Preparation for Deck Construction

man building deck with screwgun
  • 12-24 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 5,000-15,000
What You'll Need
Joist to ledger (joist hanger)
Girder to post (post cap)
Joist to girder (right-angle bracket)
Post to Rafter (rafter fastener)
Post to foundation (post anchors)
What You'll Need
Joist to ledger (joist hanger)
Girder to post (post cap)
Joist to girder (right-angle bracket)
Post to Rafter (rafter fastener)
Post to foundation (post anchors)

A 12x12 deck with a simple foundation and railing can be completed by two people in four days (two weekends). Figure on 64 to 85 work hours to completion, more for complex railing and foundation designs.


The tools you will need for your deck project are listed in the Tools and Materials Checklist at the end of the project. For most deck projects, common framing tools are needed. No specialized tools are necessary. You may want to consider using a pneumatic tool for nailing on the decking. It makes the process go quickly and easily. Be sure to use high-quality tools that are capable of doing the job without strain. This is especially important in your choice of power tools.

Your choice of decking and fastener materials is very important. All materials must be chosen according to how well they resist decay and rust Fasteners. When choosing nails, bolts, screws and metal fasteners, use only hot dipped galvanized fasteners. Double hot dipped is even better. These galvanized fasteners will not rust. Aluminum and stainless steel nails also will not rust, but HDG, more commonly used, is less expensive.

Avoid electroplated galvanized (EG), since galvanized plating will often chip. In recent years many types of galvanized metal fasteners have become common in deck construction. These simplify your project, while adding strength and quality to your construction, and are highly recommended. They can be used in many areas of deck construction, including the following attachments:


All wood used on the deck must be decay resistant. These woods are often pressure treated, and include redwood, cedar, cypress.

    Redwood is perhaps the most attractive and best wood to use, especially in exposed areas such as the decking and railing. It is decay resistant, dimensionally stable, and straight. Redwood is especially good for do-it-yourselfers because it is easy to saw and nail and has little or no pitch. It resists warping, checking, and cupping and is strong for its light weight. It comes in several grades. A construction common, which contains some sapwood, is ideal for the deck boards. The all-heart grades, which are more expensive, are used for luxury decks.

    Pressure-treated wood is also commonly used. It is local evergreen treated to resist decay and is often green. If budget is a concern, you may want to use a pressure-treated frame with a redwood deck and railings.

    Deck joists are usually 2x6, 2x8, or 2x10 stock. The decking boards are usually 2x4 and 2x6. 2x8 stock is too wide and will cup if used as a decking board.

    Permits and Codes

    In most areas, some sort of permit is required before you begin to build a deck. If the deck is not attached to the house, or if you live in a rural area, you may not need a permit. Before you start, check this out It is never advisable to build without a permit where one is required.

    The permit office will probably require a set of plans. These need not be elaborate, and you can draw them yourself, buy a set, or have a set prepared by a draftsperson or architect. The plans will specify the following:


    They will want to be sure you are far enough away from neighboring property lines, utility easements, and gas, water, and sewer lines.


    If the deck is close to the ground, within, say, 30”, no railing may be required. If one is required, a minimum railing height of 36” - 42” is required.

    Often the pickets can be placed with no more than a 6’ space between them.


    The local codes will regulate the size, spacing, number, and method of construction of your piers. They will also regulate the depth of your pier hole, depending on the frost line in the area.

    The local codes will specify the size and location of the girder.


    The code will specify the size and spacing of the joists. This will depend on the type of wood you will use. Joist charts are available at the code office for each type of wood.


    Many codes will detail your nail or fastener schedules.


    The plans will specify the size of deck boards and the type of wood used.


    The plans will specify the size of the posts


    In earthquake and hurricane areas there may be further requirements on how the piers are fastened to the foundations, the girders to the posts, and the joists to the girders. They may specify certain metal fasteners.

    Design Questions

    There is much to say about the design of a deck. My intention in this section is to provide you not with a thorough treatise on deck design but rather with a few parameters of design to consider. This is not to understate the importance of design. How well you are pleased with your handiwork and how much you will enjoy using it depend on design more than on construction. What follows are some key things to consider at this crucial stage. Your answers to these questions will largely dictate your design requirements.

    At what time of day during each season of the year does the deck get sun and shade?

    How much privacy will the deck give you from neighbors? Will this change when the trees lose their leaves?

    What will be the deck’s access from the house? To the yard?

    How large should it be? And how much yard must be sacrificed?

    How should the railings be designed? With planters? With seats?

    Where should the stairs be placed?

    Are there any utility lines overhead or below?

    Should the deck be covered?

    What will be placed on the deck? Bar-B-Q? Swing? Chairs and tables?

    Will the deck block the light coming in any windows of the house?

    How will the deck affect the rooms of the house?

    How are the views?

    How much money do you plan to spend?

    Most Common Mistakes

    Given the complexity of this project, the most common mistakes are listed at the beginning of each step. It is particularly important, when undertaking this challenging project, that you read all sections before picking up your tools and getting to work.