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DIY Dilemma: Build your own deck or hire a professional?

It’s decking season! We’ve been focusing our energy on everything decks, including how to stain one and what decking materials work best. But we haven’t actually tackled the process of building a deck. We’ll walk  you through the process. If this DIY sounds like too much to handle, then we can put you in touch with decking contractors who can build it for you!

To DIY or hire a professional?

Building a deck is not an easy task, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build the deck yourself, but before you consider it, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you enjoy physical work?
  • Are you patient?
  • Do you have all the tools you need?
  • Do you know all of the steps involved in the project?decks

Not only do you require a lot of time and patience to build a deck, but you need quite a lot of tools, including the following:

  • Tape measure;
  • Hammer;
  • Level;
  • Shovel;
  • Nails and screws;
  • Circular saw;
  • Post hole digger;
  • Wheelbarrow;
  • Drill;
  • Joist hangers and nails;
  • Reinforcing corner brackets.

deck materials

And that names the basics.

The Design Process

Before you can even start building, you must first decide what your deck will look like and where it will go in your backyard. These next few steps are imperative, as they will determine the outcome of your summer deck.

  1. Check local codes and restrictions. Contact your local building department or homeowner’s association to verify deck requirements and restrictions. There are zoning laws that may limit deck size, location, height, etc. More often than not, any form of construction on a residential property requires a building permit and inspection by a building inspector. If you want to hire a building inspector yourself, consult our extensive directory of property inspection professionals.
  2. Get drawing! You don’t have to be a professional to draw out a sketch, but put your ideas on paper. This will help bring what you visualize to life and imagine the deck placement among other backyard features, like a shed, gazebo, barbecue.
  3. Location, location, location. Where do you want to access your deck? Will you walk onto your deck from the patio door, or are you building it away from the house? This is an important aspect to tackle during the drawing stage. A freestanding deck can be installed next to your house or anywhere in your backyard, whereas an attached deck will be physically attached to your house. Your choice is dependent on what you want the deck for.
  4. Determine its function. Will you spend your summer entertaining guests? Then you may want a large deck that will fit a dining table with chairs and a grill. Perhaps having the deck attached to the house will make it easier to funnel food from inside to the outdoors. If you are creating a backyard retreat for your family, then you can opt for a smaller size deck.
  5. Select your materials. Yes, this is still part of the design process! When you’ve decided where you want your deck to be located and how it will look, what are you picturing? Do you see a wooden deck that’s stained a cherry red colour, or prefer the look of cedar? Check out our extensive guide to decking materials to help you make a decision.
This is an example of what a deck design rendering looks like when completed by a decking contractor.

This is an example of what a deck design rendering looks like when completed by a decking contractor.

Give yourself a pat on the back! If you’re opting to build your own deck as opposed to hiring a decking contractor, then you’ve just completed a very important step in the process, one that’s not always easy to do. Since you have a plan, you’re ready to get building!

Get Building!

When you reach this point in your deck building project, you’ve already arranged for a building permit, spoken with a building inspector and have chosen the materials you want to work with. A trip to the hardware store is imperative at this point so you can gather the decking materials you need to start the project.

If you’re building a deck that’s attached to the house, then take a look at this video. It outlines a few extra steps you must take to ensure it stays in place:

Set your materials aside and prepare for the deck build by doing the following:

  1. Gather scrap wood to use as markers. Drive the batterboards into the ground and use a support string to mark the outer edge of the deck.
  2. Use a level to ensure the strings are level, and adjust the batterboards accordingly.
  3. When the posts are level, drive screws into the batterboards and twist the strings around them to hold into place.

Consider removing sod from underneath where you’ll be building the deck so it doesn’t get in the way.

Now that you have the perimeter of the deck set up, you’ll want to mark where the foundation posts will land in your yard. You can do this by using batterboards and string to line them up.

This graphic outlines what the deck framing process looks like.

This graphic outlines what the deck framing process looks like.

Put the posts in place

Your deck outline is ready, which means it’s time to actually start building! Next, you’ll need to measure and dig the deck posts. You can do this a few ways:

  • Dig a hole and pour concrete in it to support the bottom of the post.
  • Dig a trench, pour a concrete footing, and use wood beans to support the deck structure.

You can use a gas-powered earth drill to do the digging – in fact, this tool will dig the hole faster than any other tool you use, but it requires a lot of strength. Alternatively, you can use a garden spade or shovel to both dig the hole and backfill it.

If you’re not sure how much dirt to dig out, consult the building codes for your location. They should state the post requirements, including minimum hole diameter and depth.

When it comes to preparing concrete for the post holes, blend a bag of concrete mix and water in a wheelbarrow and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Lowe’s has a concrete hole calculator to help you decide how much concrete you need based on the size of the hole dug for the posts.

After you’ve chosen your method of constructing the posts, it’s time to attach the deck beams.

  1. Identify the top of the beans on the house.
  2. Extend a chalk line from that mark along a row of posts, then mark all post heights.
  3. Cut all beams to length, then set them on cleats and drill holes for the carriage bolts. Use clamps to hold the beams in place.
  4. Drive the bolts through holes and secure them.
  5. Once all the beams are installed, cut all posts to length with a saw.

Can’t visualize what this process looks like? Lowe’s can help us out with that:

Attach Floor Joists & Install the Deck

At this point in the decking project, your deck is starting to come together, but there’s a lot more work involved, including the following steps:

  1. Drilling floor joints and marking locations of the floor joists on the rim joists and framing the entire deck;
  2. Building deck stairs;
  3. Finishing off the actual deck, which includes the following:
  • Measuring;
  • Cutting and installing posts;
  • Installing railings;
  • Finishing the deck by using a sander to remove sharp edges;
  • Applying a weather sealer;
  • Staining your brand new deck.

building process

If after reading this you decide that you’re ready and able to build a deck on your own, kudos to you! If you’re unsure of your capabilities and don’t trust your design and build judgment, then it might be best to leave this to the professionals. Lucky for you, we can put you in touch with a ton of decking contractors. Take a look at our directory, read through customer reviews and scroll through image galleries. These resources will give you a good idea of what they do and who’s right for your decking project.


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