What You Need To Know Before Building A Deck

Woot woot. Woot woot.

This is me, doing a little cyber dance, because the project we most dreaded is finally over!!!!

When we first started planning, we estimated that this deck would cost no more than $400 and take us maybe three days to finish. Boy were we wrong.

In total, this project probably took about fourth full hours to complete. However, because we were working around the schedules of two tiny humans, the process dragged out for more like two months. Each step, from tearing down the old deck to framing the new one, took place in three hour time frames. By the end of the two months, both Tom and I swore we would never do this again. But that’s what we say after every DIY :p

One of the keys to our success for this project was taking it one step at a time. As a whole, the task seemed intimidating and overwhelming, but when we thought about it as a series of little tasks, it was much easier to conceptualize.

This post is not going to give you every single detail of how the deck was made, since I don’t think it will be of any real help unless you’re planning to make one the exact same structure. What it will do though is talk you through some of the main steps we took during this process and share some of the more important tips that we learned along the way.

Step 1: Remove the old deck

Easy enough, right?

This took maybe 20 minutes in total, since the old deck was terribly rotten and was held together with only what was left of a few corroded nails. To tear it down, Tom used a crow bar and some muscle.

Here’s a photo taken during our pre-purchase walk through, which will give you an idea of what the old deck looked like before we started demolishing it. Pretty pathetic.

Step 2: Inspect the old ledger board and repair if needed

Our ledger board was in decent shape, so all we had to do was fill in the holes left from where the old deck had attached, and replace all of the surrounding caulk.

Step 3: Meet with an expert 

Hot tip- Home Depot, Lowes and Rona all provide a free deck planning service that will walk you through the basics, draw you up a plan, and provide you with a material list. Initially we thought that this plan would provide us with all that we needed to move forward (think Ana White’s plans); however, it did not. Sadly, the plans we were  given only provided a simple sketch of the design and a list of parts. All of the math, cuts, and design choices were left to you, which meant we would have to do some serious research before moving forward. That being said, even though it wasn’t as useful as we’d hoped it would be, I’d still recommend doing it just to clarify any questions regarding local building codes.

Step 4: Place your footings and attach your supports

When Tom finally began to build, I was kind of amazed at how thoughtfully designed the structure was. Every single piece had been chosen for its superiority. For the footings, Tom chose to use deck blocks and metal adjusters so that he could reposition the deck when it inevitably sank (in this part of the country, all decks do eventually sink).

As you can see, the adjusters provided an easy way for the user to attach the supports, which took away a tremendous amount of anxiety.

Traditionally, builders often dig down six feet, drop in a prefab cement mold, and then fill that mold with cement. On top of the cement they’d place what to me looks like a nail, which they would then secure to the four by four. If anything was off, you’d have some pretty big problems. And, should you ever have to raise your deck, you’d have a very hard time doing so.

With these footings, Tom only had to dig about two feet. Then he filled the holes with gravel, placed his footings, and adjusted until they were level. No mixing cement or waiting for it to dry. Boom- done- easy peasy.

A lot of people also choose to secure their decks to the house. We decided against doing it this way for a few reasons: One, the wood on wood trapped against a house often leads to rotting both the deck and the house; and two, it’s a lot harder to make adjustments when the deck starts to sink, and when it does sink it puts pressure on the house too. So we went with a stand alone design.

For this design, Tom chose to use 6×6 pressure treated lumber to give our deck more support than it would have had if we’d used 4x4s. They were more expensive, of course, but they were a lot less likely to warp, and when they did inevitably split, it wouldn’t affect the integrity nearly as much.

Before placing the 6x6s, he made notches for the 6×3 horitzontal boards to rest on. That way they were supported not only by the through bolts, but also by the 6x6s themselves.

Also, take note at how beautifully he placed those “through bolts” (the giant round silver screws). So thoughtful! I’m still swooning over his handiness: remember, this is the man who couldn’t change a pot light!

Step 5: Attach newel posts

Step 6: Place deck boards

We used 1×4 pressure treated for our deck boards, and cut them around the newel posts with our mitre saw. Be sure to place this almost immediately, as if you let them sit out un-secured for too long they will warp. We left two of the boards unattached for two days and they were then unusable.

Step 7: Create a landing for your stringers

For this we used 2×2 patio pavers that were placed upon one foot or gravel and half a foot of limestone screening.

Step 9: Make and place your stringers

Initially Tom considered using pre-made stringers, but when we got them home and examined them they clearly weren’t going to cut it. Instead of having the rise and run cut out of a single board, as you would with diy stringers, the prefabricated kind had triangles attached to a separate piece of lumber. That means that they would be a lot weaker, and would be more likely to rot.

For our 6′ wide deck, Tom used six stringers. I know it might sound like overkill, but he assured me that this was not only to code, but also the minimum recommended by many online sites. Apparently our old deck, which had half as many, would have failed inspection big time.

Tip: There are several online tools that will calculate the necessary rise and run for you, so don’t be intimidated by the thought of making your own stringers- it’s really not that hard and the quality difference is worth any extra effort.

Step 10: Attach deck boards and newel posts

Step 11: Attach handrails, caps, and spindles.

We chose to have our spindles attach to two separate rails rather than directly to the stairs, as is more common. The reason we did this was partly because we thought it looked much better, and partly because if and when rot set it, it’d only affect the handrails and not the entire structure.

And there you have it! Isn’t it gorgeous? I think it is something you can only truly appreciate once you understand the amount of work that goes into building it. Thanks Tom!

Before I go, here is a list of a few important things we learned during this project :

  • Each store (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Rona, etc) will carry a slightly different kind of pressure treated lumber. It pays to go to every store to find the most appealing version. For us, that was Lowe’s, as it’s lumber had a nice down tint to it. Both Home Depot’s and Rona’s limber was more green.
  • Be careful to choose boards that are straight and avoid any that contain several knots.
  • If possible, avoid wet wood.
  • Your boards will dry and warp quickly, so only buy as much as you can use in a day or so.Once screwed into place, you won’t have as much warping, but if you leave it sitting for too long, you’ll end up having to scrap it.
  • Pressure treated lumber contains high amounts of copper, which will corrode regular deck screws and nails; therefore, make sure to purchase screws that are resistant to copper.
  • Although more expensive, screws will give you a sturdier deck.
  • Decks that are attached to ledger boards are more likely to experience rot, which could ultimately damage your house. If possible, a free standing deck can eliminate this problem and also allow for adjustments when the ground inevitably shifts.
  • With proper support and preparation, it is possible to use deck blocks rather than pouring cement. For us, that meant digging down about two and a half feet and filling the holes with gravel.
  • Each cut needs to be sealed with an after cut product.
  • Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to follow us on Instagram and Facebook for daily stories, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! We’d love to hear from you 🙂

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