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Deck Design and Construction Tips

Below are some tips that may be helpful as you design and build your own deck. If you have any other Home Improvement deck building tips you would like listed on BuildingOnline's web site, please drop us a note. THANK YOU!

Deck Builder Pix

Planning and Designing your deck:

(1) Before you design, take a walk to the backyard and ask yourself some questions:
How much space is available?
Will the deck be shaded or exposed to sunlight?
Will the deck be exposed to the neighbors or the street?
How will the deck be used and how much space do I need?

Simple considerations like these provide a necessary groundwork
before formally designing the deck. Draw the deck in your mind before
laying it out on paper.

(2) Check the building codes and locate underground utilities before you start to design.

(3) Prepare a working drawing before you start.
This will help you to identify potential construction complications
before they happen. A working drawing will also help you to plan your
deck around the structural requirements of the materials you choose and
to put together a materials list.

(4) Plan the deck from the door of the house downwards.
The elevation of the decking will determine the elevation of the joists and beams.
The orientation of the decking is also important. Decking orientation will determine
the orientation of the joists and beams. For example, if the decking is run parallel
to the house, joists will run perpendicular and beams will run parallel.

(5) Take the overall dimensions of the deck into consideration as you as you determine the orientation of the decking.
Lumber comes in standard lengths up to 16 feet. Decking runs of over 16 feet
will necessitate butt joining, which increases the probability of exposed twisting
and checking as the lumber weathers. Teck Deck may be applied in maximum
runs of 160 feet, so butt joints are not a consideration.

(6) Select quality building materials for your project. Grade Stamp
Even though lumber is bought and sold as a commodity, grades and quality levels will differ markedly between suppliers. Visit a couple of lumberyards and look closely at their lumber. Look for a quality oriented lumberyard that supplies consistently high quality products.

Be sure to specify treated lumber that is grademarked and inspected by an American Lumber Standards Committee accredited inspection agency.


(1) Make sure you have all of the tools you need before you start.
The following is a basic list of tools required for deck construction:

Level and Line Level String
Hammer Framing Square
Circular Saw Speed Square
Drill with Extended bit(s) Jigsaw
Socket Wrench Set Chalk line

Also make sure that you purchase carriage bolts (3/8" or 5/16"),
lag bolts, and other needed fasteners.

(2) Use batter boards and string lines.
Deck Tool Pix If the deck is square at the outset, no compensation is required at later stages of construction.

(3) Check your local code requirements for in-ground posts, but avoid anchoring posts in concrete if at all possible.
Instead, use a concrete footing or treated lumber base plate in the post hole. Fill in around the post with a layer of gravel and then compact the top few inches with dirt. Allowing some flexibility in the ground mitigates the tendency of square timbers to twist above the ground where they are visible.

(4) For beam and header connections, carriage bolts are preferable to lag bolts.
Bolts can be retightened to compensate for the natural expansion
and contraction of lumber. Nails should not be used for beam or
header connections. Screws are the preferable fastener for decking,
because of their superior holding power. If nails are used, hot dipped
galvanized ring or spiral shank nails resist rust and have the
best holding capabilities.

(5) Take moisture content into consideration before fastening the decking.
Damp lumber will shrink and should not be spaced. Lumber that is
kiln-dried after treatment may swell and should be spaced at least 1/8 inch.
Use lumber that is 6" or less in width for decking. The wider the lumber,
the greater the tendency for cupping and warping to occur.

(6) Measure as you go!
Even if the joist system is perfectly square, lumber is not always
dimensionally stable or exact. Take measurements every four or
five runs and make corrections as the next runs are put down.

Finishing Up

(1) Customizing the above-deck area provides a great opportunity to create your own distinctive look.
Railings, furniture, trellises, and screened in areas both address utilitarian needs and help blend the deck with the house and the surrounding environment. Use the best lumber you can find for top deck amenities like rails and furniture. High grade, clear, dense lumber treated with weather stabilizers will weather well and look good for years to come.

(2) Underpinning for the deck is also important.
Lattice is the most popular alternative for this application.
Avoid the cheap 1/4" lath panels that are commonly found at
building materials outlets. Heavy duty panels of 3/8" or
heavier lath will be much more durable. PVC lattice is also
available and is especially attractive if you intend to paint or stain your deck.
Another alternative is to "fence in" underneath the deck with either 1" or 5/4" decking.

(3) Water repellent sealers are highly recommended for all wood used outdoors.
We recommend application of a topical water repellent to regular
treated wood immediately after the completion of construction.
This may contradict the recommendations of the water repellent
manufacturers, many of whom recommend a drying period before
the sealer is applied. Much of the weather damage to treated lumber
can come from the initial drying period, as water used in pressure
treatment evaporates from the wood.
Immediate application of a water repellent slows this initial drying process
and minimizes damage. Regular treated wood should be cleaned and
re-treated with a water repellent solution on an annual basis.

For optimum performance, however, we recommend an annual or
semi-annual cleaning and application of additional topical sealants that
include UV inhibitors to slow the natural color change from exposure to sunlight.

(4) Treated lumber may be painted, but latex paints do not perform well on flat exposed surfaces.
If you wish to change the color of your deck, we recommend the
use of a high quality semi-transparent oil based stain for deck surfaces, like:
PENOFIN - PENetrating Oil FINish.
It has also become popular to paint railings to match the color of the exterior
trim of the house. If you choose this attractive combination, be sure to
prime the rails and balusters well before applying exterior trim paint.

Finish beautiful wood w/ Penofin

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