There is a difference between DIYing a deck and building a deck that will last as long as your home.
Believe it or not, natural materials are not the sturdiest or longest lasing when it comes to decks. That said, in this post, I’m going to clearly break down a few ways in which you can use man-made materials to build an incredibly sturdy deck that will serve you and your family for a lifetime.
Let’s get started.
What You’ll Need to Build a Long-Lasting Deck on Your Own
Even the most multilevel decks that look very complex can be built using standard tools.
You’ll only need a drill, circular saw, chalk line, tape measure, post hole digger, and a hammer.
You can use these tools to build anything from a standard 12 foot by 12 foot deck to all sorts of elaborate multilevel structures.
Worth noting, building a deck takes time, and it will probably take you far more than a single weekend if you’re working by yourself.
However, if you put your all into it, you and a buddy can finish it in a week or two, but don’t think it’s going to be easy.
First Things First: Test Your Layout
The first thing you’ll need to do to build your deck is determine the size and layout you want.
To do this, lay out a garden hose or some wood beams you have laying around to ballpark how big you want it to be and how much space you have. Imagine that this is your finished deck. Think about where you would want to arrange the table, chairs, perhaps a barbecue grill, or whatever else you think you want on it. If all of what you want won’t fit on the area you marked out, then you need to either make a bigger deck or rethink what you can fit on the space you’re working with.
Use Composite Decking Materials if You Want Your Deck to Last
In the past, the material you would use to build a deck was straightforward: it was wood. Even nowadays, when many people think of a deck, the first thing that comes to mind is one made of wood.
After looking at a lot of decks over the years, I’ve found that the best way to build a deck that will last as long as your home is to use composite decking materials. I love Trex, but you can use whatever you like – but make sure it’s composite decking.
How-To Build a Long-Lasting Deck (DIY Tips and Strategies)
Now comes the fun part. Let’s build this thing! Lowe’s has great instructions that I use as my personal go-to. A lot of what I’m about to say comes from them, but in case you were looking for how I would do it best: here’s how I would go about building a deck so it really lasts.
1 – Digging the Holes for Footing
The first thing you need to do is dig your holes. Dig out or drill at least 12 inch post holes. You’ll probably want to have even 24 inches dug, but assess as you go. Regardless, make sure that you’re holes are at least 6 inches below the required frost line depth for your area and a bit wider than the concrete footer tubes you’ll be using. Also, Any loose soil should be packed down at the bottom.
Once the hole looks good, pour six inches of all-purpose gravel into it and pack it down tightly with a post. Then, place a concrete form in the hole and mark it a few inches above ground. Take out the form and cut it with a handsaw. Now, set the cut side down in the hole and make sure the form is plumb and level.
Mix concrete and fill the tube halfway. Use a 2 x 4 to remove any air pockets and then fill it up the rest of the way. Reset your post layout strings to line up the anchor bolts. Be sure to embed an anchor bolt (aka j-bolt) in the concrete. Get it plumb, and leave no more than an inch of thread showing. Backfill around the forms as you’re working to keep them in place. Do this for all of your holes.
After your concrete has cured, cut away the excess cardboard above ground and finish covering the landscape fabric with gravel.
2 – Setting Your Posts
Your posts attach to the footers with brackets. Once they’re set, cut them to the correct height.
Make sure to secure your post brackets with washers and nuts. After that, set the pressure plates on top. Run a string across the post locations to help align the post brackets.
Place the posts on the brackets and make sure they’re plumb. Now, secure them with structural screws or 10d nails. If you’re installing on an existing concrete pad, drill into the pad and install concrete anchors to secure the brackets.
After your posts are in place, mark the tops by holding a chalk line on the height mark you made on the house. Extend it along the posts, level it, and snap the line. Use that line to mark the height of the rest of the posts with a level line.
Cut your posts with a a circular saw or reciprocating saw.
3 – Attaching the Beams
Start by finding the slight arch in the board, that’s the crown. It should always arc up. For each beam you have, clamp two boards together and drive 16d nails about 8 inches apart. After that, affix the post caps with nails. Crown side up, now set a beam on the caps. Secure it to the bracket. If your beams are constructed of boards laid end-to-end, make sure the joints are over brackets. Don’t forget to apply waterproofing tape or at least a silicone sealant along the top joint of the beams to make a waterproof seal.
