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How to Build a Deck: Design and Layout

Updated December 31, 2021

Marc M.

By Marc M.

Building a deck is the ultimate backyard DIY project for an outdoor space. It takes some work, but this series of articles and videos shows you step-by-step instructions for each phase. The first step is to create a plan. See the complete deck project from design to finishing touches.

Note

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

Note

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

Planning for a New Deck

Deck Plan Illustration.
  • Check with your local building department and homeowner's association regarding permits and building requirements. Note what elements of the project require inspection and plan your work accordingly.
  • Call 811 to mark any underground utility lines.
  • When planning size, make sure you'll have enough room for your outdoor furniture and that you'll have enough room to move around.
  • Think about size in terms of the decking as well. Deck boards are typically 5-1/2 inches wide, so try to plan a deck size that won't leave narrow pieces at the ends.
  • Create your design so that the railings are clear of windows and out-swinging doors.

Once you have a basic layout, bring it to Lowe's to have an associate put together professional deck plans and a materials list.

Decking Materials

Pressure-Treated Lumber and Composite Decking Materials.

One of the first steps of deck building is deciding between a wood deck or a composite deck. Pressure-treated lumber (top right) is the standard material because it withstands weather. Most pressure-treated lumber is wet when delivered directly from the store, so you’ll need to let it dry before staining — typically for six months. As an alternative, consider upgrading the decking and railings with composite decking (bottom right) and vinyl railings. Make sure you read our Deck Planning and Materials Buying Guide to get details on different options. 

This series of articles and videos shows you how to build a deck with each material.

Deck Construction

Deck Design Illustrations.

The basic deck construction for this project consists of: 

  • The foundation and 4-inch-by-4-inch posts
  • 2-inch-by-10-inch beams
  • 2-inch-by-4-inch diagonal bracing
  • 2-inch-by-8-inch framing and joists
  • 5/4-inch decking 
  • Stairs 
  • Railings 

For larger decks, you can install parting boards — also called pattern boards — in the middle of the decking. These decking boards run perpendicular to the rest of the decking, creating an eye-catching design. They also allow you to use shorter deck boards and can eliminate the need to butt boards together to span the width of the deck. You can eliminate some of the necessary posts by attaching a ledger board to your house, but it can cause problems later if not done right. It’s a job usually best left for the pros. Our deck is freestanding, so it won’t be attached to the house. A freestanding deck should be no more than one inch away from the house.

Good to Know

You’ll often see decking boards listed with a common (or nominal) measurement of 5/4 inch thick. While you might indicate this measurement as 1-1/4 inch, the standard reference is 5/4 inch. Also note that the actual measurement of the thickness of a 5/4-inch board is usually 1 inch. See our video Why Is a 2 x 4 Not 2 by 4? to learn about the difference between common/nominal measurements and actual measurements.

Marking the Deck Layout

When you have a solid plan, you can mark the layout with strings and batter boards made from 2-foot furring strips and screws. See Making and Using Batter Boards assembly instructions.

Instructions

Working With Pressure-Treated Lumber

Guidelines

  • Use fasteners and hardware labeled for treated lumber — stainless-steel or hot-dipped, galvanized screws.
  • If the lumber is wet — it typically is when delivered from the store — butt it together tightly when building. Pressure-treated wood shrinks as it dries.
  • Drill pilot holes in the ends of boards to prevent splitting when you nail or screw them together.
  • Use wood rated for ground contact when necessary for the project.

 

Safety

  • Wear a dust mask and eye protection when handling or cutting wood.
  • Wash your hands after working with treated wood.
  • Dispose of sawdust and waste according to local regulations.
  • Don't burn pressure-treated wood.
  • Don't use pressure-treated wood as mulch.

 

Read more about pressure-treated lumber and wood preservatives on the EPA website:

Overview of Wood Preservative Chemicals.

Next Steps

The next stage of the project includes setting the posts and building the framing. See How to Build a Deck: Post Holes and Framing.

See the complete deck series at Lowes.com/BuildaDeck.

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