Deck Project Ideas: A-Z Guide to Deck Projects and Improvements

Deck Project Ideas: A-Z Guide to Deck Projects and Improvements

The right type of deck that matches the style of your house can truly make your yard a paradise. There is a wide variety of ideas and designs that you can choose from.

For those reasons and for many others, I have compiled plenty of useful aspects that you should consider before building your own deck. The following post provides comprehensive information that you can use in your deck building project.

You will find everything below, from tips on how to build a deck structure to the main types of decks, and things you must know if you’re on a tight budget.

Building a Deck – a Brief DIY Guide

Part 1 – Planning and Layout

Planning Tips and Guidelines

  • You must first understand what a deck construction process involves such as materials, shapes, stairs, railings, enclosures, etc. Understanding all of these concepts is crucial, especially if you want to build the entire deck by yourself;
  • Plan ahead for amenities. For instance, think about how much space you will need to install a grill or even a hot tub while also thinking about where you will place the seating area;
  • Establish a budget. While size is essential, other factors like configuration or material type play an even more important role. Obviously, if you want to have a more complex deck, the costs will be higher;
  • Choose the best materials that are appropriate for your location and climate. Again, based on the material, the price will vary. You can choose between composite which is quite expensive, plastics which are medium-priced, and pressure treated wood which is pretty affordable;
  • Draw a plan. Create a diagram that features the deck’s amenities, lengths, and any other kind of feature or element you want to add.

Required Tools

  • Level;
  • Drill;
  • Wrench;
  • Tape measure;
  • Shovel;
  • Hammer;
  • Sander;
  • Plumb;
  • Hand saw; etc.

Layout the Deck

  • Think about the design – consider all the features you want your deck to include;
  • Write down a plan – collaborate with a professional landscaper or even a contractor to create a blueprint of the project;
  • Make all the required measurements – mark the entire area to determine the location where you want to place the batter boards;
  • Use string to demarcate the outer layout – you can establish your deck’s edges by tying strings to the horizontal boards. Then, you should adjust those strings to make sure that the area has your desired shape.

Part 2 – Foundation and Framing

Installing Foundation Footings

  • You must start digging but before that, you should take out the layout strings without removing the batter boards;
  • Dig footing holes. Usually, the holes are created at least 6 inches far from the frost line but you can also comply with your local building requirements. These holes should be wider compared to the footing frames;
  • For drainage purposes, you must fill the holes with gravel and then tamp it down;
  • If you want (but this is optional), you can lay out landscape paper. It’s a smart thing to do in order to prevent weeds from growing;
  • Place the concrete forms and fill them by pouring concrete. Still, make sure to fill them only halfway. Don’t forget to remove air pockets by using a shovel;
  • Install the ledger board;
  • Once the cement dries completely, you should attach brackets to anchor bolts and then the posts to the brackets.

Building the Frame

a. Beams

  • Create the beams which are also called girders. These are either steel posts or wooden boards. To fasten the boards together, you must use a special type of membrane that’s waterproof;
  • Attach the beams to the posts, on the top part.

b. Attach Joists

  • Lay them in place by attaching these joists to the beams;
  • After attaching the deck’s joists, it’s time to install the bridging or bracing which keeps the aforementioned elements from warping;
  • Finally, you should trim the final rim joist and attach it to the structure.

Part 3 – Railings and Stairs

Installing Railings

Railings are a wooden structure that’s installed at the end of the deck in order to prevent people from falling. Deck railings can be made from a wide range of materials: composite, wood, metal, cable, and glass. I recommend you to choose the ones that complete the overall design, although the most popular choice is almost always wood. To install these elements, you must consider the following things:

  • Think about how many railings you will need and ensure an appropriate spacing between them;
  • Mark the locations where the railings will go before installation;
  • Use structural screws instead of deck alternatives to affix the posts;
  • Install both the deck anchor and a second carriage bolt.

