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The Five Best Tips for Building a Backyard Deck You’ll Enjoy for Years to Come


Tip #1 - Permitting and Property Lines

It’s always best to start your Deck Building project by learning what the local setbacks and permit requirements are by calling your local city hall to see what the limitations are and what they will require from you.  This will help you avoid wasting time coming up with plans and applying for a permit that will be refused.  

Once you have an understanding of your local ordinances, Begin by determining the exact location of your property lines to ensure you don’t encroach on your neighbor’s property. Also, if local ordinances require permitting, you will often need property line drawings in order to get one.  


Tip #2 - A Solid Foundation is Critical

If constructing a deck in a cold region having frost, it is best to go as deep as 4 or 5 feet below ground level for your base to help ensure the ground below your posts does not freeze and heave directionally.

Consider digging a wide hole with a shovel or post hole digger or perhaps renting a gas powered posthole machine. Be sure to measure to make sure you achieve the recommended local depth to get below the frost line.  Next, drop a cardboard form (also known as a Sonotube) into each hole, then level it, back fill it and begin mixing your concrete.

If you encounter Clay while digging, note that it will expand and shrink depending on its moisture content. Clay can cause movement of your deck from heavy rainfall, flooding or frosting condition to that of dry conditions.


IMPORTANT NOTE: Before You Dig, Call 811 for utility check.


Tip #3 - Select your Decking Based on Climate

Pressure treated wood tends to last longer, as does mineral-based powder wood treatments.  Red or White Cedar both have natural anti-rot characteristics, while Hemlock (Eastern Fir) and Douglas Fir are affordable, yet strong woods that can offer extended life with wood treatments.

Another option is to select composite decking boards made from recycled plastics. This option often has the look of wood, but with a non-slip surface that can be beneficial in a wet or frequently frozen climate.

Tip #4 - Construction Shortcuts

Take care to build in such a way to avoid is standing water. Always take care to cover and protect joists so that the wood can dry after getting wet. A drip edge on top of the joists is an especially good idea before laying down the decking. Simply lay a thin sheet of metal or an elastomeric membrane on top, so that water is able to fall through the decking gaps and is not otherwise left standing on the joists. Try to select a closely matching color, as these may be slightly visible between the decking.

Gaps between boards help reduce standing debris and are critical for maximum drainage. Too small a gap will clog up and hold moisture. So make sure the gaps are large enough for debris falls through.

Make sure the screws used are not placed too deeply into the decking as this will cause water to sand and soak in. Simply leave screws flush with the surface to avoid standing water that will degrade your deck over time.

Under mounted deck fasteners is a time consuming process that requires more effort and eliminates the problem of water damage at screw holes because a metal bracket is screwed to the side of the joist in the bottom of the boards and then pulling them down.

In all events, be sure not to drive screws in too hard or they won't hold. Invisible deck fasteners are also an option, but these too take allot more time to install.

From a design perspective, it’s often best to use double joists at the joints. This will create a slight gap where two boards meet that allows water to run down between them. A way to avoid water sitting on your joists, this is to build your base with doubled joists with a gap between them. This takes a bit more planning and requires a few more joists, but results in extending the life of decking.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the cut ends can absorb water, so plan carefully and take care to select the right lengths of decking. This will reduce waste, as longer lengths of decking can reduce the amount of double joists you'd need, which is another time and money saver.


Tip #5 - Deck Finishing

When finishing work begins, give some thought to woodchucks, skunks or raccoons or skunks nesting under your deck.  The way to avoid this is to fasten Diamond Lath Mesh to the back of the deck joists and then burying it as deeply as possible.

If you decide to stain your deck doing this in the autumn or the spring, be sure to check the weather and confirm the drying time of your selected stain. Another option is to use natural wood finishing oil.

Before starting the application of stain or oils, check the direction of the grain.  If you work with the growth rings of the wood facing up in a convex direction, the grain should help repel water from the surface.

If you elect to make a deck to wall connection, be sure to build the deck independent of the building with post holes near the wall connection). If you don’t, anticipate unwanted insects, water and air flows.

Assuming you’d like to fix your deck in close proximity to your home, once the exterior joint woods have been trimmed away, a metal drip cap needs to be tucked under any existing weather barrier so that water, ice and snow roll over the edge of the rim joist. Next, an elastomeric membrane can be placed behind the joist to avoid wicking of water.

It is also mission critical to maintain a 2% slope in your deck away from other structures in order to drain water away from premises. The base structure should slope, and the decking should always follow this angle.


Need a General Contractor?

Noting that there are many factors to consider when building a deck properly, you may want a qualified General Contractor to make sure you avoid an unmitigated construction disaster.

Word of mouth can be a good resource for finding highly qualified contractors.  You can speak to a trusted Architect, as professionals often develop trusted relationships with reputable contractors. Alternatively, trade associations such as the Homebuilders Association (HBA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), can be a good source for qualified general contractor referrals.

Questions? Contact American Home Improvements; we’re always here to help!

American Home Improvements: The Region's Remodeling Experts Since 1959 
Simply call us or fill out the form to request a FREE in-home consultation to discuss your project.
And remember, American Home Improvements is the region's only remodeling specialist with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. 

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