How to Build a Deck

© 2013 Discovery Communications

­A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage … a deck attached to every home? If your idea of the American dream includes a home made for entertaining, ­why not build your own deck and make that dream a reality?

As outdoor entertainment and do-it-yourself home improvement projects have become more affordable and efficient, more and more plans and materials have become available for homemade deck building. From purchasing a deck product that can be assembled quickly to mapping out and designing your own plan, deck building has never been easier.


Many home supply stores offer the plans and equipment that you'll need to construct a sturdy deck. As long as you can use a tape measure and a circular saw while following directions, building your own deck can be more than just a dream!

­First, however, there are some questions you need to consider. Does your homeowners' insurance policy cover this sort of addition? Decks are often classified and covered under "other structures," but review your policy if you're not sure. What are the building codes in your hometown? There may be specific guidelines your deck design will need to follow. Lastly, consider how much time and experience you have to apply to a project like this.

For the handyman with more experience and the time and resources to build something from scratch, the deck possibilities are endless. In this article, we'll walk you through the process and help you carve out the plans and materials needed to add the beauty and fun of a deck to your own home.

Think about enjoying burgers and brats with the boys before the game, or hosting a birthday party for the kids on the deck you built yourself. This article will make that dream seem more like a possibility. We'll begin with construction plans -- and how to choose the right one.


Choosing a Deck Plan

You've decided that you want to build a deck, but have you considered the investments you'll be making in the process, and what you hope to get out of the deck? What will you use it for? These are important considerations.

Once you've decided on building, check with your municipal authorities to get the necessary permits. Even though it's your home and your property, safety regulations require a permit. You'll need to make sure you follow local specifications, so take care of this before you get too deep into your deck plan. If you do a little research early on -- like discussing the project with friends or someone at a building supply store, and reading construction books (and this article!) -- planning the design won't be so hard later on in the process.


There are several online resources that can help you with your design ideas, or you can speak with the lumberyard staff where you plan to purchase your materials. If you enter the dimensions, shape and any other features of your considerations of your desired deck, many of these sites will draw up a plan for you.

These blueprints are your compass through the world of deck building, and they're your directions to ensure the safety, durability and beauty of your deck. Blueprints will help you gauge the amount of materials you need to buy, will help you "see" the deck before it's done, and keep you on task. Now you can gather your supplies.

Just because you're planning to build the deck yourself doesn't mean you can't use the knowledge of expert in the ground stages. Bringing in an experienced handyman or contractor may be a good idea. They'll be able to look at your property and better assess what kind of deck would suit you.


Deck Building Materials

Plans in hand and barbecues on your mind, you're ready to hit the home supply store to pick up the goods necessary to make your deck dream a reality.

First of all, you'll need the boards. Pressure-treated lumber is probably your best bet because it'll sustain the trials of weathering, although cedar is commonly used for decks as well. You may want to consider composite materials made from wood leftovers or plastics -- these products mimic the look of wood and require about the same amount of time to install and maintain.


No matter the wood you choose, you'll also need 4x4 posts, cement, joists (for framing), brackets, stain or paint and waterproof finishes. To secure these materials into your finished product, you're going to need a drill, a saw, a measuring tape, a level, a ladder and a pair of safety glasses.

Once you've assembled all of these essentials, which will vary in number and amount depending on the size and design of your deck, you're also going to need the nuts and bolts of the operation -- literally. J bolts, post anchors, various sizes of carriage bolts and lag screws all meet certain specifications needed to bear the weight and size of your deck. In addition, 16d nails and galvanized deck screws (usually 2 inches (5.08 cm) or more in length) are also essential to this project [source: Lowe's].


Deck Building Process

You should begin at the beginning, as they say. In deck construction, that means the foundation. Here, you'll pour the deck pad and secure the support posts. This base will support the whole weight of your deck, so you'll want to make sure your base is level.

Before beginning the framework of your deck, install some flashing along your home to shield it from moisture. Flashing is a water barrier of some sort -- anything from aluminum to PVC - that protects against wood rot. Check in your area to see what's recommended and available.


Next, add beams and joists to the posts you've planted in the cement. These boards are another support system for your deck: They distribute the weight and will anchor the rest of the structure as it goes up. Some building codes require joist hangers on each joist, so make sure you know your local regulations. You should also refer to your own plans to gauge the space you need between the beams, but the joists will be installed perpendicular to the beams.

The decking is next. It covers up the skeleton of bolts and boards and becomes the deck itself, the main floorboards. This framing is really the first part of the process that looks like a deck. If your deck will have handrails, add them here, making sure to stabilize them with balusters for safety and support . Does your deck design incorporate stairs? If so, you'll add them here, following your plans.

Once you've done the hard work, it's time for finishing and sealing the wood. In our next section, we'll cover some safety reminders before you get out and enjoy the fruits of your labor.


Safety Concerns for Your Deck

Now that you're "decked out" with all of the info you need, don't forget that safety and maintenance go hand in hand. Here's where we really get into the long-term safety concerns.

Following the proper codes covers your insurance requirements, but have you given thought to your deck's safety and reliability? Although deck projects have become popular over the years, they certainly aren't without risks.


Every few years or so, it seems like a deck collapses somewhere and the resulting injuries fill the headlines for a few weeks. To make sure that doesn't happen to you, we've listed a few things to keep an eye on as the seasons pass with fun and activity on your deck:

  • Water issues -- One of the main sources of weak wood and danger, water affects wood's strength. Although wood naturally retains some moisture, excessive water can damage your deck, destabilizing it, especially at connection points or at the flashing.
  • Weight -- Make sure your weight load doesn't exceed your deck's capabilities. Too much weight is a primary reason for a deck collapse. Another is the connection to the house. Remember the plans you put together at the beginning of this process, and never load your deck with more than it was intended to hold.
  • Upkeep -- Always watch for popped nails, weak boards or wobbly railings. Maintaining the safety of your deck is all about keeping an eye out for small repairs before they become big problems.

With a bit of preparation and an eye for safety, you can easily build a deck that will be a source of enjoyment for your family for years to come. To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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