Austin Fence and Deck

How To Build A Freestanding Deck

Freestanding decks are often overshadowed by their attached counterparts, yet they carve out their space with remarkable versatility and ease of construction. This unique appeal makes them an excellent choice for homeowners seeking to enhance their outdoor living without the complexities of attaching structures to their homes. The distinct advantage of a freestanding deck lies in its ability to be placed in various locations, offering better airflow beneath the structure to reduce moisture-related issues and eliminating the need for a ledger board.

Key types of freestanding decks include platform decks, raised decks, and multi-level decks, each known for their specific benefits and suited to different landscapes and uses. Freestanding decks also stand out, offering a straightforward yet adaptable option for those looking to customize their outdoor spaces. Diving deeper, each type of freestanding deck brings design considerations, construction techniques, historical context, and recommendations for materials and finishes.

The following sections will delve into these aspects more deeply, comprehensively understanding what makes freestanding decks a valuable addition to any home.

Why build a freestanding deck

Choosing to build a freestanding deck offers numerous advantages for homeowners looking for flexibility, ease, and durability in their outdoor living spaces. Unlike traditional decks attached to a house, freestanding decks do not require a ledger board, simplifying the construction process and eliminating a potential point of failure. This independence from the main structure allows for greater flexibility in choosing the deck’s location, whether in a cozy garden corner or positioned to capture the perfect view.

Furthermore, the design of a freestanding deck promotes better airflow underneath, significantly reducing moisture-related issues and extending the deck’s life. These benefits make freestanding decks an attractive option for those looking to enhance their outdoor environment with a structure that offers both practicality and aesthetic appeal.

There is no need for a ledger board.

Freestanding decks eliminate the need for a ledger board, simplifying construction. This approach means less drilling into your home’s exterior and significantly reduces the risk of structural damage, making it a safer and more homeowner-friendly option.

Flexibility in location

With freestanding decks, you’re granted the ultimate flexibility in choosing the deck’s location. This freedom allows homeowners to pick the perfect spot in their yard, whether for capturing the best views, optimizing privacy, or simply fitting the deck in the most practical space available. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

Specific Scenarios Where Freestanding Decks Shine:

  • Homes with Irregular Exterior Walls: For homes with irregularly shaped exterior walls or numerous architectural features that make attaching a deck challenging, a freestanding deck can be placed without needing to navigate these obstacles.
  • Historic Preservation: In historic homes where altering the exterior could compromise the integrity or value of the property, a freestanding deck offers outdoor living space without impacting the home’s facade.
  • Zoning and Building Codes: Certain local codes may only allow the attachment of structures to existing buildings with extensive permitting processes. A freestanding deck often faces fewer barriers in this regard, making it a more straightforward project.
  • Landscaping and Garden Integration: For homeowners wishing to integrate a deck into a specific area of their garden or landscape without attaching it to their home, freestanding decks can be situated anywhere in the yard, providing a versatile solution.
  • Terrain Challenges: In areas with uneven or sloped terrain, a freestanding deck can be designed with its support system, making it easier to install than an attached deck that requires leveling with the home’s foundation.

Better airflow, reducing moisture issues

The design of a freestanding deck promotes better airflow underneath the structure. This increased ventilation is critical in minimizing moisture buildup, which can lead to wood rot and structural damage. Ensuring a drier environment beneath the deck significantly enhances its longevity, protecting your investment over time.

This enhanced section addresses these specific scenarios and advantages, providing a clearer understanding of the unique benefits and applications of freestanding decks, helping homeowners make informed decisions about their outdoor living projects.

