Ground Level Deck Designs

Ground level decks feature low levels of complexity and high levels of satisfaction.
Contemporary Outdoor Dining Area with Umbrella

Contemporary Outdoor Dining Area with Umbrella

An umbrella offers a shady spot for outdoor dining in this contemporary backyard.

Photo by: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

By: John Riha

A ground level deck is a great way to add some livability to your backyard, a place to barbecue, hang out, and entertain, all on a nice flat, level surface that’s clean and safe.

If you want to know how to build a ground level deck, start with the fact that it’s one of the easiest decks to build. There aren’t any posts, and if it’s free standing — meaning it’s not attached to your house or any other structure — you won’t have to dig the footing holes that are required by building codes to prevent frost heave. Instead, you can build on inexpensive store-bought deck pier blocks that you set directly into the ground (check your local codes for proper installation of deck blocks).

Place beams on your blocks, add joists, and bam! your substructure is complete. Because a ground-level deck is so low, railings are optional (codes require railings on decks with walking surfaces that are more than 30 inches above grade). You can add railings if you want, for sure, along with built-in benches, planters, and arbors, depending on your budget and design.

Ground level decks can be any shape or size, depending on your needs. Put them close to the house as a transition from inside to outside, or toward the edges of your property to create an island oasis. You can find free ground level deck plans and design tools at the websites of home improvement centers and manufacturers of decking and deck parts.

But because ground level decks are so low, with framing often only inches from dirt, structural members have to endure a damp, dark environment. Use only pressure-treated beams and joists to help prevent rot and insect attack. Give the cut ends of framing members a coating of wood preservative or finish to help seal the end grain against moisture. Use only stainless steel or galvanized steel fasteners.

Contemporary Backyard Garden

Contemporary Backyard Garden

The clean lines of this lawn and deck area create an inviting space with a contemporary flair.

Photo by: DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Decking, too, is close to those often-damp conditions. It should be pressure-treated or synthetic decking boards. If you prefer cedar, redwood, or some other wood, give the undersides a coat of finish or water sealer before installing them.

It’s likely that your finished deck will be a few inches off the ground. It’s good that there are openings to circulate air under your deck, but those openings can also be a problem. Leaves and other debris can blow under your deck and accumulate where you can’t get at them to clean them out. Too much debris can speed the deterioration of even pressure-treated lumber, and it can create havens for critters and insects.

To keep debris and animals from under you deck, add a wire screen along the perimeter just behind the rim joists. Galvanized wire mesh with ¼-inch openings is a good choice. Bury 2 to 3 inches of wire mesh into the ground to deter burrowing animals.

Building a Deck 02:48

In this series, Chip Wade shows you how to build a deck from the ground up.
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