How to Plan a Deck: Thinking Through Design & Layout

October 27, 2021
HomeOutdoor Living IdeasHow to Plan a Deck: Thinking Through Design & Layout

Considering adding a deck to your home? A deck gives you a beautiful, functional outdoor living space where you can enjoy the great outdoors without leaving behind all the comforts of home. To learn how to plan a deck, you’ll need to think through several factors, from cost considerations right down to installation.

How to plan a deck project featuring sideview of deck stairs leading to lawn

A Brief Look at Deck Anatomy


Before learning the steps for how to plan a deck, you need to know just what a deck’s components are.

Get insight on everything from footers to joist spacing, so you can plan like a pro.

To plan for your deck project, start by thinking through these important factors.

Step 1: Decide if You’ll DIY or Work With a Contractor

Tools needed for a deck inspection

DIY

DIY-ing your deck will save you on labor costs, but it also may influence certain factors of your build based on your skillset and time constraints.

Learn more about what questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether a DIY deck project is right for you.

local-deck-contractors-timbertech

Work With a Contractor

Working with a contractor will add to your overall deck costs but a contractor’s skillset and equipment better ensures your deck will meet your needs and aesthetic preferences — and is built up to code.

Plus, you’ll avoid doing the work yourself.

CHECK IN AS YOU GO
As you learn more about how to plan a deck, ask yourself whether you’re comfortable DIY-ing the build at each step.

Step 2: Consider Cost Factors

The cost to build a deck will depend primarily on the following factors:

Additional Costs: Will Your Deck Require Pre-Work?

Pre-work refers to any work that needs to happen prior to your deck build to ensure the success of your project. These measures can affect the cost of your build, as well as the time it takes to complete.

Examples include:

  • An existing substructure that needs to be torn down.
  • Landscaping work to clear or level the area your deck will be built.
  • Addressing any jobsite access restraints.

Get a Project Estimate

Use our Cost Calculator tool to get estimated costs related to your preferred material and more.  

Step 3: Determine Deck Shape & Size

To think through the right size and shape for your build, you’ll need to consider several factors, including:

How to plan a deck featuring furnished outdoor deck in backyard with view of trees

Deck Function

How do you primarily plan to use your deck? A low, sprawling deck will suit large gatherings, but might not give you the cozy feel you want for a quiet retreat.   

How to plan a deck project featuring multi-level home with cobblestone chimney in furnished backyard deck

Home Architectural Style

Your deck should complement your home exterior both in size and shape. To keep it simple, a classic rectangle is a good choice for any style of home.  

How to plan a deck project featuring a poolside deck behind a single family home

Yard Layout

Space available in your yard as well as existing features such as landscaping or a patio, pool, or a slope will all affect your deck size and shape.

Before you confirm your deck design, it’s a good idea to confirm it’s safe to dig in your backyard. US residents can call 811, while Canadian residents can visit Click Before Your Dig. The presence of electrical wires, plumbing, sewer lines, and other utilities underground can affect where your footings go — which, in turn, could influence the location and size of your deck.  

PRO TIP
Be aware that larger decks and non-traditional shapes and angles will add costs and complexity to your build. Keep your budget and DIY skillset in mind when considering your deck layout.

Keep It Simple: Common Deck Shapes & Sizes

When thinking through how to plan a deck, you can minimize complexity by sticking to simple deck shapes. Then, launch the template of your choice in our 3D Deck Designer to fit your specific needs and preferences.

How to plan a deck project picture frame deck on beach

Square Island Deck

CHOOSE FOR:

✓ A build that can be placed almost anywhere in your yard.

✓ Typically a straightforward installation.

✓ The option for railing (rather than the requirement), thanks to the deck’s low height.

How to plan a deck project with aerial view of furnished backyard deck

12’ x 16’ Raised Deck

CHOOSE FOR:

✓ A spacious design to suit different functions.

✓ A traditional shape that can be straightforward to DIY.

✓ Versatility that works with a wide range of home styles and yard layouts.

How to plan a deck project featuring wicker seating in wooded area

Wraparound Deck

CHOOSE FOR:

✓ A place to take in panoramic views of your yard.

✓ A build that takes up minimal space by hugging your home’s facade.

Note that DIY difficulty can vary due to how boards lay at the corner.

Explore More Deck Plans

Discover more customizable deck plan templates to find the right one for you.

Visualize your deck layout in our Deck Design tool

Step 4: Acquire Your Residential Building Permit

Residential decks typically need building permits

Once you have a basic idea of your deck plan, the next step for how to plan a deck? Acquiring a building permit.

While every municipality is different, acquiring a permit usually requires submitting a drawing for approval to your local building codes department and then undergoing an inspection process. 

If you choose to work with a contractor, they will guide you through the permit acquisition process or secure the building permit for you.