Tools and materials needed

Building a freestanding deck requires specific tools and materials to ensure the structure’s stability, durability, and aesthetic appeal. Below is a detailed table outlining these essentials:

Circular SawDeWalt 20V MAX*7 1/4″ bladeCutting boards and framingBattery-powered for convenience, adjustable depth for precision cuts
DrillMakita XPH12Z18V LXTSecuring deck componentsCordless for ease of use, includes hammer function for versatility in drilling materials
Deck BoardsTrex Transcend Composite1″ x 6″ x 12′, 16′, 20′Deck surfaceComposite for durability and low maintenance, available in multiple colors
Concrete PiersQuikrete Concrete MixUse as needed for volumeFoundation supportPre-mixed for convenience, just add water
ScrewsGRK R4 Multi-Purpose Screw2 1/2″ and 3 1/8″Assembling deck componentsCorrosion-resistant, self-tapping for ease of use
NailsSimpson Strong-Tie Nails10d (3″) for framingFraming and structural assemblyGalvanized for corrosion resistance
LevelEmpire True Blue48″Ensuring even deck surfaceMagnetic edge for stability, high visibility for accuracy
Tape MeasureStanley FatMax25 ftAccurate measurementsBladeArmor coating for durability, 11 ft standout for easy one-person measurements
Pressure-Treated LumberYellaWoodVarious sizes as neededFraming and supportsTreated for outdoor use to resist rot and insects
Composite DeckingTrex Enhance Naturals1″ x 5.5″ x 12′, 16′, 20′Deck surface optionRequires less maintenance than wood, resistant to fading and staining
Concrete FootingsQUIKRETE50 lb bagsFoundation stabilityEnsure deep enough footings based on local frost line
Joist HangersSimpson Strong-Tie LUSFor 2×8, 2×10, 2×12 joistsSecuring joists to beamsZMAX galvanization for outdoor use
Flashing TapeTyvek Flashing Tape4″ widthProtecting ledger board and frame from moistureSelf-adhering for easy application, compatible with a wide range of materials
Stain/SealantBehr Premium Waterproofing1 gallon covers 250 sq ftProtecting deck surface from elementsWater-based for easy cleanup, available in transparent and semi-transparent finishes
Post AnchorsTitan Wood Post AnchorFor 4×4 or 6×6 postsSecuring posts to concrete footings without burying themSteel construction for strength, powder-coated for durability
Handrail SystemTrex Signature RailingCustom lengthsSafety and aesthetics around deck perimeterAluminum for low maintenance, available in several colors

This comprehensive list of tools and materials, complete with specifics on brands, types, sizes, and uses, provides a solid foundation for anyone looking to build a freestanding deck. Each item has been selected for its quality, suitability for outdoor deck construction, and ease of use, ensuring a successful build.

Planning and designing the deck

The initial stage of building a freestanding deck involves careful planning and designing, a process that lays the groundwork for a successful project. This phase is critical in determining the deck’s size and shape, which should be based on its intended use and the available outdoor space. Considerations such as sun exposure and privacy also play a significant role in the design, influencing the deck’s orientation and features.

Furthermore, it’s essential to check local building codes to identify any restrictions or requirements, ensuring the deck complies with regulations. Utilizing design software or apps can help visualize the deck before construction begins, and considering the home’s architecture when choosing a design can significantly enhance the overall aesthetic appeal. Below is a detailed table outlining design software options and tips for architectural harmony:

Design ConsiderationSoftware/App RecommendationFeaturesArchitectural Harmony Tips
3D VisualizationSketchUpFree and paid versions, extensive model library, user-friendly interfaceUse to create a 3D model of your deck in relation to your home to ensure size and style compatibility
Layout and Material PlanningTrex Deck DesignerFree, offers a range of Trex materials, provides a materials listSelect materials and colors that complement your home’s exterior finish and color scheme
Sun Exposure AnalysisSun SeekerPaid, provides a 3D view of solar path, sunrise, and sunset timesPlan the deck’s orientation for optimal sun exposure at your preferred times of use
Privacy and View SimulationHome Design 3DPaid, allows for landscape and structure design, easy to useSimulate views from the deck to plan for privacy screens or strategic placement for views
Local Building CodesHouzzFree, access to a community of professionals, design ideasConsult with professionals and access design ideas that adhere to local building codes
Material DurabilityDeck Designer by AZEKFree, focuses on AZEK materials, offers detailed plansChoose materials known for durability and maintenance requirements that match your home’s climate conditions

By meticulously planning and designing the deck with the help of these software tools and considering the architectural style of your home, homeowners can achieve a functional, aesthetically pleasing outdoor living space that meets their needs and preferences. These tools offer the ability to experiment with different designs, materials, and layouts, ensuring the final deck design is well-suited to the home’s architecture and the homeowner’s lifestyle.

