Every summer, you find yourself saying the same thing month after month: “Boy, it’d be nice to have a big deck…” So far, one hasn’t spontaneously manifested in your backyard, no one has shown up offering to trade a deck for some magic beans, nothing like that. It’s high time you get out there and put your dreams into motion!
Building a deck can be an intimidating project for any homeowner, but if you’re going to attempt it, you might as well be completely prepared for the job. Attention to detail and careful craftsmanship are the most important skills needed for deck building, it’s definitely a project you can nail (see what we did there?) if you have the time to spend.
Your First Steps Toward Deck Ownership
One of the very best things about building your own deck is that you’ll be intimately familiar with every fastener and board in the structure. You’ll also know if you cut corners, so don’t do that. Building a deck is a process that can’t be rushed if you dare to hope it’ll stand and remain in decent shape for the long run.
Every deck is unique due to a combination of your needs, the geological profile of your soil, the size of your house, overhanging trees and the local climate. You’ll need to be prepared for surprises along the way, so leave a bit of slack in the budget for those just in case moments. If you don’t need to spend it, well, you were wanting a new grill anyway, right?
Building a Better Deck: Tips to Keep in Mind
There’s no single way to build a deck, but there are lots of things that can help you build a better deck anywhere. Here are a few tips to get you started!
Take advantage of pre-cut deck parts. You can make most of what you need for your deck from scratch, but if you’re only building the one deck, why? Check out your local home improvement store or lumberyard to see what they offer in pre-cut items like stair stringers and spindles. These convenience building supplies will save you huge headaches and speed your project up tremendously.
Choosy deck builders choose their lumber carefully. Even though most decks today are built with pressure-treated lumber, yours doesn’t have to follow the crowd. If you have the budget, composite decking is often under warranty for 20 years or more. It costs more than pressure-treated lumber, but if you’re not looking to sell your home any time soon you’ll get a lot of years of virtually maintenance free deck ownership using composites.
Keep your posts out of the dirt. Sure, lots of decks have been built with the posts encased in concrete, or even just backfilled with rocks and soil, but time has proven that this is a really bad practice. Instead, pour a level concrete pad for the post to sit on, then seal the post end and use post bases to prevent moisture wicking.
Beg, borrow or rent the right tools for the job. A basic homeowner’s toolkit with a circular saw, table saw, power drill or nail gun (or hammer, but it’s slow going) and line level can get you started, but if you need to fasten your deck to concrete or have any sort of interesting problems crop up, you’re going to need more. For concrete installations, for example, an impact driver is really required equipment and easy to rent for the day.
Don’t neglect flashing! Sandwiching boards on boards is super basic, but if you want to protect the structure next to your deck flashing is a requirement. Just like with a valley in a roof, flashing redirects water so it goes where it should, rather than creating a rotten mess between the deck and the structure you’ve attached it to. Use ledger flashing all across the top of boards that are in direct contact with any sort of building, then apply flashing tape over it such that about half of the width overlaps the flashing and half overlaps the structure.
Seal the invisible bits. It’s easy to forget that the hidden parts of your deck will need longer term protection. After all, once you’ve covered them with lumber it’s kind of an out of sight, out of mind situation. Instead of opening your deck’s structure to rot and other moisture related problems, seal the joist tops with flexible flashing (a lot like what you’re using for the ledger that’s against your house). There’s a peel and stick version that makes it really easy to get the job done.