Building a deck takes some work, but the result is worth it. A deck extends your living space to the outdoors and improves the value of your property. Building a deck is not a job for amateurs, but if you have time and a willingness to learn, you may be able to DIY.
Be honest with yourself about how you’ll be using your deck, now and in the future. Budget is always a concern, and sometimes it’s best to start with a smaller deck but plans for a second phase in the future. Having a plan to expand on an existing deck is better than replacing one that was already built. Hitch Property Constructions has a wide range of decking services Melbourne services.
Do you enjoy entertaining? Having backyard BBQ’s? Having a larger deck that can accommodate more people allows for a livelier party, but a larger deck is more expensive, requires more upkeep, and often won’t fit within the confines of your yard. Smaller decks create a more intimate space, and if you don’t have a large family or entertain very often, you won’t need a full dining table outdoors.
The size of your deck is also determined by the makeup of your yard and home. A sloped yard will require grading or installing posts, which is more time-consuming and can involve a bit more engineering. A raised deck must have the proper structural support beneath it as well as the railings around it, which can double the price of an on-grade deck (which is just one step above the ground).
Natural obstacles such as trees can impact your deck design and plan. You can choose to build around a large tree, which will require more hours of labour but can make for an interesting natural seating area, or simply remove a tree which depending on the size can be a costly endeavour.
Deck Building Topics For Durable Deck Construction
Deck Permits and setbacks
The first step of building a deck in Canada or North America should be staying on the right side of the law. Find out where exactly your property line is, so you know you meet the necessary setbacks. Depending on how meticulous your municipality or state is, you may need a permit, and you may need to show drawings to get one. This is why you should first learn what the local setbacks and permit requirements are so you don’t waste your time coming up with plans and applying for a permit that would be instantly refused. So the first step is to call your local authority or town hall to see what the limitations are and what they will require from you. Check out our Melbourne decking services services here.
Deck Foundations, our top tips for durability
It is important to understand what will cause your deck to shift so you can build accordingly to avoid that; if you’re in a cold region frost heave being the biggest concern. That is why if you live in an area where you get long cold winters, you are normally advised to go 4 or 5 feet below ground level for your base. This will ensure the ground below your post does not freeze and heave.
Deck support in concrete with galvanized post support
All of this can be done by an ambitious DIYer; you can either dig a wide hole with a shovel or rent a gas-powered or hand posthole digger. Find out the recommended local depth to get below the frost line and start digging. Drop a Sonotube (cardboard form) in the hole, level it, backfill it, and start mixing concrete.
The one type of soil that may cause you grief and have you revisit your plans will be if you are building on clay. Clay will expand and shrink depending on its moisture content, so it isn’t just about a potential heave over the winter; a deck built on clay can be susceptible to movement depending on rainfall if it goes from very wet to very dry, or vice versa, anytime during the summer.
If you find bedrock when you dig, that is a good thing because that means your deck won’t be going anywhere. Don’t be tricked into thinking a big rock is a bedrock, though if you hit one that seems extremely large and solid, the bottom of it could well be below the frost line in which case it should work fine.
Screw pile foundations for Decks
If the term is unfamiliar, these are posts that are screwed into the ground to a suitable depth and left there as the structure. It works very well – you just need to be very accurate with placement and ensure that they are level. The top is not as big as a Sonotube, so you don’t have much wiggle room if they are installed out of square. Screw piles for decks can be purchased from building supply stores, and they will have a hole for putting in a 2×4 for turning leverage. Those work pretty well unless there are a lot of rocks, in which case you are best to call a screw-pile contractor who drives them in with machines.
Floating Deck Blocks – Advantages & Disadvantages
This is a fairly safe way to go about things, though keeping them perfectly level may require a bit of maintenance over time if there is any movement. Deck blocks sit directly on the ground so they are a bit more susceptible to movement, though if the ground is pretty consistent where you plan to build, it really shouldn’t move much. The advantage of this is quite a savings in cost at the beginning, and a bit of movement won’t do any harm since it isn’t attached to the house.
Something to remember – the reason we dig down 4 or 5 feet in cold climate zones is, so the ground acts as insulation against frost heave. ‘Insulation’ does this as well, so laying a rigid foam insulation board down (foam or stone wool) below and around the deck block may reduce the chances of movement from frost heave. Laying down a bed of 3/4″ clean crushed stone will also act to prevent frost heave, it just can’t have any fines in it because the water has to drain off rather than being retained.
One thing to always bear in mind, especially if building a deck or landscaping a garden in cold climate zones and your home has a basement, is how to prevent spring thaw basement flooding – so be sure to carefully grade surfaces under decks and the deck itself away from your property to direct snowmelt away from the home and basement.
The Choice for Deck Surfaces
Pressure-treated wood is far less toxic than it was in years past, but it’s still not as benign as natural wood. It could, in theory, last longer, along with mineral-based powder wood treatment, but applying durability measures with any type of wood is the only sure-fire way to extend the life span of deck structures.
Red cedar has natural anti-rot characteristics but comes with a pretty steep price tag, so for example, in Eastern Canada, local white cedar from small mills is a much more affordable option. Hemlock (Eastern fir) or Douglas fir is very strong woods, and if you take steps to keep them dry, they should last quite a long time also.
Cedar is by far the most common natural untreated decking material, usually 1.25″ thick. It can be left raw and will last a long time, but staining it will give it longer life and keep it from going grey while exposed to weather and UV rays.
Another option here is recycled plastic composite decking boards; they are not wood but rather plastic made to look like wood (we say that loosely because you would definitely be able to tell them apart in a police lineup). One advantage is they are often profiled to make a non-slip surface – a consideration if you’re in a damper zone and your deck is prone to slime or if you have some tree coverage.
