Best Practices for Building a Detached Deck

Detached Deck

Constructing a deck in your backyard adds excellent value to your home while improving the quality of life. During the planning and building phases, it’s imperative to make the right decisions that reflect your lifestyle. To get the right fit, you must consider various things, including design style, building materials, safety, and installation methods. This post discusses the best practices to consider when planning to install a detached deck.

1. Assess Setbacks

In most states, you’ll require approval from specific planning departments before applying for a proper permit to build your detached deck. Also, the zoning requirements may differ as per your jurisdiction. For instance, the deck must conform to various accessory structure setbacks. Hence, it would help if you conduct more research on zoning limitations within your location and abide by them, when constructing your free-standing deck.

2. Design Your Detached Deck Foundation

Foundations are essential in supporting your detached deck and help transfer its weight to the ground. The entire system comprises deck posts, post caps, concrete footing, and anchors. According to The Spruce, foundation footings (concrete pads) should at least rest 12 inches below the ground. However, some cases may require extending further when dealing with a steep grade or working on frost lines. Thus, it’s wise to hire a structural engineer who can accurately design the placement and size of your foundations to prevent conflicts with other utilities. Deck posts typically connect the upper structure to the footing. Their sizes may depend on your deck’s height, span, and size of the top area. To ensure that your deck withstands wind loads and earthquakes, consider embedding posts in concrete footings or anchor them with fasteners. When constructing larger detached decks, or where the site conditions are challenging, consider hiring a skilled contractor to complete the task safely so as to avoid injuries.

3. Address the Lateral Movement Concern

While building your detached deck to withstand standard loads is essential, you must consider the “what if” scenarios too. What if a potential buyer has intentions to host a dance party out by the garden deck? Imagine fifty guests partying hard on the deck at the same time, all night long! That’s too much weight shifting from side to side, notwithstanding a set of floating steps on the side that sways and digs as the deck moves in different directions. Consequently, this overloads the frame at every joint, ratcheting it enough to cause twists or potential collapse. The best solution to this problem is through the use of bracing. For your detached deck, you’ll require to install braces parallel to the joints, unlike most attached decks that do not require bracing. You can find free helpful guides and bracing details for your detached deck in the American Wood Council’s DCA6 document.

4. Choose the Right Decking Material

It is crucial to consider various things, such as the deck’s appearance, budget, and maintenance requirements. There are different building materials you can choose from, including treated Pine, hardwoods, composite, and modular decking, all of which have their strength and weaknesses. To understand which is the best material to use, consider these four:

  • Hardwoods – there are different variants like blackbutt, Merbau, Jarrah, and Spotted Gum that are highly durable and resilient. Consider choosing from rich-brown jarrah or Merbau red-brown tones for a stunning look. Besides, consider oil-treated hardwoods to prevent deterioration.
  • Treated Pine – this timber option, highly treated to withstand termites and decay, is quite affordable. It’s easy to install and lightweight but requires proper maintenance to remain in excellent condition.
  • Composite decking – this option comprising of a mixture of recycled plastic and wood fibers is eco-friendly and comes in various timber tones. While it’s costly, it’s a better option than timber since it’s resistant to rotting, warping or fading.
  • Modular decking – this is another excellent option made of prefabricated panels that are easy to install. It comes in various timber tones like treated Pine and Merbau. The material you choose defines its maintenance.

Consider choosing decking materials that compliment your home’s exterior. According to HomeAdvisor, selecting the right material for your deck can increase your home’s value by about 70-75 percent.

5. Make Beam Splices in the Right Places

Most builders run built-up beams across multiple posts, and thus, they use twice its length to extend past the supporting post. However, this practice is not recommended, and an engineer’s assessment is required to get it right. The beams on your detached deck experience bending and shear forces. While shear forces perpendicularly act upon the beam’s length, bending causes it to change shape through deflection. There are building codes that define the maximum allowable deflection limits. For deck beams, the deflection limit can be achieved way long before the shear limit is of concern. Any drop in the bending resistance will ultimately increase deflection potential that results in noncompliance with building codes. Besides, avoid putting splices in the middle of a span but design the beam to allow splices to land on the supporting posts.

6. Deal with Corrosion and Moisture

One of the worst enemies for your detached deck is moisture that causes rotting in timber and rusting in metal surfaces. Because detached decks are directly exposed to elements, they are highly vulnerable to the effects of moisture. Therefore, ensure that you pressure treat all the timber frames used on your deck. Such treatment injects chemical preservatives into the timber pores which makes it highly resistant to insects, fungus, and bacteria. Additionally, consider pressure-treating beams within 12-18inches deep in the soil, as per your local building regulations.

While protecting your deck’s wood from decay is vital, protecting its hardware from corrosion is equally essential. It would be better to purchase stainless steel fasteners and hardware while constructing your deck. Additionally, avoid using aluminum flashing alongside pressure-treated timber. The main reason for this is that aluminum reacts with copper-based preservatives. Finally, ensure proper drainage and waterproofing within your detached deck.

Final Thoughts

The six aspects discussed above offer a comprehensive insight on best practices when building a detached deck in your home. Always remember to check and confirm applicable building codes within your jurisdiction before commencing this task. Following these useful practices will help you construct a long-lasting, safe, and durable deck that will increase the value of your home.


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