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How to Build a Deck

Rob Sabo | Improvement Center Columnist | December 13, 2011

Building a new deck is a smart investment, one that can return 100 percent of your money, the North American Deck and Railing Association states. But building a new deck isn't quite as simple as driving to a lumber yard, buying all the necessary materials and spending a few weekends completing the work. Although some homeowners may have the chops to build a new deck themselves, many counties and municipalities require a building permit for new decks, which must be built to code. Unless you are familiar with creating and reading deck plans and navigating county building departments, you might want to consider hiring a professional deck contractor for the job.

Building a new deck

Deck construction is a relatively straightforward process consisting of the following five steps:

  1. Pier pads or poured concrete with post hole brackets
  2. Post and joist framing
  3. Decking
  4. Railing
  5. Finishing

There are many different websites that offer complete deck plans for your task, and depending on the intricacy of your new deck, these sites may offer a good solution for your project. In some cases, such as erecting a simple, low-elevation flat deck off a back patio with no handrail, you might want to tackle the job yourself.

Building a deck, however, off a second-story french door that requires hand railings and stairs and has varying elevations, might be best left to a deck contractor. Building departments have stringent code requirements for deck size and setbacks, footing depths, framing, step and railing heights and spacing--requirements with which professional deck contractors are intimately familiar.

Decking costs and materials

Building a new deck is expensive, regardless of whether you construct it yourself or hire a deck contractor. One Virginia-based deck contractor cites costs of $58 per linear foot for turnkey construction. However, homeowners who purchase their own materials and install the decking and rails can save as much as $30 per linear foot.

The advent of composite decking materials gives you a long list of choices for building materials. Many homeowners prefer redwood decking for its beauty, but wood products require routine maintenance. Composite materials, such as TimberTech and Trex, mimic the beauty of hardwood but are much more resistant to scratching, staining and weathering. Many composite materials also come with a limited 25-year residential warranty.