Decking Tips

by Tobe Walter
(New Jersey)


A deck is a crossbreed, combining some of the best features of both porches and patios. Like the old-fashioned porch, it is made of wood and sits above ground. But it also has the open, airy feeling of a patio, serving as an architectural transition zone between indoors and out.


There are almost as many ways to build a deck as to build a house. The method shown on these pages exploits a deck's most desirable qualities. Because the number of support posts is kept to a minimum, the structure seems to float in space and to be part of both the house and the landscape.

Built in this way, a deck can hug the ground or ride high above it. And the basic design can be modified or embellished for a variety of situations. Differing railing and decking treatments can be used. Multiple levels can be achieved with separate structures, linked by stair ways to allow passage from one level to another. Sliding glass doors, installed just before the railings, provide easy access from the house to a second story deck. Built in seating and trellis like shade roofs are other possible variations.

Deck building has been simplified by the availability of lumber that has been pressure treated with wood preservative to resist rot. But pressure treated wood often has a green tinge that takes up to a year to bleach to gray. Alternatively, you can use redwood or cedar for the decking and railing.

Both are rot resistant and have pleasant color and texture. Unfinished redwood and cedar will also eventually turn gray redwood, dark gray. Plan your deck on paper by first making a scale drawing of the side of the house to which it will be attached. Establish positions for the basic structural elements: the ledger board to be attached to the house wall, the two joists that run perpendicular to the house at the ends of the ledger, and the ribbon board, which defines the outer edge of the deck.

Then decide where you want the supporting posts and add a beam, paralleling the ledger, right over the posts. The posts should be no more than 8 feet apart, and the beam should overhang the posts by no more than 2 feet on each side. In plotting the post locations, beware of buried telephone cables and under-ground lines for gas, water and electricity; utility companies can tell you where they are. Keep in mind, too, that the beam should fall somewhere in the last quarter of the distance between the ledger and the ribbon board. The span between the beam and the ledger dictates joist size and spacing. If you change the position of the posts and the beam slightly, you may be able to use a smaller size of lumber not only for the joists but for the beam, which is the same lumber doubled, and for the ledger and ribbon boards, also of joist-size lumber. When you have plotted the basic structure, add to your deck plan any other features you wish to incorporate. Then make a list of materials needed. When you buy the lumber, get an extra board or two in each size and, if possible, get decking boards in lengths just slightly longer than you need. Also, look for straight decking boards, to eliminate the tricky carpentry needed to correct warped boards. When you get to the lumberyard, you may find that a modest alteration in your plan will let you buy stock lumber sizes and reduce waste.

In assembling the deck you will need lag bolts for joining the ledger to the house wall, 1/2-inch carriage bolts for attaching the railings and posts, and 12- penny (31/4-inch) spiralshanked electroplated nails or, if you use redwood, acid resistant aluminum nails to attach the decking and railings. The joists are suspended from joist hangers and metal angle reinforcements. Supporting posts and beams are joined with metal post-and-beam ties and joists are fastened to the beam with metal brackets called tie downs. Allow four 60-pound bags of concrete for the footing of each post.

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