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I’m building a floating deck in my back yard! This is the very first post of this series, but you will be able to catch the whole thing, start to finish, right here.
Hey there! This post (or post series, rather) has been a long time coming. I’ve gotten started on my new floating deck (also sometimes called a freestanding deck), and I’m so excited to see this one finished! I want to first walk you through some of the decision-making details before I jump into the build. So, this post is going to cover a lot of topics regarding research, budgeting, and design.
With that in mind, bear with me as we go through. My main goal is to help clear the fog on the where/what/why, and a lot of these decisions are unique challenges of my yard (sloping, building over/around a concrete patio, etc.). If you wind up having questions as I go, I’ll try address them in future posts!
Legal disclaimer stuff: this is a personal recap and what I learn as I work on projects in my home. In hindsight, I often think of how I could have done something better. By no means is it a comprehensive guide for every scenario. No two houses are alike, and building codes/permitting rules vary. You will still need to research and make the best possible decision for your own home. I’m not a licensed professional. Reading and using any and all information is at your own risk. Power tools are dangerous and can kill you. Use protective safety gear, always. Don’t feed your dog chocolate, don’t stick keys in the electrical socket, and so on.
Backyard upgrades (to get to this point)
If you’ve been following along for a while, then you already know a lot of this. But for those that don’t, for the longest time with this house, I’ve been focusing a lot on the interior. I supposed that’s a pretty normal habit. We are more likely to first change the things we interact with everyday, like the kitchen, before we start fixing the part that can be more easily ignored, like the overgrown bushes in the back yard.
Each year, I dedicated a little time toward making progress. Baby steps! I killed off ivy, removed a bunch of pine trees, and filled in a sinkhole. Eventually, I made cosmetic improvements (a back hedge, fire pit, corner garden, etc.). All of a sudden, late last year, things really started to click; it was time to begin the two big projects I’ve always wanted to do. As with any project, it was a matter of money, time, labor, and research. It can all seem pretty overwhelming until you get started, and I am VERY good at procrastinating when I have a lot of logical reasons to postpone at my disposal!
Timing and budgeting: a juggling act
I knew I wanted to build a shed for extra storage toward the back of my lot and began planning for that last summer (which is also underway, but that build has its own separate series). I also wanted to eventually build a floating deck off of the existing concrete slab next to the house.
Originally, I thought these projects would happen in completely different timelines. But as I was planning, I managed to bring a sponsor onboard for the shed. That was a huge thing for me, since this has so many moving parts with weather/budget/etc. So, a huge thank-you to Wood Its Real for that help! I realized that, since I had been saving up for the shed and could redistribute that budget, I could basically maximize cost savings if I did both projects in one short, blazing summer of building. A lot of materials crossed over between the builds, so I could also use the new skills from one build to the next while it was still fresh in my mind. Then, I sketched up a quick version of how I thought everything would be done.
This seemed like a great option if I could also somehow convince K to help me design and plan it. It would be well worth the effort, I reasoned, provided that we didn’t manage to kill each other with all the sharp power tools at our disposal (thankfully, he’s a design engineer professionally and likes power tools as much as I do, so it was an easy sell). But to do any of it, we needed an actual, proper plan.
I wanted the new build to create a natural flow from the patio door to the deck, from the deck to the fire pit, and so on. This would maximize the yard for an open, entertaining feel, while still giving everything separate zones.
- Patio = grill spot
- New deck = seating area
- Fire pit = fire pit shenanigans
It’s kind of a lot to fit into a single space and around the only remaining tree in the yard. Even though I removed most of the trees, I kept the central one because it makes for a natural anchor for all the new lighting that will tie everything together (patio lights make everything better!). The sketch I created also mapped the new shed and room for a vegetable garden. But as I started marking things out in the yard, I realized that a patio as large as I sketched out would be WAY too big.
With K’s help, we came up with an even better plan:
Although this deck design doesn’t run the full length of the existing patio, I like that it sits perfectly between the patio and fire pit. The right corner of the new deck plan is at an angle, which allows for the mower to fit in between. This is a really. important. thing. for K; I won’t fight it, since I win by not having to mow. With this design, the shed/garden zone is a little more separate from the patio and deck, but still cohesive.
As of 2016, my yard is filled in, but there is still a slope toward the back. I planned it this way for good reason: water runoff. The neighbor to my left is higher in elevation than all the others, so rainwater flows in a single direction in and out of my yard. If I had graded it any differently, I would risk disrupting that water flow, even jeopardizing the fill dirt by seeing it erode right back out of my yard. I planted a hedge line in the lower area as well to anticipate stemming future erosion problems, too.
