Get a Free Estimate

How To Build A Deck2

-Planning Your Deck
-Tools and Materials
-Major Parts of a deck
-Building permits
-Anchoring Post
-Attaching the ledger
-Preparing the Post
-Framing the Platform
-Installing the Joist
-Lay the Decking boards
-Attach the steps
-Attach the rails


Planning Your Deck

Now that you've decided to build your deck, you will need a complete set of plans for your deck. Most municipal building departments will require a plan before issuing a permit to begin construction. It's a good idea to inquire what level of detail your plan will require.

Explore Your Plan Options
You have several options for creating a plan. The options include drawing a free hand plan on graph paper, drawing a plan using a CAD program, generating a plan from deck design software or adopting a pre-drawn plan.

This site offers the latter two options: deck design software and pre-drawn plans.

You should also have an idea of what materials you will use to build your deck. We recommend treated southern yellow pine or redwood. See our Lumber Guide for more information about lumber.

What to Include in Your Plan
Your plan should include, at minimum, the size of your deck; the elevation of your deck, and the placement of your deck footings and an explanation of how you will create the footings.

Note to location of your property line, utilities, trees and other shrubbery or plants you intend to keep or relocate, and the general slope of the landscape. Your plan should include details for accomodating these items.

At this point, you should have some idea what the finished product will look like, where it will be built and what site preparations you may need to perform before starting construction.

Tools and Materials

You will need the following tools for this project:

-Circular Saw
-Power Drill
-Power Screw Driver
-Carpenter's Level
-Carpenter's Square
-Framing Square
-Measuring Tape
-Chalk Line
-Plumb Bob
-Claw Hammer
-Pick Ax
-Post Hole Digger
-Safety Glasses


Major Parts of a Deck

The weight of the deck itself and everything on the deck, including you are others, is transferred to the ground by way of the footings. The footings must be dug below grade, as with any foundation, and should extend at least 2 to 6 inches above ground depending on your area. All footings should be reinforced with concrete to minimize settling.

The post are connected to the footings and the beams. The weight of the joist and everything above the joist is transferred to the post. Most decks use 4 x 4 inch post or 6 x 6 inch post. The higher the deck is from grade the larger the post should be. The post transfers the weight of the deck, joist and beams to the footings.

The beams are attached to the post and the joist. They are spaced apart according to the size of the deck. Beams are not as heavy as the post but are heavier than the joist. The weight of the deck and joist are transferred to the beams, which in turn, transfers the weight to the post.

The load from the deck is transferred directly to the joist. The Joist are supported by the beams and ledger. Joist spacing is determined by the type of wood used, and the size of the joist itself. Common spacing (how far apart each joist is from the next) for decks are 16 inches, 24 inches or 32 inches on center. The span of the joist (how long a joist is between supports) is determined by the same factors.

If the deck is attached to a building then the framing construction uses it to support one side of the deck. A ledger is attached to the building. A 2 by 6, 2 by 8, or a 2 x 10 inch ledger board is generally used. Bolts are driven through the ledger and secured to the corresponding interior rim joist. If it is not possible to attach the bolts to the interior ledger then nuts should be used to insure that the ledger does not pull away from the building.

Flashing should always be used in conjunction to the ledger. The flashing is installed to divert rain water and snow away from the building. It is generally made out of aluminum or galvanized sheet steel. Failure to use flashing could result in extensive wood rot similar to this illustration.

Decking Boards
The major visual element of a deck is the decking, the surface you stand on. It is the most interesting part of the deck because of its pattern and detailing. The most often used grade of lumber is No. 2 treated yellow pine. Other popular materials include redwood, cedar, hemlock and fir. Building codes usually stipulate that decking boards are supported by joist, spaced no further than 24 inches apart. The boards themselves are usually spaced about 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart.



All nails, fasteners and connectors should be galvanized. Galvanized nails are highly resistant to rust and corrosion. You could elect to use stainless steel nails or screws. However, they are relatively expensive and the benefit generally does not outweigh the cost.

