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How To Build A Deck: Cost To Build A Deck, Materials & DIY Tips

Our guide on how to build a deck includes the cost to build a deck, best tips for DIYers as well as all the materials needed to do the job.

An outdoor deck will improve the design of your house. When done properly, you can add a lot of value to your home without spending a lot of money. Just like a room, decks have countless designs to choose from. You can choose to build a covered deck or go with a traditional open design. Materials will play a big role in the value of the project, so it’s a good idea to go all in from the start to get the best return on your investment. Construction of a deck ranges from complex to fairly simple, and it is all based on the scope of the project. Safety is a big concern when building a deck, so there are no shortcuts. This is one project where you have to know what you want long before buying the materials.

Getting A Permit

Every city has its own rules when it comes to deck size, type and other requirements. A deck is a big deal even when you don’t fact in cost. When the right paperwork is done, you’ll gain zoning the zoning approval needed to proceed with building your deck. The permit is more than a formality, so skipping it could cost you years later when you try to sell the house. Even if the deck you plan to build is small, it is better to be safe rather than sorry. Reading up on deck construction permits is the way to go since there are no universal guidelines to follow. Cities require the use of a permit to make sure that all homes are following the code for buildings in the area. It goes far beyond safety and ensures that professional standards are followed for each construction. Although there is no one size fits all guide for a permit, here is some basic information to get you started.

New Construction Always Requires A PermitRemodeling or making an alteration to your home that changes the size will always require a permit. Usually it will fall under a construction permit, but there may be other guidelines or papers you need to follow. This is where information gets specific for each build. When filling out the papers, don’t leave out any important information about the project. The assigned inspector is not going to be happy if you leave out key details.

Include ALL informationHow specific you need to be is going to be up to the city the permit comes from. In some cities, your drawings need to be accompanied by stamped professional approval. Since this is about a DIY deck project, that leaves very little wiggle room when a professional approval is required. If the zoning authority won’t approve the project without stamped professional approval, then you can always get that done by a company willing to sign off on the project. Getting a team of professionals to file all the paperwork is worth the money-sometimes. It’s not that simple (obviously) but it gives hope to people that are building their own decks.

Save Time By Making A Phone CallMost of the time you can file for a permit on your own. The bare minimum required is an STFI construction permit with relevant information about the deck. Searching the web and confirming with your homeowners association will keep you away from a length filing process. A lot of offices have modernized the filing process so that it can be done entirely online. If there is a small wait to get your permit, then you will have already saved time by doing the necessary research. A lot of the stalling with deck permits comes from missing information that is required to make it valid. Homeowners can avoid getting a request for ‘more information’ by staying one step ahead of the agency.

Fees Are Not That HighWith everything else in the deck project, permit fees are the lowest. It scales with the size of the project but is never unreasonable to the homeowner. Building decks in an environmentally critical area will complicate things with the price. It will at least provide you with a bigger headache with the exposure to more paperwork. The size of your home will also determine permit fees. Skipping out on paying these fees and getting the permit is a bad idea. The fines and legal ramifications will be much more than the permit fee. And if you’re in the middle of building the deck, a stop-work order will be issued with the fines. You’ll potentially end up paying much more out of pocket for the project by not getting the permit.

The Pros And Cons Of Building A Deck

Don’t let getting the permit scare you away from building your own deck. It’s one of a few things with this project that may seem insurmountable at first glance. Getting past the harder hurdles will keep the project on track. There are no half measures when building your own deck, so once you start investing time and money it is in your best interest to finish.

Pros

  • A lot of money is saved by not having a professional design and build the deck
  • Adding a deck improves the overall resale value of the home
  • Decks make it easier to host parties or have get a together in your back yard
  • When using wood as the main material it looks natural and smells good
  • By controlling all aspects of the project you’ll be able to select lower costing materials
  • Weather resistant composite material is lightweight and stain resistant

Cons

  • Some woods variants are expensive, with their value tied to the region you purchase from
  • Wood decks degrade faster than composite decks
  • Cheaply made composite decks are slippery and prone to mold or mildew
  • Getting a permit is a hassle in cities that have strict build laws
  • Once you start spending money on the project there is no backing out without taking a loss. The project can be halted by the city for the smallest inaccuracy in your permit.
  • The skill required for this project is high so it shouldn’t be attempted by beginners

The pros and cons list is long for a DIY deck, so check all points carefully. Deck building is serious business that requires a lot of planning ahead. Regardless of the things that could go wrong, a well-planned project can handle any of the pitfalls.  That is why deck building is such a great ROI for any home that needs a major improvement.