Composite deck products are only offered as decking material. There is nothing we’ve found that can be used for building sub-structures. When comparing you will find it’s quite a bit more expensive even than cedar, but its lifespan is likely longer than yours.
So there’s even more reason to take some durability measures (which we will get to shortly), so you don’t end up having the structure underneath rot while the decking itself is still quite functional. A galvanized substructure is an option worth looking into. We would also recommend using stainless steel screws; even coated deck screws can start to rust after a decade or so.
For maintenance, you shouldn’t need to do more than power washes it every few years to remove streaks and mildew. This is also a great alternative to wood for building structures that will be continually saturated with water and moisture, such as docks or garden boxes.
Finally, there are tropical woods that are very durable, such as Ipe and Teak, but the market for these woods is causing a pretty big dent in tropical rainforests, which are unfortunately pretty important to all life forms on the planet. So we prefer to see people working with Canadian or American wood sources as there is no shortage of trees here. If you are going for exotic wood, you could look into finding some that are FSC certified, which is wood that comes from sustainably managed forests. To see more about choosing wood for framing, see here.
Ten Tips For Building Better Decks
This is where we are hoping to tap into the collective brainpower of all deck builders out there. Through trial and error and sharing ideas we can all up the quality of our builds, so if you have tips of your own to add, please drop them on the comments section below.
- When Building the Deck Frame, Cover your Joists
As long as wood can dry, it’s okay for it to get a bit wet on occasion. The important thing to avoid is standing water. We are big fans of putting a drip edge on top of the joists before laying the decking. You can lay a thin sheet of metal on top first, or an elastomeric membrane, so water that falls through the decking gaps is not left standing on the top of the joists. When choosing that material and colour, be aware that it will probably be slightly visible between the gaps in boards. Looking for home deck services? Look no further! Hitch Property Constructions has you covered.
- Gaps between Deck Boards are Necessary
Gaps are necessary between boards for better drainage, but also so they don’t build up debris. Too small a gap will let water flow until it clogs up with dirt, then it will hold moisture. Make sure the gaps are big enough that you can sweep it and the debris falls through. The thickness of the head of a deck screw should about do it.
Some builders install boards tight together for the aesthetic of tighter joints, running with the assumption that they will shrink, but that isn’t always the case. If the wood you are working with is quite wet, it may stay the same size or shrink a bit, but if the wood is dry, it may actually expand when exposed to regular rainfalls.
- Don’t sink the screws too far into the decking.
You will create tiny reservoirs where water will sit and soak in. Don’t count on the screw to pull your board tight, put some weight on it if need be and leave screws flush with the top surface so the wood can better shed water.
- Under-mounted deck fasteners
This one requires a bit more effort – a lot of people who choose this method seem to do so for the clean look of boards with no screws, in doing so it alleviates the problem of water damage at screw holes. To do this, a metal bracket is screwed to the side of the joist, so you actually screw up into the bottom of the board and pull it down.
It’s a great look, but it can be more time-consuming. And the downside is that you don’t have a lot of meat for the screws to hold unless you are using 2×4 or 2×6 decking. Take care not to drive screws too hard and strip the wood, or they won’t hold at all.
- On Your Deck Structure use Double joists at the joints.
There will always be a slight gap where two deck boards meet, allowing water to run down between them and sit on the top of the joist. A way to avoid this is to build your base with doubled joists with a gap between them. This takes more planning in design because you need to decide ahead of time where your joints will be, and it takes a few more joists, but it can extend the life of your decking.
The cut ends of the wood are at a lot more risk of absorbing water, and if you look at an older deck, you can see that it is the joints in the decking that are pretty much always the first parts to go.
If you plan this well and order the right lengths of decking, you can reduce waste from cutting, and using longer lengths of decking can reduce the number of double joists you’d need.
- Always use Diamond lath around your Deck to keep out visitors
Less than being about durability and more about quality of life, having raccoons or skunks set up a homestead under your deck is no fun; screwing diamond lath to the back of the deck joists and burying it should dissuade most animals.
- Top Tip for Successfully Staining Decks
If you are doing this in the autumn or the spring, first check the weather and the drying time of the stain. Written on the can should be the functional temperature range for application as well as how long it will take to dry. Make sure the weather isn’t predicted to go below the recommended temperature within the listed drying time. Our preference for a brand new cedar deck is for a natural wood finishing oil for decks & floors that are non-toxic, see here for details – or if refinishing a deck or using reclaimed timber, we’ve successfully used this cleaning, lightening and staining system for older wood decks – in particular, check out the how-to video.
- Choose Your Deck’s Wood Grain Carefully
If you work with the growth rings of the wood facing up in a convex (rather than concave) direction, the grain will, in theory, repel water from the surface rather than create a cup that will withhold water. Shedding water is the key to extending deck life.
- Deck-to-Wall Connections
This is where most jobs go sour. Either build a deck that is completely independent of the building (with Sonotubes near the wall connection), or go through the proper steps to not create a gaping hole in your building envelope that welcomes water, air, and carpenter ants, just to name a few of the unwanted invasions.
Once the exterior cladding has been trimmed away at the joint with the deck, there should be a metal drip cap tucked under the original weather barrier that carries water clean over the edge of the rim joist that is bolted into the wall. Squares of the self-sealing elastomeric membrane can be placed behind the joist in contact with the wall in order to avoid wicking of water through the hole created by the bolt.
- Last but not least in our Top Ten Tips for Deck Construction
Remember to factor a 2% slope in your deck away from other structures in order to drain water in the right direction. The base structure should set the slope, and the decking will simply follow the same angle.