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A Complete DIY Guide to Designing, Planning, & Budgeting for Your Residential Deck Build

This guide will get you through the process of planning, designing, and budgeting for your residential deck.

When it comes to enhancing your outdoor living area, few exterior improvements outshine a brand new wooden deck. Picture yourself basking in the warm sunlight, sipping your morning coffee, or hosting a cookout with friends and family on your very own deck. A deck adds both beauty and utility to your outdoor space. It also serves as an important access to enter and exit your home. A new deck will add value to your home too. For every dollar spent on a deck, it adds approximately .65 to .75 cents in value to your home.

Now that I have talked you into building a deck, are you ready to do this?

Ask Yourself These Questions First:

How much money do you want to spend on the total project? Remember, this will include all materials and labor for the project. We will figure costs later in this process to help validate your budget goals.

Most people use decks for the same reason; to enjoy the outdoors. Everyone has their own way of using their deck, so you should brainstorm to figure out how you will want to use your deck and plan accordingly.

You should figure out where your deck is going to be built. Most people build them on the back of their homes, but you will need to decide exactly where you are going to build it. This will allow us to take required measurements and size the deck accordingly. You should also consider factors like sun exposure, privacy, and the surrounding landscape.

Usually, this is dependent on the home size, the lot, and of course your budget. If you have a massive house, you will most likely be building a larger deck than someone with a significantly smaller home. Typical deck sizes range from 12’x12′ (144 sq/ft) – 16’x24′ (384 sq/ft).

The Components of a Deck

a traditional style deck overlooking the ocean at sunset


Every structure needs a footing to hold it in place. The footing acts as the foundation for your deck. These pier footings will hold your support posts. An alternative is to use “deck-blocks” which are like precast concrete footings with notches to hold your wooden support posts in place, above grade.


Support posts are the 6″x6″ pressure treated wooden posts that support your entire deck. If the deck is attached, you will usually only need these posts on the outside corners and center. If your deck is detached, then you will need support posts on all sides. Additionally, you will need to install post anchors to attach the support posts to the concrete.


A ledger board is only used on decks that are attached to an existing house or other structure. A ledger board is defined as a piece of treated lumber that attaches your deck to your house. It adds strength to your joists, and provides stiffness to the deck framing.


There are many different types of flashing that can be used for decks. These include: drip edge flashing, roll flashing, vinyl-back flashing, vent pipe flashing, and step flashing. Vinyl-back flashing is the most common flashing used in deck installation today. Flashing protects the beams and joists from rot and decay by keeping water moving instead of pooling.


A girder is a large beam (treated lumber) that act as the primary supports for your deck structure. If you can picture, girders support the beams. Girders are more rigid and carry longer spans, while beams are meant to flex and help distribute loads more evenly. Basically, your beams and girders build the “skeleton” of your deck that supports your railings, posts, balusters, decking, and stairs.


Rim joists are a type of joist that form the outer edge or perimeter of the floor assembly. Rim joists are responsible for distributing the loads from above, down to the foundation below. They also provide for a place to secure the floor system.


A joist is a horizontal framing member that is used to span open spaces. They typically sit in between structural beams and assist with distributing loads to vertical supports.


Bridging or solid blocking is a piece of wood tightly installed between two floor joists to provide rigidity to the entire floor system. Bridging prevents the joists from twisting and warping and distributes the load between joists.


Typical wooden deck railings have multiple components that when built, provide safety for the people using the deck. Railing is in place so that you don’t fall off the porch and injure yourself (mainly for kids and pets). Make sure you familiarize yourself with the top rail, rail posts, the cap rail, and the balusters. Typically, balusters allow no more than 4″ spacing in between each one.


Your decking is the surface you walk on, or the floor for the deck. You can go with a straight cut pattern or get fancy and add alternating board sizes. You can build a picture frame style, diagonal decking, and even the very complex herringbone pattern! Simple deck designs are easy to install and more cost effective. If you want to use some of the other styles mentioned previously, your costs will inflate. Note: decking boards are typically spaced 1/8″ apart to allow for expansion and contraction of the wood.


There are only two ways to access a deck; the door on the home and the stairs built on to the deck. Don’t forget to add stairs to your deck design or you will be trapped on it and not be able to access the yard without jumping off the deck. Treads are the horizontal part of a step that you walk on. Risers are the vertical part of a step. Stringers are the weird shaped side pieces on wooden stairs that hold the risers and treads together on the sides.