Why Is A DIY Deck A Good Idea?

Constructing a deck for your home is a fun project. With the right setup, it can become the most used space in your home. Not all decks have to be complicated, as there are plenty of dream projects that fall into the simple category. This is not a beginner friendly project, but having even basic carpentry experience is a start. Planning on selling your house in the next 10-20 years? Adding a deck will increase the resale value of the home. This unique addition to your backyard will make the house more valuable than competing homes without the feature. Decks serve multiple purposes, from entertaining guests, hosting parties and even relaxation spaces.

All builds are different, and it isn’t uncommon to have a deck that is detached from the home. Using this type of build offers a completely different experience to attached decks. With a freestanding deck you can implement more varied designs that fits the current style of your home. Over the years you can add on (or take away) features of the project like railings, color and even floor material. When you look at it like that, a deck project is never ending as long as you have the imagination for it. Using high quality materials will lead to less yearly maintenance issues. But cheap materials will force you to spend a bit of time keeping everything up to date. Higher costs will come with quality materials, but you may end up spending money anyway when maintaining cheaper materials. So it really comes down to your initial vision for the deck and how much you want to come out of pocket.

Homeowners that are looking to start their first big add-on project will enjoy the freedom and expansion of deck building.

Materials Needed

This guide will cover a simple deck build that shouldn’t take a lot of resources to complete. It requires the fewest amount of materials but is still a serious project to take on. Most people won’t have all of these materials and tools in their possession, so the cost section of the guide will cover a lot of the important details about needed items. Generic materials and tools are not recommended for a DIY deck project.

HammerA nice heavy duty hammer will do the trick for this project. With all of the banging you will be doing, a comfortable handle is preferred.

ChiselA chisel set is preferred but a single strong chisel will do the job just fine. Like the hammer, a comfortable handle should influence the buying decision.

Electric DrillGetting an electric drill with high head compatibility saves money upfront when you replace it with the other tools on the list. Wired versions are fine if you have the proper outside setup or wiring.

Measuring MaterialsTapes, rulers and squares cover this category. A set would be nice, but sometimes it is best to get these materials separately.

WrenchWrenches are best purchased in sets, where they are a much better value. Most sets are in chrome, but you’ll be fine picking up other types.

Circular and Hand SawsYou’ll need both of these tools for the job, so shop with balance in mind. That means going for models that give you the best angle while cutting.

Levels & ChalklinesThese sets come with a lot more than the listed items if you look for a bargain. Going for traditional or digital won’t matter as long as it is accurate.

Pencils or MarkersEither one will do the trick, just make sure they make clear lines. Faded markings will open the door to mistakes when cutting.

Sledge HammerNothing fancy here, just a nice sized sledge hammer for the heavy duty tasks. Don’t purchase models that are too heavy for you or else it’ll be ineffective when swinging.

Spades & ForksTake your pick, just make sure that it digs deeply. These tools will dig into the very ground you’ll have to build the deck on.

Decking TimberComposition material will hold up well, but there is nothing wrong with choosing wood. The durability of the entire project will be determined by your decking timber.

ConcreteYou can go for quick set to save time, or any DIY mix that is strong once dried. A 55 lbs. bag is more than enough to finish the project.

Nails/Joist HangersYou’ll need plenty, so don’t be afraid of buying too much.

The Job

Make sure you have the proper papers and a signed permit. Building a deck is an ambitious DIY project, but by planning ahead you can get it done with no problems. This guide covers building a small deck in your backyard. You can use the method to build a much larger deck, or even better, to expand on your own design. If you can build this deck successfully, then more elaborate designs won’t be a problem.

Start the project by placing the boards with stakes around your home so that they make the outer edges of the project. This will give you a good visual of how big the deck will be and how much space is required. Tying strings to each board is a big help in making quick adjustments or measuring.  With a little bit of adjustments with the help of the string and leveling tools, you can mark the four corners and midpoints of the project. This is where you will build the caissons, also known as the eight concrete support posts. If you are unsure about the measures, spend the time to go over your diagram and make adjustments to the string.