Install all of the beams the same way. Once they’re all in place, screw diagonal bracing between the posts. This is crucial from a structural integrity standpoint. It can help prevent a side-to-side or front-to-back shifting of the structure. To cut your beams to the right length, set the end of a straight joist against your home at the edge of the deck layout. Square it by marking the house 6 feet from the deck corner and marking the joist 8 feet from the corner. Adjust the joist until the diagonal between the marks measures 10 feet. Mark and cut the beams.
4 – Creating the Floor Frame: Nailing the Joists
Mark the floor joist spacing on all of the beams following your building codes. I’ve found that this is usually roughly 16 inches on-center.
If you’re putting in parting boards in the middle of your deck, start marking the joist spacing from the center of the beams and work toward the end joists. Mark the first joist at 8 inches on-center, then every 16 inches on-center toward the ends. Do this in the other direction too.
Place each rim joist on a beam and use your framing square to transfer the lines down the face of each joist. Be sure to mark an “X” to the side of the lines noting where you plan to attach the floor joists.
Now, drill pilot holes through the innermost rim joist into the end joists. Secure them together with deck screws. Attach reinforcing brackets with deck nails or screws. Be careful! Don’t attach the other rim joist yet!
Position the frame on the beams with the rim joist toward your home. Have the frame square, and secure it to the beams with rafter ties. If your rim joists come in two pieces, feel free assemble the frame one half at a time.
Next, hold a floor joist along the 16-inch on-center line on the rim joist and drive in a screw through the top of the floor joist and into the rim joist. Hold a joist hanger against the joist and tap in the prong. Wrap the hanger underneath and against the other side of the joist. Tap in the other prong. Go on and secure it with nails or structural screws. At the angled holes on the hangers, use fasteners long enough to go through the floor joists and into the rim joist for added strength. Hang the rest of the joists the same way and attach the floor joists to the beams with rafter ties.
Install bracing cut from the same material you used for the joists between joists in the middle of the frame to support parting boards. Parting boards add a distinctive look and can eliminate the need to butt boards together to span the width of the deck. Install your bracing every 16 inches. When all of these joists are up, strike a line across them to indicate the edge of the deck and trim them to length. Finish your deck frame by attaching the other rim joist with hangers and nails.
Carefully hammer the first end joist to the end of the ledger making sure that you square it, keeping it within the 6-8-10 triangle technique. Mark evenly up to the outside joist edge, sliding the joist away from the cut mark. Draw a square cut offline so you know where to cut off the end of the strip.
Toe-nail the joist into the beam, measuring from the joist to complete 16-inch layout marks on the top part of the shaft for joist replacement purposes. The joist layout marks should be used as a guide to transferring the marks to the joint for setting the beam. Install the remaining joist, repeating the same process of toe-nailing the joists into the beam and rim.
5 – Mounting Rails and Posts
Now that you built a stable frame, it’s time mount your rails and posts.
Start by figuring out the number of posts you’ll need and the post spacing. Plan on having posts by the house, two posts at each outside corner and posts at the top of the stairs.
Measure the distance between posts at two corners and divide by the distance allowed between posts. Round up to the nearest whole number, then subtract 1. For example: 15 feet ÷ 5 feet = 3. 3 – 1= 2 posts in between. Make sure the posts are evenly spaced. If you have one lined up right over a joist feel free to slightly reposition it.
Then, cut your posts to length according to your plan and local codes. The bottom ends of the posts will be flush with the bottom edges of the rim and end joists. Worth noting: deck anchors that you attach to the inside of the joists make for stronger railings. Along the end joists, use deck screws to attach extra bracing between the end joists and floor joists to mount the anchors. Cut the bracing from the same lumber you used for the joists.
Now, screw a post in place, and make sure it’s plumb and extends to the bottom of the joist. Line up the anchor so your bolt hole is at the center of the post and about 2 inches from the top of the joist. Mark the hole on the joist and drill through the joist and post at the mark.
