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How to Build a Deck

Updated on January 17, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Adding an Outdoor Room

Building a deck on to your house is the equivalent of adding another room, but for much less money. Decks increase the value of your home as well as add a place for family and friends to gather on sultry summer nights.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. With warm weather upon us many people take to the great outdoors. Cooking out, watching an incredible sunset, drinking sweet tea...these are all activities that make those great summer memories.

First Steps to Building a Deck

The first step in any deck is the design. Take a good look at your home and yard, as well as considering your preferences. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What activities do I plan on doing?
  • How much can I afford?
  • How much am I really able to do myself?
  • What style of deck do I prefer?
  • What codes and permits does my city have/require?
  • Where should I locate my deck?

How you plan on using your deck with make a difference in what you need. If you have, or plan to have, a pool then you will need a deck that is wide enough to enable people to walk safely around the pool. An outdoor fireplace will require more width to allow for seating, and so on.

Deck Budget

What you can afford will also impact the design of your deck. Different types of wood, lighting, and even deck size will change the amount that you ultimately pay for your deck.

Of course, the more you are able to do yourself the more you will be able to afford; however don't sacrifice quality for quantity. If you don't have the time, or the skills to do the whole project then hire people to do what you cannot.


There are many types of decks. The deck should be a natural part of the house, and should not look like it was added on as an afterthought. Spend some time considering how you can make your deck fit in with the style of your home.

Codes and Permits

Always check with the city to see if there are any special codes or permits that you must take into consideration. It will save you time and money in the long run if you comply with codes upfront.


Finally..location, location, location. Do you have a beautiful view? Is there a nicely shaded spot in your yard? Consider all of the aspects of the location you choose before beginning to build. When your deck is finished you want it to fit your lifestyle for a long time.

Materials Needed to Build a Deck

  • Design sketched on graph paper
  • Safety glasses

  • gloves

  • Hammer

  • Measuring Tape

  • Level

  • Line Level

  • Framing Square

  • Pencil

  • Mason's Line Ready-mixed Concrete

  • Wheelbarrow

  • Gravel

  • Rake

  • Shovel

  • Structural Connectors

  • Adjustable Wrench

  • Chalk Line

  • 8d and 16d Galvanized Common/Box Nails

  • Lumber for Posts, Ledger, Beams and Joists

  • 2x2s and 1x4s for Batter Boards

  • Deck Boards

  • RailingSupplies

  • 6 mil. Black Polyethylene

  • Plumb Bob

  • Concrete Piers Lag Screws, Hex Bolts w/ Nuts and Washers
  • Screws

  • Stain Brushes and Thinner

  • Lighting of choice

How to Build a Deck

Any deck you build, no matter what style, will have the same basic steps.

Prepare the Area

Prepare the ground under the deck by removing the grass. Slope the ground away from the house a minimum of one inch every fifteen feet to provide adequate drainage. When the deck is finished, cover the ground with 6 mil. black polyethylene to keep weeds, grass and small trees from growing up through the deck. Cover it with gravel or wood chips for the best look.

Mark the Height

Mark the height of the surface of the finished deck. The surface of the deck should be about two inches below the door sill. Keeping in mind the thickness of the decking material make another line to represent the top of your ledger board. Measure down one more time, the width of the ledger board, and make a mark to represent the bottom of the ledger board.

Mount a 2x6 ledger to the wall with the 1/2" lag screws. If you have siding you may need to use shims to get a flat surface. Make sure that the ledger is level, and that the lag screws are long enough to penetrate the studs by at least three inches. Use two lag screws at each end, and one at each wall stud in between.

It is a good idea to install Z flashing above the ledger board to shed water. If you choose not to do that you must leave a space so that water does get between the deck and the house and cause wood rot. A washer or two is a great way to do this.

Establish the Outside Perimeter

Establish the outside perimeter of the deck by measuring out from each end of the ledger eighteen inches beyond the outside edge of the deck. Set up the batter-boards and run strings firmly from each end of the ledger to the batter-boards to stand in for the sides of the deck. Run a third string between the batter-boards to establish the outside edge of the deck. At this point it is important to square the whole thing up. Mark where the footings and posts are going to go.

Time to Inspect

Usually at this point the building inspector will want to take a look. He will be able to tell you if you need to add any footings. When he gives you the o.k. cast the footings into the ground. The holes for these are normally 24-36 inches deep but check with your local building inspector for specifics for your area. Once the footings are in then attach the concrete piers. Allow to cure for at least a week before continuing.


Fasten the beams to the posts. Now, attach the joists with joist hangers. They will be supported by the ledger board. Place the on 16 inch centers and attach to the beams. Using hot-dipped zinc-coated 16-penny nails install the deck boards. Set your boards right up against each other and secure with the nails. By keeping the design of your deck simple this part will go fast and be much easier. Trim the deck to a straight line.

Nice job! Now it is time to add the railing.

Adding the Railing

The railing adds charm and beauty to the deck, giving it a finished, professional look. It isn't very hard to do, the worst of the work is behind you. Bolt railing posts to the outside joist. You can use spacer posts between the main posts to keep the railing looking balanced.

Nail the top railing to the side of the main posts at the height you want. Add railing caps for decorative detail and protection of the rails.

At this point you can decide if you want built in benches, privacy screens, or some other unique touch to make you deck exactly what you want it to be. You are now ready to add the stairs and the finishing touches that will make your deck so very special

Adding the Stairs

Many home improvement stores have precut steps. This makes it much easier than building them yourself. If you plan on building them yourself there are plans in the link section to help you to do so.

If You Build It They Will Come

A deck adds value to almost any home but the real value is in the quality of life. Spending time with family and friends cooking out, playing games, or just chatting makes all of the hard work that you did building the deck worthwhile. Knowing how to build a deck will also encourage you and build your confidence that you can do other home improvement projects.

Most decks can be easily built in two weekends, especially if you have help.Building a deck is a great investment in your home that will pay for itself may times over.


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    • profile image

      Mark 7 years ago

      Nice guide....

      Always seal the timber used for building the frame.

      Remember it is underground and wet wood rots!

      Most decking is pre sealed but adding another clear sealer won't do any harm.

      It's amazing how many people don't stain the decking as it

      Nice guide

      can look good as it comes so by adding another clear coat sealer you are ensuring maximum protection.

      I've seen some unsealed decking and within 2 years it is grey and will alot to get colour into it again.

      It's true adding decking will add value to your home,wether you do this yourself or employ a professional make sure the timber framing is properly sealed.

      Give the ends a really good coat here the grain is very rough.

      Don't force decking to fit by hammering it in,during the wet season the wood will expand,if there is no gap the wood will buckle,this can have a knock on effect with surrounding decking pieces.

    • ohohdon profile image

      ohohdon 9 years ago from Yakima

      Thanks for doing much of my research for me. We just moved into our new house and I will be adding a deck soon. This very good post will help me get going in the right direction.

      I don't consider myself a carpenter, but I've built 2 decks in the past 20 years. The results were satisfactory, but I can do better. Your post points me to some good resources. Thanks.