At this point you can remove the stakes/strings and begin to make holes in the ground at the marked locations. You want the holes to be at least fifteen inches deep in order to make a significant impact. This is one of the slower parts building a deck, so using automated tools is recommended if you have tough soil. Once the holes are finished, clear away any dirt so that it doesn’t get in the way. Pour concrete into each hole, using careful precision to remove excess concrete from the top. You want it even so that it doesn’t throw off the balance of the entire deck. If you didn’t get the quick drying concrete, wait the appropriate amount of time until it has fully dried.

Next, start on the deck frame, ensuring it is strong and can support a lot of weight. The material you use will make a difference here. The perimeter and center beam are your main concern, so make sure they are the correct length. You have the option of screwing together two perimeter boards for extra support, but that is not mandatory. Make sure the center beam is flush before moving on to the perimeter boards. You want the four perimeter boards to be fitted with anchor plates before putting them on the caissons. Anchor plates will become important later on in the project when you need to secure everything. For now, nailing on the corner brackets will finish this part of the project so you can move on to the next step.

You should be ready to finish the frame since the perimeter has been completed. Joist hangers need to be installed, preferably at 16 inch intervals unless your design differs from the one specified. Nail them down so that they don’t move and you’ll be finished with the frame. Now this is where things get a little interesting; decking material is next, and with everything already in place, it is the easiest way to spot if there was an earlier error. Square up your material with the rest of the deck by using composite screws to attach them with the underlying joists. You want about a ¼ inch gap between each material laid, so if you haven’t found an error with measurements at this point then you should be golden. After a little cleanup and design duties, the only thing left is to bolt down the anchor brackets and drive in the nails. This will secure the perimeter and complete the deck (and is also where the anchor brackets from earlier come into play).

Essential Tips For Building A Deck

Before and after building a deck you can benefit from these tips. There are going to be some hurdles to overcome when designing a DIY deck, so don’t get discouraged by the depth of the information. Common mistakes can be identified long before there is a point of no return.

  • You should know the type of material you want to use long before the first diagram is made for the project. Decide if you want to prioritize weather resistance, longevity, looks or saving money. There is no such thing as the ‘best material’ so it all comes down to personal preference.
  • Knowing the local building codes and homeowner’s association information will keep you from getting into trouble during the project. You can research all permit information online without stepping a single foot in their office. Once everyone is on the same page and you have a permit, there is less chance of having to stop the project due to safety or code concerns.
  • Walk around your backyard while making the design for the deck. Your plans will be a lot more fitting if you are looking at where you want the deck placed rather than being inside and designing it. For users with deck designing software, take a laptop outside and design it while looking at the back of the home.
  • A solid base is important to the safety of the deck. That is why the hole that you dig is fifteen inches into the ground. The only problem is that this can change based on geographic location. Some areas will require it to be more, some less. Always check the current building codes for your city.
  • Don’t go cheap with the tools or materials. Getting cheap materials/tools is tempting if you have a budget in mind. But remember, higher maintenance costs are associated with cheaply built decks. So the money you save upfront will just be spent at a later date.
  • Joists need to be attached square so that everything is balanced. It is a necessary step to prevent you from having to backtrack and fix things after the project is finished.
  • If you decide against composite materials and go for wood, try to get ones with as few imperfections as possible. Curved, cupped and boards with knots on the edges should be avoided when possible.
  • Any type of fastener or nail you use should be rated for exterior use. It’s a common mistake that will make everything less secure, even when completed. When you look at the package, it will label them clearly.
  • Spacing between the boards allows contraction and expansion. By putting the boards too close together they will get damaged over time. Spacers can be purchased separately to help with the project but aren’t necessary. You can create your own ‘space’ during the construction of the deck.
  • Take the time to look at a lot of the designs users have posted online. You can get a lot of really cool ideas for your own design by randomly browsing finished decks. There are also displays of prebuilt decks outside at some hardware stores. Besides a great inspiration boost, it’s fun to see how they look in person.