Step 5: Decide on Deck Material

When considering your deck material options, you’ll want to think through not only the upfront price, but also long-term costs for maintenance and repairs or replacements.  

Your primary deck material choices include:

Answer how long does decking last in terms of pressure treated lumber

Traditional Wood

Includes pressure-treated lumber, softwoods like cedar, and hardwoods, like Ipe.

CHOOSE FOR:

Regular maintenance (seriously). All traditional wood options will require costly, rigorous maintenance every year or two after installation, increasing your workload.  

Display swatch of Tigerwood composite deck boards

Capped Composite

A blend of recycled wood and high-performance polymers, protected with a fully engineered cap and made from majority recycled material.

CHOOSE FOR:

An enduringly beautiful deck with minimal upkeep.

Composite decking swatch of TimberTech Mahogany

Capped Polymer

A unique blend of high-performance polymers, from core to cap. Sourced from majority recycled material and defined by the real wood looks you love.

CHOOSE FOR:

High-performance, low-maintenance decking that delivers your best life outdoors.

See Why Wood Is No Good

Learn how TimberTech® capped polymer and capped composite decking beats wood in every way.

How to Plan a Deck: Toolkit & Installation Best Practices

Now that you’ve thought through the first few steps for how to plan a deck, it’s time to dive into installation best practices so you can turn your vision into reality.

RATHER WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL?
Find local contractors ready to offer guidance on how to plan a deck. FIND A CONTRACTOR

Step 6: Collect the Tools You’ll Need

While there are many tools that can be used for your deck project, these are the basics. If you don’t own one or more of these items, you can likely buy or rent them from your local hardware or big box store.

Measuring and leveling tools for deck planning

Measuring & Leveling Tools

✓ Tape measure 

✓ Carpenter square 

✓ Deck spacer/spacing tool 

✓ String line and/or level 

Deck-Building-Power-Miter-Saw

Cutting Tools

✓ Miter saw 

✓ Jigsaw  

Cordless Drill

Fastening Tools

✓ Cordless driver 

✓ Hammer  

To install proper concrete footings, you’ll need to rent an auger or use shovels to dig holes to the proper depth.

Step 7: Get Familiar With Deck Building Best Practices

Understanding the best practices for installing a deck is essential to your DIY deck project. Plan on working with a contractor? Even so, knowing what goes into your deck build can be crucial to communicating effectively with your pro and ensuring you get everything you want out of your build.

IMPORTANT
Always refer to the installation guides for your chosen building material before breaking ground on your project. READ INSTALL GUIDES

Building Your Substructure

A deck is only ever as healthy as its substructure — that is, the posts, joists, beams, and footings that make up the frame of your deck.

Key installation best practices for your substructure include:

How to plan a deck project with under deck supports on a lush lawn

Footings

Footings are typically made of concrete poured or inserted into holes dug into the ground. In colder climates, they will need to extend below the frostline to prevent frost heave.

How to plan a deck with proper substructure

Joists & Blocking

Joists and blocking make up the frame of your deck. Joists are typically spaced 12” to 16” on center, while blocking is inserted between joists, 4’ to 6’ apart, to prevent movement of the joists.

How to plan a deck project with drill and fastener on composite decking board

Proper Hardware

Hardware includes fasteners, joist hangers, screws, and other pieces that secure your deck components together. Using the proper hardware is essential to your deck’s structural integrity.

ENSURE YOU SUBSTRUCTURE LASTS
Prevent moisture build-up by applying joist tape to the tops of your joists and ledger board. LEARN MORE

Installation Guidance

Your decking installation will depend on several factors, including which decking material and fastener type you choose, as well as whether you plan a deck pattern for the surface of your deck.  

DISCOVER THE EASIEST WAY TO BUILD A DECK
Choose TimberTech AZEK® decking with top-down fasteners and a panelized metal railing system. LEARN MORE

Installation Guidance by TimberTech Material Type


How to plan a deck project with shady furnished outdoor deck and lush lawn

Capped Polymer Decking

Find out how to install TimberTech AZEK® decking, which shares many of the same best practices as traditional wood.

How to plan a deck project featuring two chairs on a deck in cloudy backyard

Capped Composite Decking

Learn how to install TimberTech PRO® and TimberTech EDGE® with CONCEALoc® hidden fasteners for a polished, fastener-free surface.

How to plan a deck project featuring TimberTech AZEK Weather Teak furnished outdoor deck

Don’t Forget About Your Finishing Touches

All your hard work leads up to this moment. Get ideas for finishing touches to transform your deck.

Time to Bring Your Vision to Life

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of how to plan a deck, you’re ready to take the next steps toward completing your deck project.

Visit our Start Your Journey page for insight on our 3 decking lines, where to purchase your materials, and so much more. Have any questions along the way? Talk to a TimberTech Pro to get the answers you need.

Not Sure Where to Start?

Connect with a TimberTech expert to get expert insights & answers to your questions.

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