Outdoor Deck…Planning to build your dream deck!

Outdoor Deck Planning - quinju.com

TV renovation shows have the ability to make building a deck look very easy, what they often overlook is the time and detail involved in planning. Doing it yourself or your hiring a professional planning is directly related to the quality of the finished product.

Dream it…how you will use your deck?

Decks have become a seasonal extension of indoor living space offering privacy and/or functionality depending on the moment. A “deck” simply references the support but they have become the structure providing living-58DeckingCedarWood3spaces like outdoor kitchens, dining areas or movie theaters. Imagine how your new deck will work with future outdoor additions like fireplaces or hot tubs.

Consider the location, using spray paint or a garden hose to outline the proposed deck will help you visualize the layout you want. Place furniture around that space and sit down, imagine using the the area and  understand the flow of people.

A piece of graph paper, a ruler and a pencil will get you started. Each square can represent one foot, go ahead layout out your deck plan. If you do want to try a free design tool go here!

Look for any obstructions that may cause an alteration of design. Things like basement windows, vents or gas meters need to be dealt with at the beginning stages of the plan.

Privacy is important, try and imagine what you will see or who will see you when you are trying to relax on your new deck, ensure you account for the new elevation!

Budget…moving towards reality!

Okay this is where you come back to reality and design something that you can afford. Realize that it is always cheaper to do things right once. You can’t go wrong by going with quality and remember the options can often be added in later.

Deck prices can range by region, experience level of professional or products used. Professionally installed pressure treated wood decks can range between $15.00 and $25.00 per square foot, while composite decking can range between $30.00 to $45.00 per square foot. Remember that you may need to budget for railings, stairs, lighting, privacy fences and even covered areas.  

Decking Materials…What is available?

All decking materials installed properly will give you what you need for a period of time. The bigger question is what is your “want”? Natural, exotic or maintenance free!

There are really two categories of decking products Wood and Made-by-Human products.

NOTE: Any choice in wood products needs to bear the markings from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) to ensure the product comes from responsibly managed and legal forests.

Wood Products

Deck made with Pressure Treated wood

Pressure Treated (PT) lumber

Is not the species of wood but the chemical process that ensures the lumber has some resistance to decay.

PT lumber is a low cost, available everywhere and easily installed option. The product is the common building product for production homes and looks good for a limited amount of time without substantial maintenance.

Green vs Brown PT lumber?  There really is no difference in the quality or chemicals used, just the color, which will fade quickly. Additional information on the treating of lumber and chemicals involved can be found at  Canadian Wood Council.

Red Wood

Made from the sequoia Sempervirens tree native to the west coast, this product resists insects and damage due to moisture, it is easy to work with and holds stain very well. If you live on the west coast the product is priced right and therefore available at most lumber yards. If you are the east coast, good luck!


Has good resistance to decay and insects. Cedar is easy to work with but requires continuous maintenance. Cedar is a soft wood, which means furniture and foot traffic damage, may be evident in the first few years.


Native to the southeast this product offers resistance to insects and decay similar to Cedar and Redwood due to an aromic natural oil called Cypressene. If you can find this product (outside southeast) it is typically priced between Red wood and Cedar.


Native to Burma, India and Indonesia teak is a dense product that has natural qualities to defend itself from decay and insects. Due to availability and cost this product is typically reserved for outdoor projects like high quality furniture, however available for decking.

Tiger Wood

Native to Brazil (Gonçalo Alves species) and Western Africa (Lovoa trichilioides species) tiger wood is a dense product that has natural qualities to defend itself from decay and insects. Typically available only online, often reserved for interior flooring and furniture it can be used for exterior decking. Tiger wood makes claim to be cheaper than teak.IPE Wood deck

Ipe (pronounced ee-peh)

Native to Brazil this product has recently become more available in North America. Ipe is reportedly twice as strong as Oak, more durable than Redwood or Cedar. Ipe is naturally resistant to insects and decay.

Remember to look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified lumber, it’s good for everyone!

Made-by-Human Decking Products

Only the deck boards are discussed here, typically the structure for all these products are made from pressure treated wood or other natural wood products as few alternatives for wood, have structural properties.

Composite Decking

Is made from a mixture of recycled plastics and wood fiber pressed into a finished product with a faux wood grain finish and available in a wide range of colors. The product is maintenance free and relatively easy to source and install. The cost of composite is consistent with the products life expectancy. Based on color, composite can become extremely hot with full sun exposure, therefore remember the darker it is the hotter it gets.

