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Building a Deck: What’s Involved

A quality deck starts with a sturdy, well-built frame. These are some of the key things to keep in mind when building a deck.

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Luke Miller

Sizing Things Up

Before we could build a deck, we needed to know what the new deck would look like. We experimented with different shapes and sizes, laying out timbers and setting up chairs to determine whether the new deck would be large enough. Then we set out nursery pots, representing shrubs and perennials, to ensure there was room for a path to the deck. Get some ideas with our DIY deck plans.

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Luke Miller

Taking Care of Details

Next up was to sketch out the deck’s dimensions and shape. I did this in Photoshop but could have used SketchUp or done something by hand on grid paper. A sketch like this is often required for a permit, and it certainly comes in handy if you’re working with a builder. Add as many details as you can. I later added the seat rails to this diagram and changed the specs on the steps.

Here are 15 modern deck building tips.

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Courtesy of Luke Miller

Dig This

Once the permit was in hand, the old deck removed. Then it was time to install the footings for the new deck. This involved digging holes, lining the hole with gravel, setting posts in place, pouring the concrete footers, and leveling the posts.

Learn more about footings here.

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Luke Miller

The Long and the Short of It

It’s a good idea to use longer posts than you need. You can cut them to size later, after the concrete has set. See how to make perfect deck posts.

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Luke Miller

In the Groove

To attach beams to post footings, it’s helpful to create notches so beams can nestle in the posts. This means cutting grooves into the posts, then chiseling out debris to create a clean notch.

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Luke Miller

Check the Ledger

As we noticed when tearing out the old deck, a ledger nailed to a house is a ledger improperly installed. With the new frame, we made sure to attach the ledger to the house with bolts and a socket wrench rather than nails and a hammer.

Learn how to properly attach a ledger.

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Luke Miller

Joist to the World

Once the ledger was secured to the house, the joists were attached to the ledger board with joist hangers and special galvanized joist hanger nails.

See how to install joist hangers.

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Luke Miller

Hitting the Coffin Corner

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, we created a template for the builder to use when making the coffin corners on the deck. This way we knew there would be no Goldilocks syndrome—the length and width would be just right, not too small, not too large.

Check out these 14 measuring tips and techniques for DIYers.

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Luke Miller

A Complete Frame-Up

Once the framing was complete, we could really visualize the size of the deck and start to get a feel for where the landscaping and path would go. Trex was next! Plus: Here’s a tip for preventing deck joist rot.

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Luke Miller

Spiced Rum on Tap

We chose Trex composite decking because it’s durable, long-lasting, and won’t check or need staining. The color of the decking, Spiced Rum, really looks like natural wood. It also goes well with the siding and roof of our house. Trex decking is attached with hidden fasteners—no nails or screws to step on with your bare feet—and this hidden fastening system ensures that the gaps between boards are automatically uniform.

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Luke Miller

A Cut Above the Rest

Working with Trex composite decking is as easy as working with wood. Once the boards are secured, use a chalk line to mark the edges, then cut off the excess material with a circular saw. See our complete Trex decking installation guide.

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Luke Miller

Looking Sideways

Our plan was to run fascia boards horizontally along the sides of the deck rather than the typical combination fascia and lattice. This looks richer and more substantial, in my opinion, but it did necessitate a little extra framing at the base to support the lower fascia boards.

Learn more about fascia boards and the range of colors available from Trex.

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Luke Miller

Off the Bench

Rather than standard railing, which would block the view, we opted for built-in benches. The benches were framed in pressure-treated wood attached securely to posts.

Here’s another deck with built-in benches.

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Luke Miller

Capping It Off

Trex boards were cut and mitered and attached to the wooden frame, then post caps were installed so no bare wood showed. The deck was finally finished.

Check out these deck add-ons that are super-cool!

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.