Build this spacious, semi-private deck, which features planters, a handsome railing, low voltage lighting and a wide range of low maintenance, durable materials. It's a big project, but our photos and drawings show you all you need to know to assemble it successfully.
When a deck is inviting, you know it, and here's one that will definitely draw you outdoors. It's spacious and attractive. It features large planters to put green plants and flowers close at hand. And it has a versatile railing system that lets you combine solid panels for privacy and open sections for great views and cooling breezes.
We framed the deck with pressure-treated wood, which will last for decades, and then covered the framing with plastic/ wood composite decking and an engineered wood trim, aluminum balusters and fiber cement siding (more on these later).With these materials, your deck will look great for a decade with little more than an occasional cleaning.
In this article, we'll show you in detail how to build the unique features of the deck: the planters and the railings. We won't go into as much detail on the framing, although the drawings provide all the necessary details for you to complete the project.
A deck project of this size is an entire summer commitment, so getting the planning done now will give you more time to enjoy it later in the season. Despite its size, the project is no more difficult than an average deck, so if you're an intermediate do-it-yourselfer, you'll be able to tackle it. Low-maintenance materials come with a higher price tag (about 30 percent more than wood), but the extra years of service more than offset the difference. We paid about $7,500 for the materials for this 12 x 30-ft. deck.
Durable all-weather composite decking and boards are used on all flat surfaces.
This pre-primed siding is impervious to rot and decay and holds paint like a magnet.
Cut these factory-painted tubes to length and install them into the rails.
Engineered wood composites cut and nail easily and stand up to the weather.
For the decking, we chose Trex, one of the many composite materials available. A big advantage is that it's available in standard decking sizes (2x6 and 5/4 x 6) as well as in 3/4-in.-thick boards that work well for outdoor trim. We used it on all the weather-vulnerable horizontal surfaces, including the rail and caps, since it's virtually unaffected by water.
For the trim pieces where we wanted to add color with paint, we used an engineered composite called Miratec (one of several similar products). It's highly water resistant and can be cut and nailed just like wood.
And for the lap siding on the planters and the panels we chose fiber cement, a product now widely available. It's heavy but it won't rot, and it holds paint extremely well. You'll be able to find this and the other products at your local lumberyard and home center.
You'll no doubt have to modify our deck plans
to fit your house, so here are some things to
consider along with other planning issues:
You'll need to lay out the concrete footings
and anchors (Figure A) precisely, because
the posts that attach to the footings are an
integral part of the railing above. Measure out
from the house 140-3/4 in. in two spots and
run a string line exactly parallel to the house.
The first footing location (Photo 2 below) must
be square with the house along this line, so
use the 3-4-5 triangle method to triangulate
Remove the lower two or three courses of siding to reveal the rim joist of the house, then measure the length of the ledger. Fasten the ledger to the rim joist with 1/2-in. x 4-in. galvanized lag screws.
Position the ledger bolts every 8 in. in a staggered pattern for strength.
Lay out the post positions with string lines and pour the footings. Anchor and brace the posts. Screw a cleat to one end of an uncut joist, lay it on the ledger, level it, and mark the top and bottom joist heights onto each post.
The ledger supports half the weight of the
deck, so be sure to anchor it with 1/2-in. x
4-in. galvanized lag screws every 8 in.
Nail the double rim joist and the side rim joists to the posts. Then cut and nail 2x6 vertical supports below the outer rim (see Figure A).
Nail up the joists using joist hangers. Then tack the outer rim joist even with the inner rim joist and drill a recess and a clearance hole for the 1/2-in. x 10-in. galvanized carriage bolts. Insert and tighten the bolts.
Now you'll want to mark the inner rim joist
location onto the posts (Photo 2). This can
be tricky, so to make the job easier, cut a 6-in.
piece of 1x2 and screw it to the top of a joist,
leaving 1-1/2 in. protruding. Now you can
rest this cleat atop the ledger while you mark
the rim joist locations on each post.
Screw the decking to the tops of the joists, leaving a 1-1/2-in. overhang on the front and sides. Use special self-drilling trim screws.