Cost To Build A Deck

The price range for getting a contractor to build a deck for you will differ based on the type, size and materials used. The national average to build a 16×20 deck is over $9,000, with most places being higher rather than lower. This doesn’t include the cost of materials, which can go as high as $50 per square foot. There are a lot of things that go into a professional deck that aren’t included in the average DIY project, like electrical service. Users save a lot of money by building their own decks, but that is only if they don’t waste money throughout the project by making mistakes.

A good hammer won’t run you too much money, even when you look for comfortable handles. Make sure that the head is big and the claw useful. Magnetic hammers are a nice touch and don’t cost that much more than regular ones. $6-$15

Go for a good chisel set to get the most for your money. The priority is still on getting a comfortable handle, so look for brand names that advertise rubberized grips. There are 3-4 chisels in a set that serve a specific function. $6-$50

It is tempting to get a starter kit if the price is right for electric drills. However, this comes down to whether you currently have a battery pack with a compatible brand. If you have a wireless tool from a brand and the battery pack can be used with a drill, then it would make more sense to purchase that brand’s drill. Otherwise, get a single set or starter pack that has a lot of accessories. $20-$100

Measuring materials like tapes, rulers and squares should be purchased separately rather than in a set. You really don’t need anything special with these items, they just need to be functional. $1-$5

A good adjustable wrench won’t set you back too much. Purchasing a set is the better choice, and will give you much more range in compatible tools. You’ll also have access to longer or smaller handles. $5-$40

Buying a circular or hand saw will save you a lot of time with cutting. These tools should be comfortable to hold from all angles, so light weight is a preference for some buyers. $40-$130

Either digital or traditional levelers will handle the job. Chalk lines need to be of decent quality so that you can see them when marking. As a side note, getting a digital leveler opens up an entirely new experience to building. $13-$50

Pencils or markers are cheap, and just like the chalk lines they need to be clearly seen. There is no need to worry about cost unless you plan on going for a higher end model. $1-$10

A good sledge hammer is hard to come by, even with brand names. They are usually not balanced well, putting the majority of the weight at the top. Try to go for the most balanced sledge hammer you can find that feels good while swinging. $30-$70

The best way to pay for the spade and fork is to get them in a garden tool set. You’d be surprised how much money you can save by doing this, and as a bonus you’ll get a garden trowel. $40-$80

Decking Timber is where things are wide open, so it is better to go by square footage. Composite material will cost you more and is more durable. But for design or cost reasons, you may decide to go with wood. Buyers can spend anywhere from $5-$50+ per square foot, so the total price is going to depend on the size of your deck. Decking timber is where most of your money should go for the project. If you go cheap here, then you’re turning the base of your new deck into a maintenance nightmare for the next few years.

Concrete comes in a lot of mixes, so you can go for quick dry or the regular kind. Buyers that have mixed paint before won’t have trouble handling con. $3-$8

Lastly, joist hangers and nails differ since the former can be purchased as a package. Joist hangers are cheap, they just are less likely to be bundled with a lot in one package. $0.84-$5

All of these costs don’t factor in permit costs, or the cost of getting a professional company (if required) to vouch for the project. When looking at the premium for all of the materials and permit costs, you still end up saving thousands by building your own deck. It’s still the most cost effective way to add a deck to the back of your home.

FAQ

Why Is Composite Material Good?

Composite are low maintenance and built for durability. They are resistant to moisture, insects, bending, warping and of course have a higher damage resistance. So for areas where the weather gets heavy, composite decks will last for years without needing to be replaced. The downside is the cost of composite materials, and also the look. Some builders feel it lacks the natural aesthetics of wood.

How Large Should A Deck Be?

Going all out when building your first deck is tempting. Spacing is the reason you don’t want to do that with your first deck. Instead of going for the biggest deck you can think of, design it around the intended function. If you want the deck to be for small gatherings, make an appropriate size. The same applies to building a deck for eating outside or having barbecues. Going too big with your first deck will make it more likely mistakes happen during the project.

Is Placement Important?

Now that you have designed your deck, where will you put it? There are three things to think about when setting up a place for your deck; privacy, proximity to the house and the amount of sun you’ll receive. A deck built for sunbathing is useless if you built it away from the sun. Figuring out the placement of your deck could lead to you rethinking the design. It’s best to get placement out of the way long before the design process even starts. For multi-use decks, there is even more of an incentive to get it right before designing.

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