Building Ground Level Decks
Countless decking boards and joists have felt the wrath of my framing hammer. I have no idea how many decks I have built in the past 23 years - possibly 150 or more. Some were simple, some were very complex. Perhaps my favorite was a narrow deck that had beautiful 6x6 redwood railing posts. There was a long stairwell that dropped down to an octagonal landing. From that landing there were three different stairs that pointed you in different directions. Let your imagination wander. With decks and lumber it is easy to create your visions.
Ground Level Grade Beams
One of the more recent decks I built employed these concrete deck support beams. Grade beams take more time to install than a regular wood beam. However, once installed, they are unsurpassed in their strength and support. The key to long-term stability lies in pouring the grade beam and the support piers at the same time. This is a breeze as the grade beam form simply spans over the pier holes and continues on to the next pier.
I feel the easiest way to install grade beams at the correct height is to actually build the outer frame of the deck first. Get this structure square and level and you now know exactly where the bottom of your floor joists will be! Be careful, don't forget that the grade beam height needs to be 1.5 inches below the bottom of your deck joists. This space will be made up with the treated 2x6 sill plate that gets bolted to the grade beam.
Building a deck? Make the best decisions with my helpful and thorough Deck Installation & Repair Checklist. I offer a 100% Money Back Guarantee.
Prevention of Costly Mistakes
When I perform an autopsy on a deck gone bad, the most common cause of death is poor planning. People seem to be fooled by large open spaces. A 12 by 15 foot open space seems huge. Too bad that it will barely fit a four foot diameter round table and just a couple of chairs!
The easiest method of planning a deck is actually placing the deck furniture on the lawn exactly where you think the deck will be. Space the furniture comfortably. Be sure you sit at a table or chair and see if there is enough room to get by. Is your grill going to be on the deck? If so, roll it in place. Once all the furniture is in place, stretch a string around the edges of the furniture to create the outer boundary of the deck. Take your measurements and draw the scale plan. Yes, I know your neighbors will think you are crazy. But you will get the last laugh!
Rust is Real
During the past seven years I have become the biggest fan of stainless steel nails and screws. I have revisited many of the decks I built and have witnessed the onslaught of rust on the decking nails. Wonderful galvanized nails I thought were maintenance-free have failed.
Stainless steel is the only way to go. It may cost you an additional $50 for the average deck. It is a small price to pay for no rust! Stainless fasteners are readily available. Many real lumber yards handle them. The big box home centers have them as well. If you decide to use nails, make sure they are ring shanked. These shanks resist pullout.
New & Improved Screws!
The problem with screws in the past was pilot holes. It was not uncommon for a screw to snap as it was drawn tightly through decking lumber. This is a hassle. A company called Design House developed a unique decking screw. It has two wonderful features. There is a knurled portion of the screw shaft just above the threads. This portion spins while the screw is driven. It actually bores a slightly larger hole for the unthreaded portion of the screw shaft. This reduces friction so that snapping screws is a thing of the past.
The other feature are small cutting edges under the screw head. These cutting edges help to create the recessed area necessary to allow the screw head to remain flush with the decking. I used them on a deck recently. They were a pleasure to work with.
(*UPDATE: In 2000, Design House went bankrupt. I have been unable to find these special screws. Perhaps another manufacturer will realize their value!)