Determining size and shape based on use

The size and shape of the deck are tailored to its intended function. Whether designed for hosting large gatherings, creating a tranquil retreat, or serving as an al fresco dining area, customizing these aspects ensures the deck meets its intended purpose effectively.

Considering sun exposure and privacy

Evaluating sun exposure and privacy plays a pivotal role in the deck’s layout and features. Strategically positioning the deck to capture the ideal amount of sunlight or shade, along with incorporating elements like privacy screens or lush plantings, can greatly enhance the deck’s usability and enjoyment.

Checking local building codes for restrictions

Checking local building codes is essential to identify any design or construction restrictions. Adhering to regulations regarding height, setbacks, and material use is crucial, ensuring the deck is not only aesthetically pleasing but also fully compliant with local standards and safety requirements.

Setting the foundation

The foundation is a critical component of building a freestanding deck, as it ensures the structure’s stability and longevity. This phase involves marking the deck’s perimeter with stakes and string to define the area clearly. Digging holes for the concrete piers follows, which must be placed at strategic points to evenly distribute the deck’s weight.

The piers are then set to the correct height and leveled, a step that is essential for a stable and even deck surface. Properly setting the foundation not only supports the deck’s structure but also provides peace of mind by ensuring the deck is safe and durable.

Marking the area with stakes and string

The foundational step involves marking the area for the deck using stakes and string. This process ensures that the layout is clearly defined, setting the stage for accurate and effective construction.

Digging holes for concrete piers

Following the layout, digging holes for the concrete piers is essential. These holes must be strategically positioned and excavated to the right depth, providing a solid base for the deck’s weight and structure.

Depth Considerations Based on Soil Type and Climate:

  • Sandy or Loose Soil: In areas with sandy or loose soil, holes for concrete piers should be dug deeper to ensure stability. A general guideline is to dig until reaching a firmer soil layer, which may require going beyond the standard depth of 24 to 48 inches.
  • Clay Soil: Clay soil can expand and contract significantly with moisture changes. In these areas, it’s crucial to dig to a depth where soil moisture remains more consistent, often below the frost line, to prevent shifting.
  • Cold Climates: In regions with cold climates, the depth of the holes must extend below the frost line to prevent heaving from freeze-thaw cycles. This depth varies by region but can be as deep as 48 inches or more.
  • Rocky Soil: Encountering rock can complicate digging. In rocky soil, it may be necessary to adjust the location of piers or use specialized equipment to create a stable foundation.

Adjusting for Slopes and Uneven Ground

Building on a slope or uneven ground requires additional planning to ensure the deck is level and stable. Techniques include:

  • Stepped Footings: On a sloping site, footings should be stepped down the slope, maintaining a consistent distance above ground level for the deck structure. This may require different footing depths at various points.
  • Using Longer Posts: On uneven ground, the use of longer posts can compensate for variations in footing heights. Posts should be cut to ensure the deck’s surface is level, even if the footings are at different elevations.
  • Additional Bracing: Sloped or uneven sites may require additional lateral bracing for the deck’s structure to prevent shifting or tilting over time.

Setting piers to correct height and level

The final step in preparing the foundation is setting the piers to the correct height and ensuring they are perfectly level. Achieving this precision is crucial for a stable and durable deck, ensuring long-term safety and functionality. Use a laser level or water level to ensure all footings are at the same height relative to the desired deck surface.

Constructing the frame

Constructing the frame is a pivotal phase in deck building, where the structure begins to take shape. This stage involves assembling the outer frame using screws and brackets, ensuring a robust base for the deck. Installing joists at regular intervals, typically 16″ or 24″ on center, is crucial for supporting the deck boards and distributing weight evenly.

Adding blocking between joists further enhances the frame’s stability, preventing twisting and ensuring a solid, squeak-free surface. By meticulously constructing the frame, you lay the groundwork for a durable and secure deck that will stand the test of time.