Building Stairs

  • Measure the height or the distance between the deck’s floor and the ground. There’s even a formula for calculating stairs;
  • Optionally, you can even draw a sketch to see if what’s in your mind also works in reality;
  • Make the stringers. Buy wooden boards and cut custom stringers. These components are the ones that will sustain the risers and the treads;
  • Use a circular saw to cut the notches;
  • With a handsaw, finish the notch cuts and then repeat this entire process until you cut all the required stringers;
  • Use a drill to stabilize the stringers and link them to the deck’s base. It’s time to cut the risers and attach them to the stringers.

Popular Deck Types – 5 Styles and Designs

Before I list the main deck types you can choose from, I want to say that you should always build a deck that suits the style of your house, location, and personal taste. Here are the types of decks that most people like:

  • Contemporary – if you live your life thinking that less is more, then this is your optimal deck style. Usually, these structures feature basic shapes combined with clean lines. The overall design is modern and sleek. The best materials to build a contemporary deck are low-maintenance options such as PVC, composite, stone, and metal;
  • Traditional – if you’re looking to achieve a cottage-like style, then a traditional deck will do the trick. Chamfered corners and octagonal shape are the main features you should look for instead of sharp edges. A timeless charm is achieved with routered rail caps and trim moldings. Build this deck using warm materials like cedar or redwood;
  • Colonial – classical architecture is obtained with symmetrical design elements. Mix white railings with decorate features. Benches, planter boxes, and pergolas will be the cherry on the cake;
  • Mountain – in case you own a log cabin somewhere in the mountains or in the woods, then the perfect style would be a massive deck with a timber framing and rustic features. It’s quite simple because all you have to do is search for inspiration out there, in nature;
  • Coastal – if your house is located by the sea (lucky you), then a coastal platform style is more suitable. The deck will be overlooking the sea so make sure to blend the structure into the surrounding landscape. Use white or gray railings made from cedar or composite. To achieve an open view, you should install either cable or glass rails. Pick low-maintenance materials.

Building a Deck – How Much Does It Cost?

For all of you who’re building their first deck, the first question that comes in mind is “how much it will cost?” There’s no standard answer to this important question. However, you can come up with an estimate based on several variables. The total cost depends on how you decide to build it; if you are willing to do it all on your own or hire a contractor.

Also, the cost of building a deck varies depending on what materials you use, but not only that. You must also consider the following factors:

  • The deck’s square footage;
  • The complexity of the design and how elaborate the deck is;
  • Measurements of the planned structure: width, depth, and height;
  • Materials type and their price which may vary from one region to the other.

Now, for you to have a clearer idea of how prices vary, let’s take a look at how much a deck that measures 10’x10’ costs:

  • A deck with those dimensions that are made from pressure-treated pine will cost you between $1,061 and $2,350 (only the materials);
  • The price of the materials for the same deck size, if you use exotic hardwood, starts at around $3,000 and it can reach up to over $6,000;
  • The purchasing cost of composite ranges between $1,900 and $4,200.

Building a Deck on a Budget

It’s true that a deck is a big investment. Still, you can calculate a construction budget with the help of an equation that contains three variables: square footage, prices, and the quality of the materials. Don’t expect to control all of these variables at the same time but you can control two of them. Those two will further produce the third variable. Also, a deck construction project represents a substantial investment and the majority of materials cost between $15 and $30 per ft².

You might think that a smaller deck is the solution when you’re on a tight budget but let me tell you something: a bigger alternative might not be the answer even if you have an unlimited budget. The most important thing is the quality of the materials as well as an aesthetically-pleasing design. As far as the materials go, pressure-treated wood is more affordable, being an economy material. On the other hand, it isn’t as durable as other options.

