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Home > Yard & Garden > How to Build a Deck

How to Build a Deck

By Karin Mangan
How to Build a Deck

The first step in building a deck is planning. You need to determine where it will go, create a design, choose materials, and get a permit if needed.

You can hire a professional to design your backyard deck, use design software, or sketch it out yourself. Check with your local government about permit requirements and consult local utilities for line locations before digging.

Choosing materials largely depends on where you live. Hot, dry climates call for tougher materials, such as exotic hardwoods, redwood, or composite decking. Mild weather is more amenable to popular--and less expensive--backyard deck options such as cedar and pine.

Then determine your beam and joist size.

Prepare the Site

  • Mark the elevation for the finished deck, keeping it 2 to 3 inches below the door sill, and taking into account the decking material's thickness. Hammer nails halfway into the wall to show the edges of the deck.
  • Mount a 2-foot-by-6-foot ledger to the wall.
  • Lay out the deck. Use cord and batter boards to establish deck edges and squared and level lines. Mark the ground with stakes or spray paint to show where to dig footings for posts.

Create the Substructure

  • Dig your footings below the frost line. Contact building inspector to approve the holes.
  • Pour concrete and set J-bolts in wet concrete. Allow up to three days for it to set.
  • Stand posts onto piers and use braces to a level to make them plumb. The posts' height should match the height of the ledger, minus the depth of the beam that will be set on it.
  • Set beams to posts; mark joist locations on both posts and ledger. Put joists in place. Nail rim joist across the joist ends.
  • Build any stairs you need.

Finish Your Backyard Deck

  • Lay deck boards with both ends centered over a joist, with 1/8-inch spacing unless the wood is pressure-treated. In that case, natural shrinkage will provide spacing.
  • Allow decking to run over the edge of the structure. Saw off the ends to make it even after all the boards are nailed down.
  • Secure railing posts at deck corners and on the sides of stairs. Add sub-railings, cap rail, and balusters.
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