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Get Ready for Summer: Build a Ground-Level Deck Now!

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Building your ground-level deck is easy if you’re committed to strengthening and leveling the lower parts. An excellent solid frame is essential.

The term “deck” is borrowed from ships where expanses of wooden flooring spanned the hull openings at different levels. Ground-level decks offer a way to add value to your home, create an entertainment area, and cover wasted spaces with beautiful, functional outdoor surfaces.

Table of Contents

Common Ground-level Deck Terms

Some people are more technical than others, and terms perfectly obvious to a contractor may be less apparent to the DIY enthusiast, so let’s cover the decking basics.

BeamA deck beam is a board or collection of boards that support the deck joists and decking. Beams are made from treated lumber. For ground-level decks, beams form the deck frame.
Composite DeckingDecking boards are composed of natural or synthetic materials such as High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) or recycled plastic.
Deck BoardDeck boards are the slats that make up the decking surface. They are usually made from either wood or composite decking material.
Deck FrameA deck frame is a wooden frame raised off the ground and supported by beams and posts. 
Flush BeamsA structural member is positioned at the same level as the joists. 
Frost LineThe minimum depth below the ground does not freeze in winter. Water pipes should always be set below a frost line to prevent them from freezing in the winter.
Ground ContactWhen the joist rim of a floating deck touches the ground
Inner Joists or blockingUsed to stabilize longer joists, creating blocks. They can be either inline or staggered. 
JoistA length of timber is arranged in parallel series to support the higher-level decking boards.
Joist HangersUsed in construction and designed to anchor wooden beams or joists. Primarily used in roofs, decking, floors and ceilings to create strong, long-lasting support.
PlinthWeight-bearing earth-embedded concrete blocks upon which a beam or footing rests.
Pressure Treated WoodWood is deeply infused with preservative chemicals using pneumatic pressure, extending its durability exponentially.
Support BeamIt provides support across the concrete blocks or support pillars and is used to support the deck frame.
Treated LumberDry lumber without a pressure-induced deep penetrating treatment. It is often used as support pillars and beams. 

Benefits of Ground-level Decks

A ground-level deck could be the finest solution to increase your outdoor living space. It doesn’t need deep footings because it’s detached from the home and may be placed wherever you like in the yard. 

It doesn’t require steps or railings because it’s only a few inches off the ground. When taken as a whole, these features make it superior to traditional decks and patios in terms of price and ease of installation. 

With a little construction background and our help, you can finish it in a weekend.

Ground-level Deck Planning

Rather than giving you a ground-level deck plan, I’ll share the principles, and you can use these to design and build a ground-level deck where it suits you. 

Your intended area may be flat, have jutting immovable rocks, or include a tree you want to keep. Where you build your ground-level deck is your choice, but my advice is to keep it simple. You can save time, money and some frustration by considering these factors as you plan a ground-level deck.   

  • Stick to squares or rectangles to start with. Building a hexagon ground-level deck might not be the best first project idea.
  • Even if you build your ground-level deck on flat ground, use plinths or concrete foundations to support your deck frame.
  • Adding a waterproof strip between the footing and beams will save you years of maintenance costs.
  • A Lazer spirit level allows you to ensure your ground-level deck is level
  • Facia boards help add a finishing touch, hiding the deck’s ends for a less complicated solution.
  • The decking is the most expensive part. Composite, aluminum, or pressure-treated decking are some of the many materials you can choose, each with its respective price tag. 
  • If you are near water, consider WearDeck, a terma-stable option.
  • Pressure-treated decking is a low-cost option that could reduce the price by half, but it needs to be refinished every few years. 
  • The most popular choices for decking materials are cedar, pressure-treated wood, and composite.
  • Avoid ground contact for your joist rim. 

Materials Required

  • Concrete Pre-mix
  • Construction Skews
  • Corner Plates
  • Facia Boards
  • Framing nails
  • Grooved decking boards
  • Hidden fasteners system
  • Joist hangers
  • Positive placement nails
  • Post Bases
  • Pressure-treated lumber
  • Solid deck boards

Tools Required

  • Circular saw
  • Corded drill – my preference for hole drilling 
  • Cordless drill/drivers
  • Level (at least a 4-footer)
  • Measuring tape to measure with
  • Rubber mallet
  • Saw horses
  • Speed square
  • Clamps with a 6-inch gap
  • Yard tools: shovel, wheelbarrow, mattock

6 Steps to Building Ground-level Decks

Step One – Establish if You Need a Permit

Many people are taken aback when they learn they need a permit to construct a deck on their property.

Though it may seem more work and expensive, your deck must be constructed following all applicable building codes and ordinances.

If you want to construct a deck, you will likely require a building permit. A deck permit application must comply with all applicable zoning regulations.

Local authorities and homeowner associations have zoning laws that dictate what structures can be put up on a given property and where they can be located, for instance, how close to boundary lines.

Once you receive approval from the zoning department to construct your deck, the designs will be sent to a building inspector, who will inspect the deck’s framework to ensure it complies with building codes.

Step Two – Build and Square the Deck Frame

Decide on the size of your deck, remembering the length influences the number of support beams and joists required and, therefore, the overall cost.

The joists on your deck need to be appropriately supported, so ensure you install enough deck beams per the International Residential Building Code requirements. If you’re building a floating deck that rests on concrete blocks, use double-layered wood on the longest sides for added strength.

