15 Dec 2010

You Can Build a Deck On Your Own

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Scott on the Deck
Image by Moosicorn via Flickr

Imagine the years of enjoyment and pride you’ll enjoy after building your own deck. There is nothing like the sense of accomplishment you get from a DIY project well done, not to mention all the compliments!

Let’s get started with the basics of building a simple, yet functional deck. You’ll have a few choices, depending on your needs and the area in which you plan to build. The answers to the following questions will help you in creating the design for your deck. You’ll likely need a building permit and you’ll need to have your design in hand for that.

To determine your DIY deck design, let’s consider the following questions:

What is the grade of the land? You’ll need to make sure it slopes away from the house at least 1′ for every 15″, so the water will not accumulate around the foundation.
Assuming you’ll be using pressure treated lumber for your deck, you’ll be able to choose from 5/4″ x 6′ (which is really 1″ x 5 1/2) or 2″ thick (really 1 1/2″) in lengths of 4′, 6′ and 8′.
Once you’ve determined the appropriate size for your deck, this will guide your choice of ledger (joist that connects to the house) size. Ledger sizes are typically 2″ x 6′, 2″ x 8′ and 2″ x 10′.
Support posts will typically be 4′ x 4′ for decks lower than 5′ from the ground.
In general, beam size for spacing up to 9′ will be 4′ x 8′ and 10′ and over will require 4′ x 10′.

With these answers, your DIY deck design will come together beautifully. Once you’ve got all your decking materials and permit if necessary, you’re ready to begin.

You have already checked the grade so now just remove any sod and clean the area of any debris.

Mark the ledger location on the house. Don’t panic! It’s easy. It is calculated by measuring 1″ below the door plus the thickness of the material, plus the joist. Mount the ledger to the studs using 1/2″ lag screws a minimum of 3″ in length, with a washer placed on it for water drainage between the deck and the house. Use at least 2 lag bolts on each end and a minimum of 1 on each stud in between. Make sure to double-check that it is level as you go along.

Hammer stakes into the ground and run strings from the ledger to establish the perimeter of the deck, making sure your calculations are square.

Based on these perimeter calculations, dig your post holes at least 8′ deeper than the frost line and then back-fill 6″ to allow for proper drainage. Fill hole with concrete and allow to set. It is very important to wear a dust mask when you dig the hole so you don’t inhale mold spores. Wear it when you mix concrete as well, since both contain small particles that can lodge in your lungs and cause lung disease. No project is worth that price, so be smart about it.

Once the concrete has set, attach posts using concrete anchor bolts. Attach the beams using post-to-beam connectors double-checking that everything is level.

On beams and ledger, mark the locations for your joists. With crowns facing upward, set your joists in place and nail a rim joist across the ends.

Cover the ground below the deck with black polyethylene to keep weeds from coming up.

Using galvanized or stainless screws, attach your deck boards across joists, laying them side by side. It’s not necessary to leave a gap as the pressure-treated wood will shrink slightly causing gaps naturally. Make sure any bowing of your decking material faces downward. If boards are uneven on ends, snap a string and cut uniformly. Sawdust is more hazardous to your lungs than the smoke from cigarettes, so always remember to protect them. Wear glasses or goggles to protect your eyes when cutting.

If your deck is low enough it won’t require a railing. Check the building regulations in your area. If you do need a rail, place railing posts at each of the corners and at intervals of 6′, or centered if your deck is less than 12′. Attach caps and balusters and add a step if needed.

A word to the wise:

This is a comprehensive overview, be sure to check the building codes for your area to insure you only need to do the job once. Be careful, take your time, measure twice, use common sense and remember safety first. Protect your hands, eyes and lungs. When you take on a DIY project, you and you alone are responsible for your safety and well-being, so stay focused, don’t allow kids or animals around your tools or materials.

These simple precautions will help to keep things running smoothly. Soon you will have completed a project that you can be proud of for years to come. Then it will be time to fire up the barbeque and invite your friends and family over for some fun and maybe just a little showing off!

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