PVC Decking

Is a by-product of the oil and gas industry. PVC decking products typically have a more neutral color pallet. Texture can be embossed into the boards to improve appearance and traction. PVC holds colour very well and is easy to install. Like Composite decking the product can become hot in direct sun.


is an option offering watertight installation so you can enjoy the space under your deck. The product boasts ease of installation and maintenance. Like all man-made products exposure to sunlight will cause damage over time, aluminum is a conductive product therefore heats up in direct sunlight.

Code requirements…do I really need a permit?

Here is the important stuff, protect your investment and reputation by building the deck properly, according to all local codes. In most municipalities, it is a requirement to get a building permit to install a deck so make sure you check with your municipal building department or website for details.

Building Officials typically have taken specific training to enforce rules that were put in place to protect life, serious injury and property. If you choose to disregard rules, don’t be surprised by costly challenges!

Understanding these terms will often assist you with planning and the building permit application

Ledger board

This is typically the first board installed on your deck, some areas may refer to this as your rim joist. The ledger board is attached to the house and all joists run perpendicular from the ledger. Ideally, ledger boards are attached using leg bolts or threaded rod, through brick veneer or siding, connecting to the ring joist of your interior floor system.

Rim joist

The perimeter joist in your deck design. The rim joist makes up the box of your deck. Joist- support the decking material and transfer load to the beams and/or foundation. Joists are typically at 16” on center (O.C.) and depth of joist is determined by span.


is the distance between structural supports, which could be a beam, foundation or ledger board. If the span is too long, deflection occurs resulting in a bouncy deck which can cause a host of related problems.

A quick guide to sizing a joist is that it can span 1.5 times in feet, the depth in inches i.e. an 8” joist can span up to 12 ft and a 10” joist can span up to 15 ft. This is just a guide, you must seek professional assistance for your specific situation.


deck terms

Below the joists but over the foundation are the beams. The beams transfer the deck load to the foundation. Beams are used to support the end of the joists or mid-span of joists to reduce the span.

A quick guide to sizing beams is A 2 ply beam can span in feet the depth in inches. In other words a 10” 2 ply beam can span 10 ft and a 12” 2 ply beam can span 12 ft. In each case this is assuming that the beam is supporting joists spanning no more than 12 ft. IMPORTANTThis is just a guide, you must seek professional assistance for your specific situation.


These metal brackets provide a solid connect between the joist to ledger or in many cases the beam, when installed flush to joists. If structural hangers are required on your deck project then ensure you use the right nails or screws, not all are created equal! The deck design software suggested above will help you specify your structural hangers.


Designed to transfer the deck load i.e. weight of humans, snow, gravity and building materials, to the earth below the frost line. Concrete piers, block walls, deck blocks and pressure treated posts are all common products to transfer deck loads.

Recently we came across an ingeniously simple product called Post Protector really protects your investment, take a look here.


Often referred to as “guards” in code literature, it is important to understand the requirements specific to your region. Railing height, baluster spacing, and connection details all vary based on region and deck design. Many building departments provide literature and post online, railing connection details. These same departments may require that you submit connection details for manufactured railings prior to final inspection.


We all know what stairs are, however some terms may assist in understanding directions as you plan your deck. To confirm what you may or may not already know:

  • Treads are the place where you put your foot, don’t worry it gets a bit harder! Treads are typically at least 10” deep.
  • Riser is the face of the stair between each tread. The riser is no more than 7-3/4” tall and all risers in a set of stairs, need to be the same height.
  • Stringer is the structure that runs from the top stair to the bottom supporting each stair. Stringers are typically found on each outer edge of stairs unless width of stair dictates a third stringer.
  • Total Run or at times referred to as “Total Going” is the total distance the stairs projects away from the deck in a horizontal plane.
  • Total Rise is the height from the ground to top of deck. This distance is divided equally by a number no more than 7-3/4”

DIY or hiring a contractor knowledge is likely your best tool in the box. Understanding the details will protect your investment and ensure a safe, beautiful end product that will last as long as your pride.

A deck project can be quite overwhelming, the home improvement project software that is part of your free quinju.com subscription will help ensure you are on top of things at all times by collecting everything and anything about your project in one place it is like having your home renovation binder in your pocket anytime, anywhere!

Register for quinju.com so you don’t miss subsequent blogs that will get you swinging a hammer like a pro!


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One Thought to “Outdoor Deck…Planning to build your dream deck!”

  1. John Smith

    This is a very comprehensive article with good valuable insights. Definitely going to help with our new deck project. Thanks!


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