Building Your Own Custom Deck
Building a deck is a satisfying DIY project you can tackle. With the right planning, preparation and products, you can complete this simple-but-complicated project in a weekend or three.
Wondering if it’s worth it? Oh, yeah! You’ll recoup about 70 percent of your deck’s cost. So that $10,000 deck you build adds $7,000 to your home’s value. Not bad for a weekend!
A little bit of foresight will save you a lot of time and money. Begin your deck project by familiarizing yourself with your property lines, as well as your city and county building codes and regulations. Your deck may need a permit.
Then, think about what you’ll use your deck for. A place for tanning or reading is likely different than space for entertaining, cooking and eating.
Sketch out your space to scale using grid paper, and “try” different deck shapes and locations. Here are a few best practices for turning your deck dream into a reality:
Rectangular and square decks are the most simple to D-I-Y. When it comes to size, proportion matters. The longest dimension of your deck should run along the longest dimension of the house.
Professional builders recommend that your deck should be at least 15’ x 15’ but no bigger than the largest room in your home. Another way to think of it is to limit deck size to 20 percent of your home’s interior floor space.
A deck is an extension of your living space. Use existing door placement to ensure your deck access flows with your space. Additionally, consider factors like privacy and exposure to weather. Wraparound decks can give you the best everything, offering privacy, protection and easy access.
Use your house’s existing architecture to direct your new deck’s color, construction material and style.
Deck materials vary from natural to not, giving you more choices than ever before. From traditional wood to high-tech composites, here’s a quick analysis of materials.
Wood decks lend a natural richness and warmth to their surroundings. They can be stained, sealed, oiled or painted to be nearly any color. Because it’s natural, wood decking may twist, warp or split. Let your uncovered boards acclimate, “breathe” and settle for a week before installing.
These wood products are the least-expensive decking materials. Cedar, redwood and cypress naturally deter rot, while pressure-treated wood is infused with a chemical to do the same. Note: Pressure-treated wood requires fasteners and hardware labeled for treated lumber, such as stainless steel or hot-dipped, galvanized screws.
Traditional wood decking requires yearly washing, sanding and staining. With proper maintenance, however, your wood deck can last beyond 20 years.
PROS: Readily available & easy to work with
CONS: Yearly maintenance
Pressure-Treated Pine, $11+ per square foot
Redwood, Cedar & Cypress, $14+ per square foot
Tropical hardwoods are a premium product with a premium price—and for good reason. With the same fire rating as steel, tightly grained Ipe wood and its ilk are the Mother Nature’s most durable decking. It’s naturally water-resistant and impenetrable to insects and rot, which makes tropical hardwoods a great choice for rain-prone areas.
With regular washing and sealing, they can last 30 years or longer. Be sure your tropical hardwood is sustainably sourced, as these woods are harvested from South American rainforests.
PROS: Impressive appearance & incredible durability
CONS: Wood hardness requires specialty blades & bits
COMPLETED COST: $30+ per square foot
Long-lasting composite decking has come a long way since it entered the market nearly 30 years ago. Most manufactures combine waste wood and recycled plastic to create molded boards with wood-like appearances. With product warranties that can exceed 20 years, composite decks are formulated to be fade-, stain- and scratch-resistant, and require little to no maintenance.
Composite decking varies. Boards may be hollow, solid, capped or not. Some are engineered to be lighter. Others appear more wood-like. Many may only to work with specialized fasteners—consider all this when shopping for your ideal decking.
PROS: Many colors & styles
CONS: Initial cost; Possible fading & mildew
COMPLETED COST: $21+ per square foot
Often made of recycled plastics, synthetic decking is engineered out of polymers to last a lifetime (or longer). Many have a warranty of 50 years or more! These totally synthetic options contain zero wood, won’t rot or split and are the most slip-resistant of all materials.
Some synthetic decking is strengthened with a ‘core’ material, such as aluminum. Some decking may have added minerals to increase strength and durability. Specialty fasteners and building tools may be required.
PROS: Will never rot & lasts forever
CONS: Permanent; Product doesn’t biodegrade
COMPLETED COST: About $10 per square foot
A correctly built deck won’t collapse or cause damage your home. Are you certain you can do it? If you're in doubt at all, have the deck connections engineered. The cost is a pittance when you consider the number of people who will use it and the avoidable tragedy of a deck failure.
Well-built decks start where they connect to your home—at the ledger board. A ledger board is a long strip of sturdy lumber, about 2” x 12”, and is your deck’s primary support beam. It must be properly positioned and firmly attached to your home using through bolts with nuts and washers (not lag bolts or screws).
Your project is more than just the deck flooring and a ledger board. Your deck also needs beams, footings, joists and concrete, and may also include railing, stairs and balusters, not to mention screws and fasteners.
Online calculators like at decks.com, sponsored by Trex, give you project estimates, from the total cost down to the number of screws! Some even include free, downloadable plans.
When it comes time to make the purchase, buy about 15% more material than you think you might need, because mistakes happen.
- Expect to navigate city or county building codes & permitting process.
- Hire a residential structural engineer for ledger board attachments, or for decks that will support a pool or spa.
- Choose boards that are straight with few knots & imperfections—it costs more, but is less prone to splitting.
- Use wood rated for ground contact when necessary for the project.
- Have it delivered as close as possible to job site, cover lumber when not in use.
- Call 811 & have utilities marked before digging holes for footings.
- Remove stumps, rocks & other obstacles prior to building.
- Be prepared & ask questions: Call McLendon’s & talk to an expert.
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