Tuesday, November 16

How to (Start) Building a Deck

When I started this post it was May. And to be honest I expected my deck to be done in a month, maybe two. I thought I could cover the entire process in one post. Now that it's November we're finally reaching the final stages of building the actual structure of the deck, although it will probably be next year before the project is truly complete.

Since building a deck is much more complicated than I originally anticipated I will break the process down into a series of posts. Today I'll go over beginning the process. Read part two here.

Make a Plan
This may seem obvious, but Dad and I did a lot of measuring, reading websites (and the pictured book), choosing deck styles and we (i.e. HE) made a list of materials and calculated exactly how much of everything we would need. For day one my brother, Spencer, helped get things ready for building the foundation. I didn't do a lot, the work was pretty slow (a lot of Dad thinking and planning while I sat there).

A Strong Foundation
In this photo you can see the first step of laying
out the foundation. We staked out where the
deck would go using stakes and masonry string.
I guess this can apply to a lot of things in life, but never skimp on your foundation.
Lowe's and other home improvement stores are promoting the new floater concrete post holders. The benefit is that you don't have to dig holes, mix concrete, set the posts in concrete and then wait for it to all dry. But Dad decided not to go that route. He was concerned about how solid the foundation would be if the posts aren't securely set in the ground. So, we dug holes and mixed concrete! Unfortunately the soil around the house is really rocky. So, we altered our plans a little.

Spencer and Burns helped mix cement
and fill in the post holes for the deck.
 *Sidenote: With the high winds and tornado potential in Oklahoma I agree that making sure your deck is secured to the ground is smart.

Our plan alteration was to build a ledge attached to the porch instead of using posts to support the deck near the house. We still used posts to support the rest of the deck.

I began to realize during that first weekend how much more complicated building a deck was than I had realized. It felt like 90% of our time was spent measuring distances to the nearest 16th of an inch. Then remeasuring it...repeatedly. I am the type of person who rounds of measurements to the nearest inch or half inch. If it's very important maybe the 1/4 inch. But building something that needs to hold up under a lot of traffic, weather and time requires very precise measurements. Even understanding that I was very impatient to "start" building the deck.

That first weekend we:

  1. Staked out where the deck would go (using stakes, masonry string and other things). 
  2. Built the ledge to connect the flooring to the back porch.
  3. Dug holes and filled them in with concrete. The yellow tubes (molds) were cut to size and used to keep the concrete in a nice round form. We put J-hooks in the concrete to attach the posts to once the concrete dried. We put rocks in the bottom of the holes to help with drainage.
  4. Attached really expensive post anchors to the J-hooks. Then we cut the lumber and attached it to the post anchors. There was a lot of measuring involved to insure that the beams would be level and aligned correctly. 
  5. Once the posts were in place we built the joists. The joists are the part of the foundation parallel to the porch that supports the beams and decking. 
  6. Now the next step was building the beams, which actually got put off until the next weekend (and I was gone that weekend). When I got home the foundation was complete and we were ready for the next step.
Other options:
  • Before deciding to build a deck I considered purchasing a pre-made deck. I'm not sure of the cost or the best places to buy them, although if you're in the Tulsa area I've heard there is a store near the 51st Street exit off I-44 that sells solid Amish-built decks.
  •  I also considered using composite decking. The benefit is that the decking doesn't require as much upkeep and won't wear like wood will. However, the cost is significantly more (a few dollars more per foot) and it will be years before the wood deck really shows signs of wear.
  • I decided on a fairly simple design, mainly because that's all I wanted and budgeted for. Also, however, I wanted to build it myself. More complex deck styles are an option, of course, as is hiring a contractor to complete the project.

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