Tutorial: How To Build a Deck

2. Deck Layout

It’s always better to work from a drawing rather than out of your mind (just a figure of speech).   In other words, draw out what you want in as much detail as possible.  You need to include dimensions as well.   Here’s the thing, if the county where yourdeck is to be built requires a permit, and it probably will, then the code enforcement division of your local government may want any or all of the following drawings:foundation plans, floor plans, elevations and sections.   When you apply for your building permit, they will tell you when and how often to expect a building inspector.   The permit is to make sure you do not lower the area property values.  Your idea of beauty and grace may not necessarily coincide with the neighbors or neighborhood. 

deck layout

 The building inspector will make sure your deck is safe to use.  The foundation plan is the kind, type and location of the holes that will eventually support the deck and anchor it in place.  The floor plan is just a bird’s eye view of your deck.  An elevation is a drawing of the deck from ground level.  This may or may not include several different perspectives.  The first three types of drawings should all be drawn to the same scale (a unit of measurement used to reduce a large object down to so

mething that will fit on drafting paper, usually 2’0” x 3’0”). 1/4” to equal 1’0” is the simplest and most common scale.  You can buy a 12" architects rule at an arts and crafts store.  The Sectionals should be a larger scaling. 1” or 1 1/2” to 1’0” will be enough. A sectional drawing is very specific.   This may include a cut-away drawing from ground level of one or more interior aspects of your deck.  It can also be a detailed drawing of a joint showing where and how boards are fastened together.  This amount of detail probably won’t be necessary but its worth mentioning because you will have to deal with it at some point in the construction phase.  If an architect designs your deck, the fee for services may be in the 10% to 15% range of the total job cost.  Materials for your deck may cost $10.00 to $20.00 per square foot for yellow pine treated wood versus other species of woods and non-woods.  The other types of woods and non-woods will increase the cost of your deck.   Treated southern yellow pine is the most common deck building material.  The various kinds and types will be covered in Section 8. Decking Wood.  Beginning January 1st, the chromated copper arsenate (CCA) pressure treated wood is being replaced by an arsenic-free treated wood (ACQ which stands for Alkaline Copper Quat) for use in all residential applications.

The first aspect of laying out the deck is determining its physical location.  Use a can of spray paint on your grass to draw an outline of your deck. It doesn’t need to be perfect.  It’s only meant to help to visualize your project.  The area within the painted lines of your deck is what you will grade then cover with black plastic.  Don’t do any grading until you’ve marked where the deck posts are to be dug.  Make sure it’s a latex (water) based spray paint.  It’ll wash away with the first rain.  Drive a stake into the ground close to your house and two feet to the outside of the proposed deck.  The stakes should be at least 2” x 2” x 3’0” or even 4’0”.  Drive the stake's 1/3  into the ground.  The use of a two-pound mallet (very large hammer) is effective but not cumbersome.   Drive three more stakes into the ground to form a triangle out away from the house at the far end of your deck. 

decking layout

 These set of stakes must be on the same side of your deck as the single stake up against the house.   The three stakes need only be 18” to 24” apart (just eyeball it).  The grouping should also be 2’0” outside the perimeter of the deck.  This means both front and side.  Nail a piece of 1x2 furring strip to the outside of the stakes creating an actual right angle.  Using a 4’0” spirit level, make sure the cross braces (batterbo

ards) are level(perfectly horizontal) and the stakes are plumb (perfectly vertical).   A fifth, temporary stake should be used to make sure this first side of your deck is perpendicular to your house.  This last stake is placed in towards the center of the deck about six feet and also up against the house.  Drive nails into the top of both stakes near the house.  Tie a string between them and make sure it is taut and level.  A line level is a small gadget that is light enough to hang on the string. Measure 3’0” from the outside towards the inside then mark the string with a black magic marker.   Drive a nail into the batterboard that is parallel to your house (not to deep; you may have to move this nail).   Tie a string from the first stake to the nail in the batterboard. Make sure this also is taut and level.  Now measure from the corner away from the house 4’0” and mark the string as before.  Here’s a trick for determining a perfect 90° angle.  Tie off a third piece of string connecting both dots.  Now measure that length of string.  If it measures 5’0”, then your corner is correct. (see, geometry is important; a+ b2 = c2; (3x3) + (4x4) = (5x5))   If it doesn’t, then move the nail along the batterboard until the string is 5’0”.  Repeat this procedure for the opposite side of your deck.  Lastly, you need to place nails on the remaining two batterboards that are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the house.  It still works the same way.  Measure off 3’0” in one direction from the corner and 4’0” in the other direction from the same corner.  Connect the dots again and move the nail until its 5’0”.  Now you have the four square corners of your deck.  For the sake of simplicity and explanation, this particular deck will measure 10’0” x 20’0”.