A Guide to Building a Deck

Make Plans Before Jumping in to Deck Project 

More planning and consideration may go into building an outdoor deck than, say, an indoor bathroom. Besides determining it’s a deck you want instead of a patio, you will need to establish a budget, select material, find a space to build it, and determine whether it is a DIY project, or you’ll need to hire a professional.

This list includes 10 considerations before planning and starting to build a deck.

Purpose, Function and Uses 

Q: Why Do You Want a Deck?

Is a deck the answer to extending your indoor living space, pushing it outside? Do you live in a climate that is warm several months out of the year?

Reasons to build a deck might include:

      • Entertaining
      • Dining
      • As a pool or spa surround
      • Privacy
      • Container gardening or growing a patio garden close to the house

Location, Location, Location 

Often, a limited property size dictates where a deck will be built: on the only spot in the garden available, wherever that may be. If you have more room to work with and are lucky enough to have a few choices on where to build a deck, then consider yourself fortunate. Luck aside, the location for your deck may be decided by:

      • Size of lot
      • Microclimates
      • Sun and shade
      • Wind
      • Rain and snow
      • View*
      • Privacy
      • Proximity to house

*If you have a view that’s a pleasant one—preferably scenic—this might be where you would want to build a deck.  A deck is a nice addition to a house; a deck with a view is even better.


Money—oh, that. Sometimes it stands in the way of just about everything. But like every practical adult, you know that it costs money to do or make pretty much anything. Decks are no exception. A few budget-related things you’ll need to factor in before plunging into a deck-building project:

      • Size of deck
      • Intricacy of design
      • Extras: built-in seating, flowerboxes, railings, etc.
      • Who’s going to build it: you or a contractor
      • Choice of lumber and cost.

Get creative: One solution might be to add a small deck next to a patio made of concrete, brick or loose materials, which would cut down on costs but still give the look of and function as a deck.

Do You Have the DIY Skills? 

If it’s a basic, freestanding platform deck, you might be able to pull it off in a few weekends, depending on how much gusto you put into the project. Decks require a certain amount of carpentry, engineering, and do-it-yourself experience. Can you work a circular saw? Do you know what a circular saw is? Did you ever take a “shop” class?

Is your dream deck going to be positioned on questionable ground—like sand, over water, in mud or clay, or unstable soil? Will it be a high- or multi-level deck that might require special engineering? Are you experienced working with concrete? If you have doubts as to whether your DIY skills are up to it, investigate further.

Decking Materials

Although it’s historically the original and most popular choice, wood is not the only decking material available. So, what is available?

  • Weather-Resistant Woods, like redwood, cedar, cypress and the increasingly popular ipe.
  • Pressure-Treated Woods, treated lumber, which contains wood and preservatives.
  • Hardwoods, like teak, ipe -and Brazilian hardwoods.
  • Composite Decking, which is made of recycled plastic and wood fibre.
  • Alternatives, like plastic and aluminium, which both use recycled products.

Deck Design, Size and Shape 

Size will be driven by your deck’s location and your budget. Small space, small deck. Small budget, possibly a small deck. Big space—you get it.

The shape of your deck may be dictated by the design of your house. Imposing a round, curving deck with carved railings onto a linear Midcentury Modern house might be forcing it into something it’s not, or simply looks horribly out of place. Follow the lines, proportions and architecture of your house, so it’s a natural extension; a seamless transition from indoors to out.

Besides being a functional outdoor room, a well-designed deck must enhance the beauty of your home. It should:

  • Complement rather compete with a home’s architecture.
  • Coordinate with the surrounding landscape design.

Extras: Railings, Roofs, Privacy Fencing and; Other Deck Structures 

Simple platform decks are the easiest to build and have a clean, classic appeal. But you may not get off so easy. If the deck is higher than a few feet off the ground, railings for safety will be needed.

So, what if the deck is in a convenient location, but is hot most of the day? A roof of some kind will need to be built so that you can spend time on your deck in comfort.

Another “what if”: the deck is visible to your neighbours, and their garden is visible while on your own deck. Some sort of privacy screening will help block the view from either vantage point.

Building Codes and Legal Requirements 

In order for the project to be legal, the blueprints have to be approved by your city or county. Laws vary from city-to-city, state-to-state and so on—check on your city or county website for information about building permits, codes and other legal requirements related to adding or remodelling a residential structure.

And do this homework before you buy materials or get too deeply into a potential deck project.