List of Fasteners Needed:

Metal Post Caps
Joist Hangers
Framing Clips
Carriage Bolts and Nuts; or
Lag Screws
Galvanized 16d framing nails

How To Build A Deck2How To Build A Deck2

Building Permits

Be sure to acquire a building permit prior to construction. Most cities view a deck as a foundation and floor system which falls under the same scrutiny of any foundation where people will occupy floor space. The process involved in getting a building permit generally requires you to submit your plans and a nominal fee. After the plans are approved construction can began. Your local municipality may inspect the construction to ensure compliance with the approved plans and to make sure the deck meets minimum safety requirements. Failure to acquire a permit prior to construction could result in forced demolition of your new deck — even if it exceeds the minimum building code for safety.

In constructing a deck you will need a strong and sturdy foundation. Like your house when it was built, you will need to layout the deck and add footings.



How To Build A Deck2 When you layout your deck, you'll want to make sure your deck is perfectly square. Perfectly square means that all corners are at the correct angles and that the sides are measured correctly. We recommend using the 3-4-5 rule of triangulation to ensure squareness.

The first thing you want to do, assuming you've already prepared the area for construction, is to setup batter boards using scrap 1x2s or 1x4s. Set them up about 2 feet from where you plan to anchor the post furthest from the house.

Tie a string on the batter boards - point A - and pull it 3 feet from the corner and stake it. We'll call this point C. Pull another string 4 feet perpendicular to the string running from A to C and stake it. We'll call this staked mark point B. Now measure the distance between stakes B and C. If the distance is five feet you've created a perfect corner. If the distance is not 5 feet adjust either stake B or C until the distance between them is 5 feet.

Move on the the next outside corner using the method above. After you've created your corners use string to check the squareness of the entire layout. Attach the string to the house and continue around each batter board until you wind back up to the house. At this point you should have either rectangle or square layout. Double check for squareness by measuring diagonally from the house to the batter boards. The distance should be the same.

How To Build A Deck2


Now you are ready to dig your post holes. However, before you do, there are a couple of things you should know about post holes:

1. Postholes should be dug below the frost-line in areas where the soil freezes. You should check with your local building department to get the minimum depth for your postholes.

How To Build A Deck2 2. If your deck requires a permit, your post holes may need to be inspected by your local building department before you back fill with concrete.

3. Dig your post holes in a bell shape using a post hole digger or a spade shovel. You'll want to dig them at least 4 inches wider in diameter than the post. Therefore a hole for a 4x4 post would be 12"x12".


Anchoring Post

There are several options available for anchoring post. We will explain the embedded concrete method. For more information on other method consider consulting the 3D Decks software program.

To anchor your post, place them in the post holes. Stand them straight and add wet concrete. Don't worry about the post height at this point. We will cut the post to the correct height later. Use a scrap piece of wood to tamp air bubbles out of the concrete. While the concrete is still wet, check for plumb with a 4 foot level, adjust if needed and re-tamp. If your posts are tall - for a second story deck - you may need to brace the post by nailing 2x4s at a 45° angle. Allow a few days for the concrete to harden before attaching beams.

How To Build A Deck2

Attaching the Ledger

Attaching the ledger to your house may require that you remove a section of siding. However, if your house is brick, block or stucco you'll trade off the time making the holes for your bolts. To remove wood or wood composite siding, first mark the amount of siding to be removed. Measure at least 6-8 inches above where you intend to mount the ledger board. Next, cut along your marks with a circular saw. Finally, use a pry bar to pry off the cut siding.

It's a good idea to add flashing at this point. Properly flashing the ledger with aluminum or galvanized flashing may save you thousands of dollars in the future. Never-the-less, we'll flash again after we've attached the ledger for good measure.

How To Build A Deck2 Your ledger board should be bolted to a rim joist on your house. The same applies to single and multi-story houses. We recommend using carriage bolts and nuts. However, you'll have to gain access behind the rim joist - usually from the crawlspace or basement - to add the washer and nuts. If gaining access is not practical you may use lag screws instead. The rim joist is generally found just below the floor - about 1¼ inches. You should be able to roughly judge where your rim joist is located by looking at the floor through a doorway. Make sure your ledger is level before bolting it to the house with carriage bolts or lag screws. Space your bolts horizontally about two feet apart and vertically about an inch from both edges. If attaching your ledger board to the rim joist is not practical you may be able to attach it to the wall studs.

