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How to Build a Deck, Deck Building Basics for the DIY’er

Construction How-To, Decks, Decks, Outdoor Living March 14, 2006 Sonia

Decks are some of the most popular homeowner projects.







They can be a small extension off a family room, bedroom or dining area; or they can be a spacious “outdoor” room large enough for a party. Decks can be single level or multi-level; they can be some of the simplest “first” projects for a beginner, or elaborate examples of sophisticated craftsmanship.

Decks are quite often the first project many beginning do-it-yourselfers tackle, but it’s important to understand the basics of deck construction. Decks are built in specific steps. By taking those steps one-at-a-time, building a deck can be fun and easy.




The first step is to design and plan your deck. Location is important. Determine its primary use, such as a place for large parties, family relaxing, outdoor cooking or private sunbathing areas. Do you desire sunlight or shade? Do you want privacy? Is there a view you wish to enjoy? How would the deck fit with your general landscaping? How would the deck fit with your existing structures? Consider the safety factors. Will the deck be used by children or older persons? Remember that decks are basically support bases for people to walk on, as well as to support items like flower planters and furniture. They must be constructed strong enough for this support.

Measure the area of the proposed deck and temporarily stake it out with small stakes. Make sure there are no utility or drainage lines running beneath the deck. Contact the local building authorities for any permits, and any code rules or limitations. Some cities, municipalities, communities or subdivisions may restrict the size and height of the deck, as well as the materials. Determine the basic design of the deck, such as posts, beams and other spacing, and prepare a materials list. With this information you can apply for any permits needed.

  Materials Decks must be constructed of long-lasting, moisture-, rot-, decay- and insect-resistant materials. Three basic types of materials can be used.

First, there are naturally insect- and moisture-resistant woods such as redwood or Western Red Cedar. For example, Western Red Cedar fibers contain natural compounds called “thujaplicins” that act as preservatives. As a result the wood will have a long life without the need for chemical treatments. Plus, the even, consistent grain and low density make cedar less likely to swell, warp, cup and twist than other soft and hard woods. As a result, it lies flat and straight. Cedar is also free of the pitch and resin found in other softwoods – a quality that makes it ideal for a wide range of finishes, whether you choose a lightly tinted semi-transparent stain or a two-coat solid color finish.

Second, pressure-treated woods with chemical preservatives, such as Wolmanized Natural Select, are readily available, inexpensive and easy to work with, making them the most widely used material for outdoor structures. For more information, visit

There’s also the option of composite decking materials, which are made from a combination of plastic and wood fibers to provide a low-maintenance alternative to real wood.

Availability, cost, the final design of the deck, as well as personal preferences will determine the materials to be used. Check with your local building supply dealers as to the materials available in your area.



Regardless of how low or high it is built, a deck consists of several basic parts: the footings; posts or vertical support members; the beams or horizontal supports; the joists; the decking and finishing details such as railings and steps. The size and spacing of the different members depends on the design of the deck and the woods being used. The charts at the bottom of this article show the spacing for Wolmanized Natural Select Pressure Treated lumber and for non-stress-graded redwood (Construction Heart) lumber.


Laying Out the Deck

It is important the deck be laid out square, and also square with any building it is to be attached to. Even if some of the deck is free-form or rounded, the basic support structure must be squared.