Knowing when to consult a professional for your deck project will provide you peace of mind — and help guarantee your deck is built properly.
Q: I’d like a new deck. Should I DIY it or hire a professional?
A: With the increasing focus on expanded outdoor living spaces, it’s no wonder that interest in deck-building is also on the rise. At first glance, building your own deck can seem doable (and it can be). There are plenty of places to gather inspiration, ideas and resources to help you zero in on what you want, along with information that will tell you how a basic deck goes together. Today, we’re shedding light on a few details that should be kept in mind when considering whether to DIY your deck or hire a contractor — and how to best gauge your ability to tackle the project you have in mind.
The first thing to consider when addressing this question is your skill level. If you’re considering DIY-ing your deck, you probably have some sort of construction skills and enjoy this type of work. If you don’t have the skills or the heart, DIY-ing your deck will quickly eat up your spare time, your patience and your budget. If you’re on the fence, do your research. With all the information out there, it’s easy to learn how something is done — you just need to have a clear understanding of whether the how is within your reach. If you want to DIY but need a little guidance, some companies even offer frame-only packages — meaning they provide the labor and materials and you install the decking and railing.
There’s a huge difference between a lower-level deck and a two-story one with stairs. A common type of deck we see beginner-level DIY’ers take on are those lower-level decks that are less than 18 to 30 inches off the ground. In most jurisdictions, once the deck gets any higher than 30 inches, the project requires a permit — this is a major barrier to building and the process of obtaining one can be very frustrating, even for professionals.
Depending on where you live, the height of your deck surface (assuming you’re building on a level lot) will trigger the need for a building permit and compliance with the setback requirements of your property. The easiest way to find out what’s required for a safe deck on your lot is to contact your local building department.
Not surprisingly, the higher off the ground, the more difficult the deck will be to design and build, especially when you get into the 8-foot-and-above arena. Stairs can cause headaches (and safety concerns) for less experienced builders. The larger spans between house connection and beam locations, along with support-post locations and lateral bracing, will need to be engineered to meet current code (which is always subject to change). And the larger the spans, the larger the framing members will need to be — getting a large framing member up 8 feet or more can be tricky.
If you want to DIY, have some experience and are looking to build a deck on flat ground, we’re apt to support that decision. If you want to DIY, have some experience and are looking to build on sloped ground, we’d tell you to not even think about it. There’s a lot to know about working with sloped ground. It involves engineering and most likely will require a specialty contractor to help properly anchor your deck to the soil below.
Building a deck can take a good deal of time. Hiring someone to build a lower-level (30 inches or less) deck will be the quickest; most of these builds are completed in less than 30 days if the project is not too complicated. Building your own two-story deck with stairs could take months, especially if you’re fitting the project in around work and other family commitments.
Building your own deck can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. Knowing when to consult a professional for your deck project will provide you peace of mind — and help guarantee your deck is built properly.
Ron Spillers is a principal owner of West Coast Decks and a guest author for Dunn Lumber’s industry professional blog, Dunn Solutions. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.