Deck Lighting

If you’re going to use your deck—especially in the evening—you’ll need strategically placed lighting. Besides giving the deck a certain ambiance, it’s an issue of safety. Knowing where you need it, the type of fixtures, and how much lighting you will need for your deck affects the design and budget. Solar lights may not be bright enough, and LED lighting still needs to be wired. If you don’t have the DIY skills, an electrician will need to wire and install your outdoor lighting

Types of lights and locations where they might be installed on your deck include:

      • Recessed stair or step lights
      • Path lights
      • Overhead lights
      • Wall or post-mounted lights
      • Landscaping spotlights
      • Outdoor kitchen
      • lighting

Storage, Seating and Planter Boxes 

Built-in storage is a natural—if you’re going so far as to build a deck, you might as well at least consider storage. These come in the form of water-tight closets, lift-top benches and storage closets or shelving underneath decks built on a slope or second level. So, just what will you need to store?

      • Garden tools and supplies
      • Children’s outdoor toys
      • Outdoor patio cushions
      • Outdoor furniture and accessories

A built-in bench is practical and can serve as a railing. Using the same wood as the decking gives it a rich, customized look. Likewise, planter boxes constructed of the same timber will soften or personalize a deck. It can also join it with the garden, or if there’s no landscaping, can serve as a spot for your container garden.

Designing and Building Your Deck 

Building a Deck: What You Should Know

So, You Want to Build a Deck?

More planning and consideration may go into building an outdoor deck than, say, an indoor bathroom. Besides determining it’s a deck you want instead of a patio, you will need to establish a budget, select material, find a space to build it, and determine whether it is a DIY project, or you’ll need to hire a professional.

There are many things to take into consideration before planning and starting to build a deck.

What’s the Difference Between a Patio and a Deck? 

What’s the difference between a patio or deck?

If you asked the average person on the street that question, would they be able to answer? Most likely, some people would be able to come up with a reasonable explanation for a deck: that it’s this “thing” outdoors made of wood that you walk or sit on.

All Decked out: Building Wood and Composite Decks 

You don’t want a cold, hard “slab” of concrete—you’d like your outdoor space to rise up to the level of your back door, creating an almost seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. Sounds like a deck just might be the right choice for you. A hint: decks work well on sloping, uneven, or poorly draining sites. Pool owners take note: a wood deck is cool underfoot and also dries quickly.

Deck Plans and Designs 

The toughest part of building a deck may be at the beginning—in the planning and designing stages. Sure, you may have decided that it is, indeed, a deck and not a patio you want to build and that you want to use composite or synthetic decking. But deciding its size, whether it should connect to the house or be free-standing are also things to think about before going forward with the project.

Hopefully, these deck designs and plans will inspire you and help you decide what you want and where you want it.

Wood Types for Decks 

While composite decking has risen in popularity, not everyone chooses to go in that direction. Many potential deck owners love the look and feel of real wood. Whether it’s because of tradition, personal taste or—sometimes—cost, wood is the material of choice. Once you decide to go with natural wood over composite decking, it becomes evident that no two kinds of wood are exactly alike—there are many types that have the potential for being ideal choices for decks.

Wood and Composite Decking: Pros and Cons 

Should you go with wood or composite decking? Like any big purchase, decking materials vary in looks, durability, and cost. Start your research here, becoming familiar with types of wood and synthetic decking. Another thing to think about—you might want to use certain types of lumber or decking for structural parts of your deck project, and other decking timber for surfaces and railings—the parts that will be more visible and upon which you will walk.

A Guide to Composite Decking Brands 

Composite decking is an alternative to all-wood decking and is made of materials that can include recycled and new plastic, bamboo, and wood fibres. Many composite decking products have evolved as a reflection of the environment in which we live and are green, eco and LEED qualified or certified. 

Types of Deck Cleaners 

Your neighbour may swear by his or her pressure washer, but that’s not the only way to clean a deck. Check out the variety of deck cleaners available in DIY Stores —some are environmental, others really tackle stubborn mould and mildew—but all purport to clean a wood or composite deck.

How to Clean a Deck 

It’s not a fun task, but one of those things you simply must do to keep your deck looking good and in working condition. Experts recommend that you clean a deck at least twice a year, preferably in the spring and fall. Follow these step-by-step instructions to clean that deck the right way. 

Deck Safety Checklist 

Your deck should be a source of pride and accomplishment. But part of the package is also responsibility and maintenance. Once a year, make a date with your deck to inspect it for things like wood damage, rot, loose nails and other types of damage. Address these issues before they become a bigger problem. 

By Lisa Hallett Taylor