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How to Build a Deck: Design and Layout

Building a deck is the ultimate backyard DIY project. It takes some work, but this series of articles and videos shows you step-by-step instructions for each phase. The first step is to create a plan.

See the complete deck project from design to finishing touches at Lowes.com/BuildaDeck.

Tools & Materials

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Planning for a New Deck

Deck Plan Illustration.
  • Check with your local building department and homeowner's association regarding permits and building requirements. Note what elements of the project require inspection and plan your work accordingly.
  • Call 811 to mark any underground utility lines.
  • When planning size, make sure you'll have enough room for your outdoor furniture and that you'll have enough room to move around.
  • Think about size in terms of the decking as well. Deck boards are typically 5-1/2 inches wide, so try to plan a deck size that won't leave narrow pieces at the ends.
  • Create your design so that the railings are clear of windows and out-swinging doors.

Once you have a basic layout, bring it to Lowe's to have an associate put together professional deck plans and a materials list.

Decking Materials

Pressure-Treated Lumber and Composite Decking Materials.

Pressure-treated lumber (top right) is the standard material to withstand weather. Most pressure-treated lumber is wet when delivered directly from the store, so you’ll need to let it dry before staining — typically for six months. As an alternative, consider upgrading the decking and railings with composite materials (bottom right). See our Deck Planning and Materials Buying Guide to get details on different options. This series of articles and videos shows you how to build a deck with each material.

Deck Construction

Deck Design Illustrations.

The basic deck construction for this project consists of:

  • The foundation and 4 x 4 posts
  • 2 x 10 beams
  • 2 x 4 diagonal bracing
  • 2 x 8 framing and joists
  • 5/4-inch decking
  • Stairs
  • Railings

For larger decks, you can install parting boards — also called pattern boards — in the middle of the decking. These decking boards run perpendicular to the rest of the decking, creating an eye-catching design. They also allow you to use shorter deck boards and can eliminate the need to butt boards together to span the width of the deck.

You can eliminate some of the necessary posts by attaching a ledger board to your house, but it can cause problems later if not done right. It's a job usually best left for the pros. Our deck is freestanding, so it won't be attached to the house. A freestanding deck should be no more than one inch away from the house.

Marking the Deck Layout

When you have a solid plan, you can mark the layout with strings and batter boards made from 2-foot furring strips and screws. See Making and Using Batter Boards assembly instructions.

Step 1

Batter Board and Mason Line.

Place the batter boards beyond the corners of your planned area. Tie strings to them marking the outer edges of your deck. Next to the house, drive stakes as close to the house as possible and tie strings to them.

Step 2

Line Level on Mason Line.

Check that the strings are close to level. The layout is square when the diagonal measurements of the area are equal.

Step 3

Mark the Batter Boards.

Adjust the strings as needed. Mark them in their final positions so you can take them off and put them back in the correct place.

Step 4

Remove the Sod.

Before marking for the posts, remove the sod if required by code. A sod cutter can make this job easier.

Step 5

Marke Post Locations on the Mason Line.

The post layout depends on the size of the beams, local building codes and your deck design. Measuring from the house, locate the post lines with additional batter boards and strings. Mark the post positions on the strings.

Step 6

Mark the Post Locations on the Ground with Marking Paint.

Mark the post hole locations on the ground with paint.

Step 7

Mark the House for the Deck Height.

After you've laid out the posts, mark the height of the deck and posts on the house. The deck should be below the door threshold to keep water out of the house. Measure down the thickness of the decking plus the width of the joists and support beams. This notes the top of the posts. Mark a level line at this height along the house. Mark the width of the deck on the house as well to help you position the frame later.

Caution

Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for fasteners and structural hardware.

Working with Pressure-Treated Lumber

Guidelines

  • Use fasteners and hardware labeled for treated lumber — stainless-steel or hot-dipped, galvanized screws.
  • If the lumber is wet — it typically is when delivered from the store — butt it together tightly when building. Pressure-treated wood shrinks as it dries.
  • Drill pilot holes in the ends of boards to prevent splitting when you nail or screw them together.
  • Use wood rated for ground contact when necessary for the project.

 

Safety

  • Wear a dust mask and eye protection when handling or cutting wood.
  • Wash your hands after working with treated wood.
  • Dispose of sawdust and waste according to local regulations.
  • Don't burn pressure-treated wood.
  • Don't use pressure-treated wood as mulch.

 

Read more about pressure-treated lumber and wood preservatives on the EPA website:

Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals.

Next Steps

The next stage of the project includes setting the posts and building the framing. See How to Build a Deck: Post Holes and Framing.

See the complete deck series at Lowes.com/BuildaDeck.