If you are fortunate enough to have a deck in your backyard, chances are you'll be enjoying many barbecued dinners and great times outdoors with your friends and family. Installing a quality deck is a great way to extend the usable space of your home while providing the opportunity for small and large scale entertaining while we have the good weather. The fact that a quality deck increases the value of your home doesn't hurt either.
Unfortunately, we have all heard about the potential dangers that poorly built decks can pose to you and your family. There are a few basic things that you should know about when it comes to the construction of a high quality deck. Don't try and save a few dollars and put the safety of your family at risk.
1) Strong Footings
All decks should be built on a solid foundation. This starts with proper footings dug 4 feet into the ground that will be filled with concrete. We like to use cylindrical forms (available at your local home improvement store) in which we will pour our concrete, which is usually mixed on site. Our footings are also 12 inches in diameter, which ensures that the main deck posts will be very well supported. A 6 by 6 deck post really should be sitting on a 12 inch diameter footing; an 8 or 10 inch diameter footing may work, but the cost increase is small to go with the larger size, which will provide you with peace of mind in the long run.
2) Ledger Boards Need To Be Very Well Secured
If your deck will be connected to your house at one end for support, then you will have what is called a ledger board. Because this board will carry the load at one end of your deck, it is imperative that it is well secured to your home. If your home has a poured concrete foundation, you'll want to connect your ledger board to the house with appropriate anchors made specifically for this purpose. Wedge anchors are a type of fastener designed for this purpose (as well as others) and will perform very well in securing the ledger board to your home. You should ensure that you are using half inch thick anchors in between your joists (2 anchors every 16 inches will give you a rock solid connection that you won't have to worry about). Don't try and save time here by skimping on the number of fasteners; you'll regret it later on if your ledger starts to pull away from your house.
If your deck is being secured to a house with siding, you'll want to ensure that proper anchors are used as well. You should certainly not be using nails for this purpose. Your local home improvement store will carry a variety of quality anchors also designed for this purpose. Make sure that the ledger board is properly caulked and flashed to ensure that no water will enter your home after completion of the deck.
3) Beef Up The Framing For A Better Quality Feel
Sure, you might be able to get away with 2x8 joists for that span, but why do that when you can use 2x10's which will give your deck a stronger and more secure feel when walking on it. Always go one size up to ensure that your deck will be safe and secure; it would be terrible to build a deck to minimum standards only to later on regret that it does not feel as solid as you had hoped. It would not be a fun job (money or time wise) to have to rebuild or strengthen a cheaply built deck.
You also want to ensure that your joist spacing is appropriate, and that you are using quality fasteners to secure the framing. 24 inch on center joist spacing will make for a springy feeling deck surface; go with 16 inch on center spacing for a quality feel. If you are placing your deck boards diagonally, you may even want to go 12 inches on center, as deck boards laid on a 45 degree angle actually have a longer span to travel between joists than simply installing them perpendicular to the joists.
For pressure treated framing, you always want to use quality triple galvanized fasteners, joist hangers, bolts, brackets, and post cradles. If you don't, the hardware will start to rust out in short order because it cannot stand up to the elements. Always fill all of the nail slots in your joist hangers to ensure a rock solid connection, and don't skimp on the blocking. When you install blocking mid span, you are strengthening the structure significantly and removing the tendency of the floor joists to twist and bend.
4) Consider Composite
Although it can be much more expensive, you may want to consider composite decking if your budget allows for it. Sure, a deck constructed entirely of pressure treated lumber would be much cheaper, but you do save time and money in the long run with a composite product that is about as maintenance free as you can get. This is a great opportunity for elderly homeowners who want to add a deck to their home but don't want to deal with all of the maintenance issues that come with fully wooden decks.
5) Make Sure You Have Railings
The building code in your area may not call for railings on lower level decks, but it would still be good to install them anyways. When climbing up and down stairs, you really do want a railing to grab hold of, even if it is only for a couple of steps. Railings are also important if you have younger children. Even though your deck may only be a couple feet off the ground, you really should ensure that a quality railing system is installed so that nobody gets injured. Railings also look great, and come in a variety of styles, materials, and colour options. An aluminum railing system would complement your deck nicely and give you peace of mind in a maintenance free package.