How to Design a Deck:

Custom decking catalog

Step 1: Define Your Deck's Purpose

Are you creating a space for pool access, outdoor dining, entertaining, wheel chair access or just for relaxation? Your deck’s purpose will influence its size, layout, complexity, design elements, and ultimately your total cost.


Decks can be as simple or as complex as you desire. Every deck has it’s purpose. Attached, detached, swimming pool decks, covered decks, multi-level, and rooftop are all different types of decks. My recommendation is to hire a contractor to build the deck if it is anything more complex than a simple attached or detached deck.


Everyone wants a large deck, but not everyone can afford one. Sometimes the home size dictates what is required, but most of the time the budget makes the final executive decision. Your job is to get most of what you want, for as cheap as possible. If you are building this for yourself, then you have saved a considerable amount of cash already. ProTip: If you are designing the deck yourself, make sure you size with dimensional lumber’s standard lengths in mind. (8′, 12′, 16′) This will drastically cut down on wasted materials, which saves you money. Please don’t build a 7’x13′ deck.


The best way to get all of your ideas for the deck down on paper, is to make simple hand drawn sketches of your ideas. After a few iterations, you will be able to nail down the design you want. Pay close attention to stair placement and access to the home’s entry. When you decide on a layout, you can take measurements on your home and start to figure out what your rough dimensions are going to be.


Usually, the materials are a no-brainer for building decks. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume you are using pressure-treated lumber from your local home improvement store. At this stage, you should be deciding how you want your deck to look. Do your research to learn about options for your railings, posts, post caps, balusters, decking, and finials. 

Check Your Local Building Code:

A residential home plan with a beautiful front porch and decking


Take your sketches and turn them into a well-thought out plan. Record actual measurements out at your project area to ensure your design will fit. Make final decisions on decking, balusters, railing, and stair height and location. You will need to gather some elevations out on the corners and measure the floor height from existing home to the ground, if you are building an attached deck. This will get you ready for permitting. Before you submit for your building permit, you want to build and finalize your budget. We will revisit budget in the next section.


Review the “wood deck” section in the international building code to find the requirements for your project. Call your local county permitting office for specific requirements in your local jurisdiction. Please don’t skip this step, tearing down decks sucks. The code will tell you what size and spacing is required for your decking, rails, balusters, stairs, and post size.


In our county, we are required to get a building permit for any structure over 12′ in any dimension. Most decks require a permit, but if you build it 12’x12′ or smaller, you don’t have to get one (in our area). Permits aren’t usually very expensive. A deck permit in our locale is around $60.

Budgeting for a Deck Build

Gold bars and a $100 bill


Using the detailed plan you created earlier, we will be able to closely estimate the amount of materials that are needed to build your deck. This is an opportunity to see what the actual costs are going to be. The things you will need to consider for materials include: decking, railing, finials, balusters, support posts, concrete footing/deck blocks, stairs, stringers, joists, and hardware such as nails, deck screws, joist hangers, etc. I know it is a lot to consider, but it is do-able.


Most DIYers will be using a local home improvement store to purchase all of their materials. There are other regional businesses that specialize in construction materials also. You want to find the materials and figure what it costs you to purchase and transport them to your job site. Always budget for about 10% more than you need (materials only). When you are finished, you will know how much of your budget you are using. This will confirm the need to apply for a building permit and get the job started.


Tools you will need for the layout should be part of your budget and will include: a tape measure, chalk boxes, framing square, and a speed square. Click the links to watch a video showing you how to use each tool.

Tools you will need for excavation and other generalized construction activities include: post-hole diggers, an auger, drain spades, shovels, clamps, adjustable wrench, and a flat pry bar.

You will likely need to acquire a decent table saw for larger material cuts, while you can use a miter saw for smaller cross cuts. You may also use a circular saw for most of your cuts. If you have curved cuts and/or tight spots, a jigsaw might be what you need. 

You can choose to use a hammer, but there are much more efficient tools you can use such as a pneumatic nailer, a tack hammer, or an impact driver. You will also need to keep a cordless drill handy for the supporting post bolts and anchors.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning."

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We are construction junkies and love educating people on the conventions and trends in the residential construction space. We use our blog to post informational articles, how-to’s and sometimes show off our own construction projects. We love the transparency and it really does give non-construction folks a view into the industry.


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