Building and design a new deck

Have a new deck project in mind?

Building a deck is a fun home project that adds value to your home and also makes for an enjoyable outdoor area. There can be more than what you'd expect when building and designing a new deck. Let's start tackling the basics for your new outdoor space.

Match your house and your lifestyle 

First, you need to plan your new deck. Planning is just as important as building and design because you'll be seeing it every day.

  • How do you plan to use the deck?
    • Part of garden landscaping
    • To extend living areas of the house
    • Dining or recreation
  • Will you need proper outdoor lighting?
  • Built-in benches or patio furniture?

If you can imagine all the ways you want to use your deck, the design elements will fall into place. Most design elements will be based on your preferences.

General considerations for your new deck location 

More than likely, you're only going to have one or two locations for your deck. Believe it or not, you are going to have more choices than you think within that limit. Want to add a door or privacy screen? What about building a walkway? 

Most people forget to factor in area climate when deciding on the location of the deck. Cool locations tend to be on the north-side, while southern or western orientations may become too hot during summer months. Backyard trees and awnings can take care of the heat if southern or western orientations are a must. Also, try and locate your deck where the house will protect against wind, and minimize traffic noise if you're around a busy street. Also, note privacy considerations if you plan to build a hot tub or swimming pool into your decking plans. Your guests will enjoy privacy also.



Your legal checklist

  • Local zoning ordinances
    • Limit the overall size of your deck
    • Limit the height of any privacy screens (if used)
    • Limit the distance between your deck and lot lines
  • Neighborhood or subdivision covenants
    • May need approval for your design or limit the structure
  • Local building department
    • Find out if you need a building permit
    • Find out what kind of plans you must submit
  • Local utility companies
    • Make sure you're able to locate buried utility lines and pipes



If you want to have a slightly larger deck for the same price, size your deck in 2 or 4' increments. Since you have to purchase standard lumber lengths, you'd be wasting some material. The cost difference between a smaller deck and one that is the perfect fit for your home is very little.

You can build any size deck you want. You need to make sure it's within legal limits. However, the deck may look out of place if it's too small or large. You might break up a larger deck into smaller sections on multiple levels if you feel the deck is too big.

The best thing to do before you start building is to test the size of the deck. With 4' stakes, drive them into each corner of where you picture your deck would be. Then you can tie a rope around where the height of the railings would set. You can arrange lawn furniture and other accessories to better understand how your outdoor space will function.


Shape and Pattern

Most decks are rectangles in shape, but you can dress up a house with simple changes, such as a different angled corner or a 45-degree decking pattern. You can wrap a deck around the corner of your home or integrate an overhead screen for shade. Complicated decks can be a bit more challenging to build and require more materials and may cost more.



All decks should come within 2" of the bottom of the house door to which the deck is accessed. If you have a sloped ground, you may want to move along the slope and build your deck in multiple levels. Make sure to check if your deck is more than 4' off the ground, brace your posts to prevent swaying.



If you want a spa or hot tub to be on the deck, make sure the structure can support the weight of it. Reinforce the structure not only to support the spa or hot tub, but also the weight of the water. You can always set it directly on concrete and build the decking around the area. Any area that you have to build around, make sure you leave about 1/4" so that the decking can contract and expand with seasonal and moisture changes. If you're building the deck around trees, give yourself about 3" on all sides to allow the tree to grow without issues.



With so many available options, this is where you get to really express your creativity. Would you want posts fastened that run all the way to the ground? What about along the sides of the rim joists? You can even attach railings to the decking itself. After you decide, materials are next. Railings can include wood, metal, or even rope. As long as it satisfies structural requirements and ensures safety, it's good to use. The durability of your railing is also critical and will affect the design. All railing ends should be covered or cut at an angle. This will help them shed water and minimize the wood splitting.


Steps and Stairs

Steps and stairs will also have to be regulated by building codes. When installing steps and stairs, a general rule should be at least 36 - 48" wide. The vertical distance between steps should be no more than 7.5" with the tread width being at least 10". A 7" riser with a 10.5" tread is a common combination for the slope not to be too steep. Make sure you also check the building codes for how the steps or stairs should be supported or attached, and if you require a railing or not.



The materials you use must stand up to all sorts of variables. From decay to insect damage, seasonal changes, and traffic, your deck should withstand each with the right materials. Lumber for standard construction, such as fir, pine, or spruce, can be treated to protect your deck from rot, but under extreme weather conditions or even sunlight, the deck materials won't hold up.

If you want a more durable deck, use a pressure-treated pine redwood or cedar. These are the least expensive and can be stained to almost any color. Redwood and cedar will resist splintering the best, as they are soft and fine-grained woods. The heartwood portion of redwood or cedar (the reddish colored portion of the redwood or the dark brown/orange part of the cedar) is resistant to decay. Sapwood in a lighter color will decay just as quickly as spruce or even pine.