10 Things to Know Before Building a Deck

Learn about the different types of decking materials, deck framing basics and deck terminology.

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Select Your Decking Materials

Wood, either treated or naturally weather- and insect-resistant, is what is traditionally thought of for deck materials. However, composite decking is making inroads into deck building. The initial cost is higher, but over time you can actually save money when compared to cleaning, refinishing and ultimately replacing wood deck boards. Some warranties are up to 20 years or more. Get tips for estimating deck materials >>

Permit Now, No Headache Later

Study your local building codes and get a permit if needed. This is usually the case for a deck over a particular height and total size. You don't want to run into a problem later if you sell your house, and the beautiful deck you've spent years enjoying becomes a deal-breaker. Plus, you'll want to make sure it's safe and secure for loved ones and visitors.

Location, Design and Materials

First, decide where you want your deck to be placed – attached to a back door, a second story, freestanding, etc. Then develop a design. Some home centers have design software that can help you design your deck and automatically create a list of materials based upon that design. Get tips on how to plan the layout of your deck >>

Create a Solid Base

The footings for your deck must meet local codes and be installed properly. The depth of your footings, which will be set in concrete, will depend on your geographic location, and will need to be below the frost line. Find more info on correctly setting deck footings >>

A Level Ledger

For decks attached to a home, you must have the ledger set properly. This is the large beam, usually a 2x8, 2x10, or 2x12, attached to the structure of the home, and to which the deck substructure is attached. This, along with the footings, is a key component of a solid, safe and level deck. As with the footings, check with local building codes. Learn more about install ledger boards >>

Square the Support Frame

Once the ledger is set, you'll need to make sure the joists are attached square and are set properly for the structure of the deck. Accurate measurements, fasteners and measuring tools, such as a large engineer or try square, are absolutely necessary for this step. Learn more about deck framing >>

Board Selection and Placement

Wood decking boards are full of imperfections, so select the best quality that you can at the beginning. Try to avoid curved and cupped boards as much as possible, as well as knots on edges. If you have cupped boards (they're curved across the face looking from the end), then place the top of the curve up when setting the board in place.

Fastener Choice

You can opt for nails or screws and visible or hidden fastening systems. If you want a seamless look, you can opt for one of several fastening options that attach screws either from below or at an angle from the edge. Whichever you choose, make sure your fasteners are rated for exterior use. These will be labeled as deck screws or deck nails.

Board Spacing

Weather and time will make your wood boards move via expansion and contraction, so make sure you space the boards apart. Rule of thumb is 1/8 inch. You can use spacers specifically designed for this purpose, but many pros simply use a few screws used on the job as spacers.

Apply a Protective Finish

Wood decks need a protective coat of finish to maintain their look and provide years of service. Many stains and sealers are available in a wide variety of colors and opacity options. You'll need to apply these per the manufacturer's recommendations. For treated lumber this means waiting up to several months before applying a finish. And remember, you'll need to clean and reapply a finish periodically – usually every couple of years. Learn more about refinishing a deck >>

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