Tutorial: How to build a Deck
1. Deck size, location and shape.
Decks should be planned out to suit your needs both now and in the future. This may include a place to entertain, dine out or just chill out. It can also be a play area for children. The planning of your deck should take into account several things.
These include: anticipated usage, how it will blend in with other existing structures, privacy, the view, safety and topography. Some other considerations may be: whether to allow gentle air currents or to block any prevailing winds, how much direct sunlight would you want or the kind and type of access to your home. How many people might be using your deck at any given time (anticipated usage)? What kinds and types of furniture will be used on the deck? How much of you and what’s happening on your deck do you want your neighbors to see (privacy)? Is there something beautiful worth seeing from your deck (the view)? Then you wouldn’t want any obstructions in your line of sight. If there’s nothing of note, then plant Juniper trees so you may gaze upon the hypnotic swaying of one of Nature’s little miracles, sorry got a little carried away there, but you get the idea. With children and the elderly, the kind and type of railing and stairs becomes more of a factor in planning (safety). How does your property slope in the area where you intend to build (topography)? Everything mentioned in this paragraph are elements to be considered in the size and design of your deck. Some of these elements are more important than others, but they all need to be considered. And by the way, a deck will give you a major return on your investment when reselling your house. Check with a realtor for the percentage of resale value of your investment.
Part of your planning must also take into account any underground wiring, gas lines, sewer, plumbing or septic tanks. Check with your local utilities office. Two aspects of the ground, itself, will affect how your deck is anchored in place as well as its shape and size. They are the grading of your lot and the composition of the soil. You need to grade the area under the deck so water drains away from the deck supports and house. Grade down to the bare soil then use black plastic to cover the area to prevent weed growth (see 2. Deck Layout). Later on, when you’re digging the post holes, just slit the plastic. If you’re careful, you might be able to reuse the sod elsewhere on your property where it may be needed. There are many kinds and types of decorative gravel or stone one may use to secure the black polyurethane in place. Three to five degrees of grade will probably be sufficient on a normal lot. If the grading of your lot is extreme, then special construction techniques come into play. It may become necessary to build your deck on several levels. You may need to use longer support posts. You may also need the use of pilings (a column of concrete) above ground. These are the cases where the services of an architect, civil or structural engineer may be necessary. Try not to allow vegetation to grow on any of the deck’s substructure. It speeds up the degradation of the wood. If the grading of your lot is such that water drains in towards your house from a hill, you need to build a swale at the base of the slope. A swale is a shallow gully that will vary in size but is about a foot or so deep and two to three feet wide. It should also have a raised bank opposite the hill and several inches above the general grading of the adjacent land. This will divert the water runoff from your hill away from your house and new deck. The composition of the soil is its makeup. Is it sandy, rocky or full of clay? This will be covered in greater detail in part 3 Deck Posts and Holes.