different types of wood that you could use to build stand-alone decks. These are (from cheapest to most expensive):
- Pressure-treated lumber
- Southern yellow pine (SYP)
- Composite decking
Just about everything after the pressure-treated lumber is used for the sake of appearance. If your only concern is durability, we recommend going for the pressure-treated lumber.
These are some other materials you might need to have on hand. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it should give you an idea of what you’ll need to start:
- Concrete pier blocks
- Pressure-treated posts
- Composite decking planks
- Joist hangers
- Carriage bolts and matching sized washers and nuts
- Tape measure
- Carpenter’s level
- Circular saw
- Drill and drill bits