Depending on the framing lumber’s size, species, and grade, a beam may be required every 8 to 12 feet (2.5 to 3.5 m). For instance, a deck with 2×8 southern pine joists set 16 inches apart requires a support beam only every 8 feet (2.5 m).

Assemble the rim joists, which form the deck’s outer frame. I suggest using metal bolt-on corner brackets like the H2 series deck corner brackets with a gusset for better stability and rigidity. I use 2×6 pressure-treated wood for my floating deck.

To reduce work and enhance the look of your floating deck, your deck boards should run lengthwise. Mark the long side of the rim joists every 16 inches, the measurements of where you will attach the hangers into which each joist slot.

Fit two joists in the center to stabilize your picture frame without making it too heavy. Square the frame using the Pythagoras theorem of 3-4-5 – if the square sides of a triangle are 3 and 4 feet, respectively, the diagonal measurements will be 5 feet (or meters).

On the rim, make a 3-foot mark on the inside edge of one side of the corner and a 4-foot mark on the other. Measure diagonally between the two marks on the two inner edges; if the angle is square, the distance between the marks should be 5 feet.

Step Three – Mark and Dig the Footing Holes

Use the picture frame as a fail-safe measure to accurately mark where you’ll place footing holes – chalk power works great. Eight to twelve feet is the maximum spacing between support beams for a platform deck. 

I would reduce that to six feet spacing for a floating deck because you won’t be using flush beams as they can add height. A floating deck typically uses short footings bolted to the rim and standing on a floating plinth, but more on this simple way later.

Once you have marked where you want to dig, remove the frame and the holes (the hard work). Typically holes for a new deck depend on the soil, with sandy soil requiring deeper holes. Make the holes about a foot deep and two feet square on loamy or stony soil.

Fill the holes with concrete to just above ground level – keeping the concrete wet for a day or two to mature. Once it’s fully set, cover the concrete blocks with gravel and install a two-foot-square paving stone on top.

Using a mallet and a laser light level, ensure that all the paving stones on the concrete are level. In effect, we’re creating floating plinths, the gravel allowing us to make minor adjustments and avoid ground contact. 

This will make the joist installation later very much easier. Cover the ground under the deck to inhibit weed growth if you have crushed stone or gravel. 

Step Four – Position the Floating Deck or Platform Deck

The Difference Between A Platform Deck and a Floating One

The difference between a platform deck and a floating one is the height; a platform deck is higher off the ground. Platform decks can also be tiered at different levels.

Level the Rim

We will do the joist installation after we’ve leveled the framing. To prevent the wood’s deterioration, you want your deck close to the ground but not touching. Avoid creating platform decks that require stairs or a ramp to get up (unless that’s what you want).

Ground contact offers microorganisms direct access to the wood, potentially causing wood rot, I,.e., avoid ground contact. We can rest the frame on the flagstones if their height allows, but lay some waterproofing strips down first.

Fitting Footings

Other alternatives are to use adjustable footings or 4×4 pressure-treated timber. As timber is the cheaper option, let’s explore it. Start by getting the corners off the ground and bolting the 4×4 timber into the corners.

Once leveled, squared, and with no ground contact, bolt the rim to the footers and place waterproofing between the footer and flagstone. Extend the corner timber to the required railings measurement for platform decks requiring safety railings.

Step Five – Fix the Joist Hangers, Installing the Joists

On a rectangular deck, the quickest route for the floor joists is typically from the front to the back. For this reason, it’s prudent for designers to maintain the span between the floor joists as narrow as feasible, as the joists need to be more significant if the span is wider.

Because rim joists are set at right angles to the rest of the deck or house’s joists, they often run parallel to the length of the structure.

End joists, not rim joists, are the outermost joists in a floor’s construction. Rim joists are the only joists that aren’t parallel to the floor joists. In a bird’s-eye view, they resemble the letter “A.” Framing nails are used to secure them to the plate.

Metal strapping, often known as tie downs, may be used to fortify the bond. In extreme movements, such as that produced by strong winds or an earthquake, strapping can assist in keeping everything together. The straps serve as a kind of structural glue for the whole thing.

Framing nails attach the rim joist to the butt end of the joist. As a result of this sturdy connection, the floor joist remains rigid and level.

Hangers are highly recommended if you combine a conventional timber rim joist and an engineered floor joist. Each joist in the floor is fastened to the lip with one hanger.

Step Six – Fit the Deck Boards

Think Before Cutting Decking Boards

Before building anything, always plan in detail and purchase materials accordingly.

Whatever deck board you choose, you’ll be paying a premium, so carefully think through all the cuts.  

Decide when to cut what pieces from the boards and in what order. Don’t make the mistake I made in the beginning, causing me to end with three 3-foot sections when all you needed to finish my project was two 45-inch boards.

I learned this lesson many years ago. Fool me twice; shame on me. I won’t make that mistake again.

Screw the Deckboards Down

Using a chalk line, draw a line on the deck boards directly above the middle of the joists. Use two screws for each attachment to every joist the board crosses. Drilling guide holes (one sixteenth) will make turning the screws easier. 

Screws must be counter-sunk to avoid injuries. Once you’ve finished attaching the boards, check for any screws that may be standing proud and redo them.