Assembling the outer frame with screws and brackets

The construction process kicks off with assembling the outer frame. This crucial step involves using screws and brackets to ensure a strong and secure base that accurately outlines the deck’s intended perimeter.

Recommended Screws and Brackets:

  • Screws: Use structural wood screws specifically designed for outdoor use, such as stainless steel or coated screws that offer corrosion resistance. Length and diameter should be chosen based on the thickness of your framing lumber, typically 2 1/2″ to 3 1/2″ screws for most applications.
  • Brackets: Metal joist hangers and angle brackets provide additional support and stability. Look for galvanized or stainless steel options that match the width of your joists, ensuring a snug fit and adequate load support.

Installing joists at 16″ or 24″ on center

Next, joists are meticulously installed within the frame, spaced either 16 inches or 24 inches apart on center. This strategic spacing is essential for providing robust support for the deck boards and for evenly distributing the load across the deck.

Adding blocking between joists for stability

To bolster the frame’s stability and integrity, blocking is inserted between the joists. This important addition helps to prevent the joists from twisting over time, contributing to a more stable and durable deck structure.

Ensuring Square and Level:

  1. Square the Frame: Before securing the frame, check that the corners form perfect right angles using the 3-4-5 triangulation method. Measure 3 feet along one side of the frame and 4 feet along the adjacent side. The diagonal between these two points should be exactly 5 feet if the corner is square.
  2. Level the Frame: Use a long level to check that the frame is level across its length and width. Adjust the height of the piers or posts as necessary by adding or removing material underneath them or by cutting the posts to the correct height.
  3. Cross-Bracing: For added stability, especially in larger or higher decks, consider installing diagonal cross-bracing between posts or piers. This can help prevent lateral movement and ensure the deck remains square and level over time.

Laying the deck boards

After the frame is constructed, the next step is laying the deck boards, a process that brings the deck closer to completion. This involves cutting the boards to size using a circular saw, ensuring they fit the deck’s dimensions perfectly. The boards are then secured to the frame with deck screws, which are designed to resist corrosion and provide a strong hold.

It’s important to leave space between the boards for drainage, preventing water accumulation and promoting longevity. By carefully laying the deck boards, you create a visually appealing and functional outdoor living space that’s ready for finishing touches.

Choosing the Direction of Deck Boards

The direction in which you lay your deck boards has a significant impact on the deck’s overall appearance and functionality. Consider the following when deciding on board orientation:

  • Parallel to the House: Laying boards parallel to the house tends to be the most common practice. This orientation can make the deck appear wider and is generally easier for aligning boards with the house structure.
  • Perpendicular to the House: This orientation can make the deck appear longer and is often used to draw the eye towards a specific view or feature in the yard.
  • Diagonal Pattern: Laying boards diagonally can add visual interest and strength to the deck. This pattern requires more cutting and results in more waste but can be striking and unique.
  • Herringbone or Chevron Patterns: For a more decorative look, consider intricate patterns like herringbone or chevron. These require precise cutting and layout but offer a distinctive appearance.

Cutting Boards Around Obstacles

When encountering obstacles such as posts or stairs, precise cutting of deck boards is necessary. Here are some tips for cutting boards around obstacles:

  • Measure Twice, Cut Once: Carefully measure the dimensions around the obstacle and mark your cutting lines on the board with a pencil. Double-check measurements before cutting.
  • Use a Jigsaw for Curves and Intricate Cuts: For curved cuts or intricate shapes around obstacles, a jigsaw can provide the precision needed.
  • Leave Expansion Gaps: Even around obstacles, it’s important to leave a small gap between the deck board and the obstacle to allow for wood expansion.
  • Use a Spacer: A spacer tool or a set of spacers can ensure consistent gap width around obstacles and between boards.