Patios and just about anything in the yard have a slight slope for the same reason. I confirmed this with a level on my own patio, and the right corner is the lowest spot. The plan has been to continue that same slope on the new deck. So, it won’t be perfectly level, but it also won’t be noticeable.
To help build the foundation but account for leveling, sloping, etc., I did some research and found that the best (and most readily-available) fit seemed to be precast pier blocks (aka deck blocks or Handi-blocks).
I also briefly considered TuffBlock (same concept, but more lightweight material). The biggest benefit with these is that it would involve less digging.
The main drawbacks were that I couldn’t find many examples of TuffBlocks in use on uneven ground, and the supply would have been a special order. Since the concrete version is in stock at Home Depot and Lowe’s, I did most of my research on those before choosing them. In hindsight, I would have liked to have tried one out for the shed and one for the deck and maybe compare. I’m sure at some point, I’ll be able to test it out (with a new house or working on a friend’s, etc.).
In either case, there’s a notch on top that fits a 2x- joist or 4×4 post. Since the floating deck will sit on or partially hover over the ground, I am putting them in for extra support. Where they are too high to sit on the ground, I’m digging them down partially into the dirt. On the farthest corner (closest to the fire pit), it’s actually not tall enough even when sitting on the ground, so one 4×4 post is needed there. On top of these, there will be a framework of 2×6 lumber and then the deck boards. And me, awkwardly doing bad yoga in celebration of a finished step.
Ground contact lumber
One important piece of info: since most of the new deck is touching the ground, the entire support structure (everything but the deck boards) will be made from “ground contact” lumber. You may already know of “pressure-treated” or “PT” lumber, which is lumber that has been chemically treated to withstand outdoor conditions better than bare wood. PT lumber is recommended for just about any project exposed to the elements. Now, there is a new standard, and stores are starting to carry more and more “GC” pressure-treated lumber. My nearest Home Depot has virtually all of their stock replaced with GC; Lowe’s has about half and half. You can see a slight color difference sometimes between the two.
The main difference is where you plan to use it. Here is a graphic that breaks it down depending on use (along with more details), but here’s an easy rule: if it’s anything touching the ground or within 6 inches of the ground, it should be made with ground contact lumber.
If it’s exposed to more moisture, use ground contact. If it’s something that will be difficult to reach or repair: ground contact. If it’s smarter than the average bear… ground contact.
I’ll cover a few more facts about GC lumber and even PT lumber in general as this series goes on, but there are so many details to cover! This is important enough to cover it in more depth, but I don’t want to throw too many details into this initial post until I can show more of the build as examples.
Partially covering the patio
As you can see from that digital rendering above, part of the new deck will cover a small corner of the existing patio. I found this tutorial from Family Handyman, and I plan to use some of the same ideas. Basically, I’ll be attaching some 2×4 supports to the patio (using ground contact lumber once again), and the deck will go over the whole thing.
Water buildup between the concrete pad and the wood will rot wood faster, even if it’s treated. So, I plan to make raise the framework in that spot with plastic shims.
Water is the enemy
Let’s see here: ground contact lumber, slope, plastic/flashing, drainage… basically every part of my plan has fighting moisture in common! So far, I’ve learned that water is my biggest concern. I may actually even be overdoing it, but I hope that regardless, the deck lasts a good long while.
I know this question will probably pop up a few times. I did not get a building permit for the deck. And, I didn’t appear to need one (after researching it for a long time). Even though there are standards (IRC and others) that are adopted by many states, the whole thing is rather complex; it took time to figure out the who/what/where/when (yes, that all matters):
- What the codes are (there are multiple standards/guidelines that might be used to determine what is adopted)
- Where they apply (city code, county code, etc.)
- When they were adopted by your local ordinance
- Who enforces it (there is often some discretion for the local code enforcement officer regarding approvals/violations)
I checked with my local guidelines prior to starting (if you don’t find one for your city, start researching the county, and so on). By comparison to what I’ve found, my county seems to be on the less restrictive side. This is definitely a situation where your best bet is to call your permit office and ask. Regardless, I’m doing my best to build things smart and structurally sound, permit or no (the shed as well).
So, that was a really long intro, and we haven’t even started showing you the build process yet! But in the next post of the series, I’ll show you how I went from the initial layout:
To an actual framework:
Keep ya posted!
DIY Floating Deck Series