How to Build a Deck on a Budget – 5 Ways to Save Money

  • Build a pallet deck – most people prefer a cheap deck made with regular materials. However, a pallet alternative is definitely worth considering. Pallets are either inexpensive or even free and they can lead to an interesting design by placing them in original shapes or painting them in bold colors;
  • Reuse building materials – check Craigslist or any other similar website to find free or cheap building materials. Use filters to search for vendors who’re located in rural areas. Those providers have higher chances to own surplus materials. Building your deck with recycled materials is both cheap and environmentally-friendly. Moreover, these types of decks will look trendy and eclectic;
  • Consider a standard size – any kind of customization that you want to include to the design will raise the cost of the deck. Therefore, you should stick with standard options such as simple lumber. After all, simple decks can be truly beautiful;
  • Seal your deck – when you choose cheaper materials, you must seal the deck in order to preserve it. Otherwise, it might decay or rot. The most common method is a sealant that’s purchased from a specialized store. Still, you can also prepare your own if you use pigments and mineral spirits or if you boil linseed oil;
  • Skip pretreated wood – wood that has been treated with chemicals costs more and it might be harmful to you and to the environment. On the other hand, treated wood will last longer. So, a proper compromise is to buy a softer treatment product and apply it yourself.

Deciding the Size of the Deck

Unfortunately, many people have the tendency to create large decks, especially if they haven’t done this before. This is generally a mistake because most of the time, the final result is too big for the overall structure of the house, not to mention that a larger deck can easily exceed one’s budget. Here are some simple rules you should follow to achieve a properly-scaled deck that fits your house:

  • Measure your house to see how many square feet it has. The deck shouldn’t be bigger than a maximum of 20% of the size of your house;
  • Any of the deck’s sections should be the same size or smaller compared to the biggest room in your house.

After knowing these rules, you should sketch your design ideas on a notebook graph paper, using a ruler. In my opinion, the best version would be a multi-level deck that features several different areas. This model is more original, looks better, and it’s less boring than a large rectangle deck. These spaces will have a natural flow.

Designing and Creating an Amazing Deck – Useful Tips & Tricks

House, Yard, and Elevation

One mistake that deck owners make is the fact that they attach a structure to an old deck or an existing ledger board. This method limits your options while also interfering with the creative process. Building a deck that fits your house shouldn’t be just a simple afterthought. Think about the following aspect: the door of the house plays an important role because it will also become the main access to the deck. Hence, where the door is located determines the deck’s elevation.

Lower decks don’t necessarily require guardrails and their design is a combination of massive and squat. Before building a low deck, you must consider ventilation under the structure because, although the space that’s left between the platform and the ground is rather small, there’s plenty of room for small animals or insects. Also, ventilation works to prevent mold and mildew.

Higher decks look more like a floating structure and the platform seems more lightweight. In this situation, you need to install guardrails for your safety as well as stairs. A higher deck is great for those of you who live in areas with beautiful landscapes and want to admire the view. An additional advantage of having a high deck is the huge space that remains underneath the platform which you can use to store different items.

Based on your location and the climate, you should adjust your deck’s design. How a deck looks like varies depending on whether or not you have a large yard, with trees, or a pool. Other aspects such as shape, size, model, patterns, materials, and positioning might impact your deck project.

Traffic and Stairs

Foot traffic plays a crucial role in your deck’s design. Therefore, you must place furniture items, accessories, decorative elements, and grills in such a manner that won’t interfere with traffic flow or movement. Both the stairs and the house’s entrance door must be easily located, regardless of where you are on the deck. If you plan to build a larger area, you should consider installing movement aisles which will represent smooth paths for traffic flow.

Decking Choices

One of the most important decisions you will have to make once you decide to build a new deck is selecting the right model and type when it comes to design. Many house owners would rather build a deck that’s made with real wood such as redwood, cedar, and even exotic hardwoods instead of using man-made materials. Other individuals want low-maintenance materials which also provide a wider variety of textures and colors. So, make sure you do your research regarding the best materials you could get.

What Kind of Deck Should You Plan?

When it comes to design ideas, the sky is the limit. I mean it! Hundreds of decks are being built every year so there are plenty of ideas, all of which were well-tested. There are even specialized websites where you can access a lot of deck plans and designs for free. Once you take a model as your inspiration, feel free to modify or customize it in order to match your house or your yard.