Snap lines every 3 ft. as guidelines to make sure the decking courses run straight. Cut 3/16-in.- thick spacers for accurate spacing and stagger end joints.
We used special self-tapping trim screws to fasten
the decking to the joists. The slim profile
and small heads allow you to sink them just
below the surface for a nice, clean look (Photo
Cut the posts to length. Then screw the 2x4 outriggers to each post (Figure B). Build the outer planter walls from 2x4s and 3/4-in. plywood and screw them to the outriggers.
Build the inner planter walls in two short sections and screw them to the outriggers. Then screw 3/4-in. plywood side panels into place to enclose the planters.
Now that the basic deck is framed and decked, it's time to build out the planters using the 6x6 post as the core. First, measure up 28 in. from the decking on each 6x6 post (Figure B), use a square to mark all four sides and cut the posts along the mark. Your circular saw won't cut through completely, so finish the cut with your handsaw.
To build the posts out to the larger dimensions of the planter, you'll need to build four sets of outriggers for each post. These outriggers are cut from treated 2x4s and screwed to each post with 3-in. galvanized deck screws. Keep the bottom outrigger set 1-1/2 in. above the brackets.
Next, cut 22-in.-wide pieces from 3/4-in. treated plywood to use as sheathing for the front and rear of the planters. Measure the lengths of plywood so they'll be flush with the bottom outrigger and then extend 40-1/4 in. above the decking. Complete these front and rear panels by screwing a pair of treated 2x4s at the outer edges (Photo 7). You'll notice that our length was a bit over 8 ft., so we added a piece of plywood to fill later. Screw the plywood panel to the outriggers. Make the inner section of the planter in two separate pieces (one above the deck and one below). Check the positioning of each panel with a framing square to make sure the planter box will be square when you finish it. With the front and rear plywood panels screwed into place, cut and screw the side panels into place to complete the box. Finally, cut lengths of 2x4 to fit between the upright 2x4s of each box to support the trim at the top. Cut 2x6 blocks to support the railing (Figure B).
Trim the top sides of the planters with 3/4-in.-thick Miratec composite boards and cap the planters with 5/4 x 6 Trex decking screwed to the trim.
The tops of the planters are first trimmed with Miratec boards. This trim is nailed to the perimeter of the top and then ripped and cut to make the corners of the planters. The very top and the bottom of each planter are trimmed with Trex material, which is even more water resistant. This composite will withstand the moisture rigors of rain and plants at both the bottom and the top of the planters. Be sure to screw each layer at the top and bottom with the decking trim screws. Check the size of your plastic pots and make the trim at the top fit snugly around the rim of the pot.
Now rip 3/4-in. Trex boards to 5-1/2- in.-wide, and cut them to fit at the bottom of the planters. You may need to taper these trim pieces to follow the grade (Photo 13), making sure they're above the ground 1-1/2 in. Then make corner boards from the 3/4-in. trim as shown in Photo 13 and nail the trim to the corners of each planter.
Drill the holes through the top and bottom rails for the aluminum tube balusters. Use an adjustable auger bit for holes slightly larger than 3/4 in.
The adjustable bit allows you to make a hole to exactly fit the aluminum baluster.
Cut and screw on 2x4 subrails. Then fit the rail section between them. Center the rails and then screw the rails to the subrails (see Figure C, below).
Cover the railing side joints with trim pieces. Secure the bottom center of each railing section with a treated 2x4 block screwed into place from above and below.
First measure between the planters and then cut top and bottom subrails from straight 2x4 treated wood (Photo 11). These are the structural supports for the railing system. Set 4-in.-long spacers under the lower subrail, then center the subrail in the planter side and toe screw the bottom of it into the planter on each end. Screw the top subrail into the planter sides so the top of it rests just under the trim as shown in Figure C.
To make the balustrade insert between the subrails (Photo 10), rip a 3/4-in. x 6-in.-wide Trex board for the bottom rail and another the width of the 2x4 (ours was a fat 3-5/8 in.) for the top. Lay out the baluster positions every 4-1/2 in. on center for the 3/4- in.-plus holes. Set your adjustable auger bit (Photo 10) so it will drill a hole just large enough to allow the metal baluster tube to slide freely.