Line up the anchor with the hole in the joist and affix it to the bracing with screws. Run a carriage bolt through the hole and secure the post with a washer and nut.
Now, drill a second bolt hole through the post and joist about 2 inches above the bottom of the joist. Secure a second carriage bolt through the bottom hole. After, attach an anchor on the back of the bracing for added strength. Continue installing the posts just like this.
Along the rim joist, for posts next to floor joists, you can attach a piece of bracing with nails to secure the anchor so it doesn’t interfere with the joist hanger. Your bracing should be of the same material you used for the joists and should be at least 16 inches long.
Remember, you also need to install bracing to secure the anchors for posts on the rim joist that are in between floor joists. Attach lumber between the floor joists as you did above, and then attach a second piece of lumber between the rim joist and bracing to secure the anchor.
6 – Installing the Decking
You’re doing great! Now let’s nail down the decking.
First, mark the center of the deck and temporarily install the parting boards with a few decking screws. Now, starting near your home, set the straightest decking board in place flush with the rim joist. Check the board for square. Drill 1 inch pilot holes from the edge of the board and into the rim joist.
Drive in decking screws, and continue securing the decking to the joists with screws along the entire board. If necessary, use a jigsaw to notch around posts and other obstructions to fit your boards. Continue installing the decking and check for square every few boards. When you get near the end of the deck, dry lay the boards to determine the width of the last board. If you’re installing skirting, remember to account for a 1 inch to 1 1/4 inch overhang with your final board. If you’re not installing skirting, make it flush with the rim joist.
7 – Putting in the Deck Rails
You’re on a roll! Let’s put in the deck rails now.
First, clamp the bottom rails 3-1/2 inches up from the decking and secure them to the posts. Next, secure the top rails so the top edges are flush with the tops of the posts. After that, secure the rail caps centered over the top rail and posts. be sure to join the rail caps at the corners with miter joints for a cleaner look.
Drill pilot holes in the balusters and secure them to the top and bottom rails with screws. Check your local code for spacing requirements. Baluster spacing of 3 1/2 spacing is common. If your spacing between a baluster and post isn’t equal, you can adjust the baluster placement a little bit if needed.
How to Take Care of Your New Deck So it Lasts as Long as Your Home
A great way to take care of your deck is to regularly reseal and stain it. You can probably get away with doing this every 5 years, but if the deck is looking worn out, go ahead and do it sooner.
Also, if you notice a crack or flaw in your deck (whether you have a wooden or composite deck), make sure to fix the issue promptly. You’d be surprised just how much of a problem it can turn into later down the line when you procrastinate the repair.
Your best bet is to survey your deck once a year for any issues that need repairing and to get to work quickly. I know it’s annoying, but you’ll thank me when your deck remains in prime condition over the years.
Also, if you have plants on your deck, use cement blocks. Placing the planters on the cement blocks ensures that the moisture that can accumulate due to constant watering of the plants will not end up negatively impacting your decking material.
Similarly, use grease catchers if you have your grill on your deck. It will help prevent grease from coming into contact with your decking material and harming it. Sure, a little grease isn’t a big deal – but better to be safe than sorry later on.
Be Gentle With Your Deck
If you need to shovel your deck, tread lightly. Instead of thinking about it as shoveling something like your driveway, think about it like scraping off ice from your car. If you scrape to hard, you can actually scratch it. So too with your deck. Be gentle and remember that you can unintentionally damage it.
Also, make sure that whatever you use to clean your deck doesn’t mess with your sealant or decking materials. Another way to protect your deck is to put your deck furniture on to of carpets or plastic mats. This will help avoid scratches and wear. Make sure to get an outdoor carpet or mat that doesn’t lock in moisture. Doing this not only makes your deck look nicer aesthetically, but it also protects it in the long-run.
In this post I covered a lot of ground with you. We learned that composite decking is probably a better bet than wood if you want your deck to last a long time. I also gave you a complete step-by-step guide to building a deck that will last as long as your home, and I noted some really great ways to take care of your deck so it lasts the test of time.
With all of this knowledge, now it’s up to you to put it to good use.
Go out there and make something amazing!
If you’re serious about building a deck, check out my post: Must-Have Tools of the Trade for Home Improvement DIYers.