Consider Your Lifestyle and Plan Accordingly

Start by making a list with some general ideas. Think about how this addition will improve your overall life and consider its advantages. What will the purpose of the deck be? I, for one, would love to have a medium-sized deck, surrounded by trees and plants in order to achieve a more intimate vibe and I would use the deck as a dining area or as a gathering space where I can meet up with my closest friends. You might love to grill. If that’s the case, go a tad further by installing a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen on your deck.

Don’t Forget about Traffic and Use Areas

So far, we have discussed how to establish your priorities and create a plan. From now on, you must think about the deck’s space to make sure it suits your favorite activities. Nevertheless, creating traffic pathways around those areas is also very important. If the deck is big enough, you could even place different furniture sets to feature well-purposed spaces. For instance, there could be a cooking area, a dining space, and a relaxation or a mingling “room.”

Materials Are and Will Always Be Essential

Many people choose to use low-maintenance materials these days. They buy composites or PVC, especially for the railing, decking, and fascia. Others prefer treated wood which might be the ideal option for you, as long as you don’t mind taking care of the deck by undergoing a regular maintenance process. After all, wooden materials will give your deck a more natural look.

Shape and Size

A deck’s size should be big enough to ensure adequate space for your outdoor activities but small enough not to overwhelm the visibility of your house. If your budget allows it, you could even create a huge deck and divide it into different spaces, or as I like to call them, “outdoor rooms.” Rectangular decks are good but those that also have curves and angles are more appealing. It’s true, however, that more complex platforms will take longer to build. If you can, you should design your deck while having a theme in mind.

Get the Views Right

You must consider two views: one from inside your house and the other directly from the deck. Don’t use bulky railings if you want the deck to be a welcoming and inviting place. As long as your house is tall, you could easily descend the deck’s platform or build lower sections so that you won’t build the structure right in front of your windows. Another possibility is to opt for glass panels instead of railings.

Blend the Deck with Both Your Yard and Your House

The deck should play the role of a bridge that connects your house with your yard. In those connection points, it is best suited to include certain transitional materials like stones, bricks, and pavers. With this kind of deck-and-patio mix, you will definitely attract the attention of your guests.

Overheads and Planters

There’s no such thing as a living area that has perfect weather all year round. Therefore, you would want to build a deck with an overhead structure to provide shade during summer months and protect you from rainy days. The most common solution that many people think of is a pergola. Planters are also great, especially if you want to decorate the deck with large plant pots.

FAQs About Decks

What is the best material to use for a deck?

No matter what size deck or patio you are planning to make, always make sure you use materials that will last more than a decade. The best material for deck is a composite or pressure treated wood like pine wood which is widely available and doesn’t cost a lot.

How long should a deck last?

Decks made of soft wood like pine, cedar or redwood are made to last from 10 to 20 years, depending on the weather conditions in the place you live. This doesn’t mean your deck will survive for 20 years total for sure, but with good protection on the wood, you might make it!

Is PVC decking slippery when wet?

Yes. Unfortunately, even though PVC decks are looking gorgeous, they can be extremely dangerous when wet, so if you decide to go with this type of material, be very careful.

How long will a deck last without stain?

The wood will probably be in the color you have chosen for at last 6 to 8 months, depending on the weather conditions, so afterward you can stain it again or leave it like this if you prefer this type of look.

Deck Projects Ideas – Final Thoughts

So, by now, you should already know that there are several essential things to keep in mind before building a deck. From function, uses, purposes, and location to budget, materials, size, shape, stairs, railings, and legal requirements (including building codes), there is a huge list of details you must become aware of. Don’t despair, though! Make sure to come up with a well-established plan, decide on all those important aspects and give this a try. Go ahead and start building the deck of your dreams!

Are you finished with your deck? Check out some of the Best Under Deck Ideas and Inspirations.


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