Tip: Drill the holes through the Trex board and into sacrificial plywood backer below to avoid tear-out around the hole.
Also cut your aluminum balusters to length with a 40-tooth carbide blade in a circular saw.
Now you can partially assemble the rail before fastening it to the subrails. First, apply 1-1/2-in. tape to the underside of the lower rail to close off the drilled holes. Stack the upper rail over the lower so the holes match and then insert the tubes. Pull the upper rail slowly and deliberately up along the tubes until it's near the top. The friction will hold the top rail in position as you carefully insert the balustrade (Photo 11), center it on the subrails and then screw it in place with 1-1/2-in. decking screws. Next, cover the top of the upper subrails with a 3/4-in. Trex board ripped to 6 in. wide. To cover the joints between the rails and subrails, rip trim pieces (Photo 12 and Figure C), then nail them on with your finish nailer.
Trim the plywood planter boxes at the bottom with 3/4-in. Trex boards. Trim the vertical corners with ripped lengths of Miratec trim.
Frame the solid end panels with the treated 2x4 top subrails and a treated 2x4 fastened to the deck with 3-in. galvanized screws. Add 3/4-in. plywood to cover the sides.
Trim the inside faces of the 2x4 frame, then install the lower 2x4 subrail, baluster assembly and trim. Cap the panel with a wider 3/4-in. x 7-1/4-in. Trex board.
To add extra privacy at the ends of the deck, build 2-ft.-wide walls extending from the planters and from the house (Figure A). Use the top subrail as the top plate of these walls (Photo 14 and Figure C).
To make the trimming easier here, cap the ends of the short walls with trim, and then install the lower 2x4 subrail over the trim. Make the balustrade the same way as before and then add a 7-1/4-in.-wide railing cap instead of the 6-in.-wide cap that you used for the other rails. Trim the rest of the panels as shown in Figure C and Photo 15.
Cut cement board siding to fit between the trim pieces, leaving a 1/16-in. gap at each end. Use galvanized siding nails and a pneumatic nail gun to secure the siding to the plywood.
Cut the cement siding with a dry diamond blade in your circular saw. You must wear a good-quality dust mask and safety glasses and pay attention to which way the wind is blowing. This stuff really kicks up the dust as you cut it. And if your neighbor's convertible is downwind, ask her if you can move it before you cut.
Fitting the siding around all the railing parts is definitely tedious. A jigsaw will help you make the intricate cuts, and a sharp wood chisel will let you knock out hard-to-cut sections. Fasten the siding to the plywood with a framing nailer fitted with galvanized siding nails (Photo 16). Adjust the pressure of your compressor to set the nail head flush with the surface of the siding. Caulk all the joints with siliconized acrylic caulk when you've completed the siding.
Cut your stair carriages from 2x12 treated wood, making sure the span between the carriages is no more than 16 in. Position the end carriage on the column so it aligns with the deck joist on the opposite side of the column. See Figure D for details.
Because you're using composite decking for the stair treads, you'll need to cut enough carriages to support it at least every 16 in. on center. Each stairway will be unique to each deck, of course, but the basic construction process shown in Figure D remains the same. To make the railing complement the other guardrails of the deck, we made the stairway wider than necessary. The outer carriage that fits against the planter box is exactly the same as the other carriages but is cut short at the top. Make sure it aligns with the rim joist of the deck on the other side of the planter. Cut riser boards from a 1x8 Trex board and cut the stair treads from 5/4 x 6 decking. We placed an additional hand railing against the house for a continuous grip from top to bottom. Note:The stair balusters are not drilled into place like the other balusters but are held with special heavy-duty angled plastic connectors.
Paint parts of your deck to match your house The cement siding and Miratec trim are already primed, so spot-prime any cut ends or nail heads and then paint the trim to match the house. The Trex material can be painted as well. We painted the Trex boards at the base of the planters and the risers of the stairway. The rest of the Trex pieces have a warm natural color that may fade a bit over the years but will be maintenance free.