Securing Boards to the Frame with Deck Screws

After sizing, the boards are secured to the frame using deck screws. These screws are chosen for their corrosion-resistant properties, ensuring a long-lasting and firm hold that supports the deck’s durability. When securing boards:

  • Pre-drill Holes: To prevent splitting, especially near the ends of the boards, pre-drill holes before inserting screws.
  • Use Hidden Fasteners: For a cleaner look, consider using hidden fastener systems that secure deck boards from beneath and eliminate visible screw heads.
  • Stagger the Seams: If your deck design involves piecing together boards, stagger the seams for a more appealing and structurally sound layout.

Leaving Space Between Boards for Drainage

An important consideration during installation is to leave space between the boards. This gap is crucial for allowing water to drain through, preventing accumulation and reducing the risk of moisture-related damage over time. Use a standard spacing tool or spacers to ensure consistent gaps between boards.

Adding railings and stairs (optional)

For those looking to enhance the functionality and safety of their freestanding deck, adding railings and stairs is an excellent option. Railings provide a safety barrier, preventing falls and adding a finished look to the deck. Stairs are essential for decks raised above ground level, offering easy access to the yard or garden.

When designing railings and stairs, consideration should be given to materials that complement the deck and the overall style of the home. Additionally, incorporating handrails on stairs not only adheres to safety standards but also assists in mobility. This optional phase in deck construction not only elevates the deck’s aesthetic appeal but also significantly boosts its usability and safety.

Below is a detailed table outlining safety requirements and material/style recommendations for railings and stairs:

FeatureSafety RequirementsMaterial OptionsStyle RecommendationsNotes
RailingsMinimum height of 36 inches (residential)Wood, Composite, Metal, GlassMatch or complement home’s architectural styleConsider local codes for spacing between balusters to prevent small objects or children from slipping through
StairsMaximum riser height of 7.75 inches, minimum tread depth of 10 inchesWood, CompositeDesign to complement deck and railing styleInclude landings for stairs with more than 12 steps
HandrailsRequired on at least one side of stairs with four or more risersWood, MetalEnsure ergonomic design for comfort and gripHandrail height should be between 34 and 38 inches from the surface of the stair tread
Stair LightingNot a code requirement but highly recommended for safetyLED, Solar-poweredChoose fixtures that complement deck and railing materialsInstall lights on stair risers or adjacent to steps for visibility during nighttime

Building railings for safety and aesthetics

Building railings around the deck enhances safety by preventing falls and significantly contributes to the deck’s overall aesthetic appeal. Selecting suitable materials and designs can beautifully complement the deck’s style and the home’s exterior.

Constructing stairs for deck access

Constructing stairs is crucial for decks elevated above ground level, providing a practical and attractive access point to the garden or yard. The design and placement of stairs should fluidly integrate with the deck’s structure, enhancing both functionality and visual harmony.

Installing handrails on stairs for safety

Installing handrails on the stairs is an essential safety feature, offering support and stability to individuals navigating the deck. Handrails are vital for ensuring the deck adheres to safety codes and provides a secure environment for everyone.

Finishing touches

The final phase in building a freestanding deck involves adding finishing touches that enhance both its functionality and aesthetic appeal. This includes sanding to smooth out any rough edges, ensuring a safe and pleasant surface to walk on. Applying a sealant or stain protects the deck from the elements, extending its lifespan and maintaining its beauty.

Finally, personalizing the space with furniture and decorations transforms the deck into a cozy and inviting outdoor living area, ready for relaxation and entertainment. These finishing steps are crucial for achieving a polished look and ensuring the deck is a durable, enjoyable extension of the home.

Sanding to remove rough edges

Sanding is essential to smooth out all rough edges, enhancing the deck’s safety and appearance. This meticulous process is crucial for preventing splinters and ensuring a comfortable, visually pleasing surface.

Sealing or staining to protect from elements

Protecting the deck with a sealant or stain is vital for its longevity. This protective measure shields the wood from weathering, moisture, and UV damage, helping to maintain the deck’s structural integrity and aesthetic beauty over time.

Adding furniture and decorations

The final step involves adding furniture and decorations to personalize the deck. This transforms it into an inviting outdoor retreat, perfect for relaxation and entertainment. Selecting pieces that reflect personal style and complement the deck’s design creates a cohesive and enjoyable outdoor living space.

Frequently Asked Questions