If your house is brick, block or stucco, you should drill holes using a carbide tipped drill bit and a hammer or rotary drill. Once your holes are drilled, insert concrete anchor and attach the ledger with appropriate bolts or screws.

Before continuing, optionally flash the ledger using metal or aluminum flashing. It's a good idea to flash at least 6 inches above the ledger so that the siding overlap the flashing. Failure to flash properly may result in massive water/moisture damage to your house frame in the ensuing years.

Now that you've attached the ledger and your post have setup in the concrete footings you are ready to begin installing the joist. But first, we'll need to cut our post to the correct height.

How To Build A Deck2

Preparing the Post

To determine the correct height the post, place one end of a joist against the ledger and line it up beside the post. (You may drive nails 1/2 to 3/4 way into the joist and post to hold it in place. If your joist are particularly large or heavy substitute the joist with 2x4" lumber. Alternately you may use a string.) Remember that you are going to install decking boards on top of the joist. Place a level on top of the joist to check that it is level. Use a number 2 pencil to mark a line on the post using the top of the joist for a guide. This will represent where the post should be cut. Repeat the process for each post. Cut the post with a circular saw.

Framing the Platform

Now that you've attached the ledger to the house the platform can be framed. The platform should comprise heavier farming members than the joist you will use inside the platform. If you are planning to use 2x8s for the joist we'd recommend you use 2x10s or 2x12 for the platform. The platform will become the deck's rim joist.

How To Build A Deck2 Use joist hangers appropriate to the size of the framing lumber to frame the rim of the platform perpendicular to the house. Finish the platform by attaching the rim joist parallel to the house. Use 3 sixteen penny (3½") nails to attach the joist. Check the platform for squareness by measuring diagonally across. Your measurements should form an "X" and both axis should measure the same distance. Nudge the frame until the measurements are equal. This method, known in the trade as "pulling the corners," is far more accurate than trying to use a framing square on long, never-quite-straight joists. Once the frame is square, toenail the rim joists to the beams with two 10-penny nails, one on either side.

If the outer rim joist is not supported by a post use framing clips to reinforce the joints.

How To Build A Deck2

Installing the Joist

We'll use joist hangers to attached the joist to both sides of the rim joist. Alternatively, you could toenail the joist to the rim joist but we prefer you use the joist hangers. Joist hangers will give your deck added strength and the cost and effort to use hangers are marginal.

Determine your spacing schedule for the joist. Our recommendation is 12 or 16 inches on center (A large multi-use deck designed for large gatherings should be 12" OC if using 5/4" decking boards or 16" OC if using 2x6" decking boards Otherwise, 24" OC will suffice for 2x6" decking boards). Mark where each joist will be placed on the ledger board, starting at either 12, 16, or 24 inches, accordingly to your schedule, inside the rim joist. Attached the joist hangers and install the joist. Move to the next mark and repeat. Your last joist may wind up only inches from the rim joist.

Lay the Decking Boards

Now that the joist are installed, it's time to lay the decking. Lay your deck board perpendicular to the joist. You may use a 16d nail to separate the boards. Start from the house. Don't worry if the ends do not line up perfectly. You will cut them off after the deck boards are attached.

After you've attached your decking boards, snap a line on the edges and trim them with your circular saw. You may use a back saw to trim the board where the circular saw will not reach. Take a moment to admire and enjoy your work.

Attach the Steps

It's time to attach the steps. You may use stringers that are already cut or you may cut your own. High decks will generally require that you cut your own stair stringers. Determine the desired with of your stairs and attached your stringers spaced no more that 24 inches apart. Attach them with L brackets on the inside so that the brackets will hidden. Next attach the step threads on the stringers. You may attach risers if so desired.

Attach the Rails

There are several ways to attach rails and several rail style designs. Attach rail post to the rim joist and bolt. Then attach a top and bottom rail. Most of the basic designs is attaching pickets to the top and bottom rails. Be sure you leave a small gap (about 1½ inches of space between them) so that a small child cannot get his or her head between them.

Now get a grill and barbeque so steaks can be cooked and enjoy your deck!

Previous Page

Hammer Have more questions concerning your deck? Visit our Decks forum and consult with other do-it-yourselfers!