Draw your deck plan to scale

In the case of decks, a good design  means that all the different parts —foundation, framework and deck surface — work together to create a structure that has the appearance you want and the sturdiness you need.

After you settle on a location and the materials you expect to use, concentrate first on the topside  features, such as the surface, steps, railings, and other elements that stand out visually. Then design — or use a professional — the supporting substructure and foundation.

The simplest and most economical decks to build are those with squared-off sides. Curved decks are possible, though they usually require more complex support system. Multi-level decks connected by steps, stairs, or ramps require more work than single-level decks.

To draw deck plans, you need graph paper with eight squares to the inch, plus a ruler, a couple of medium pencils and an eraser. To determine dimensions and grade levels on the construction site, you also need a tape measure (a 50-foot  tape is the most convenient), a carpenter’s level or line level, twine and a supply of one-by-two or two-by-two stakes, each about 18 inches long and pointed at one end.

A deck’s basic surface pattern and substructure should be drawn in plan views (seen from above and looking down). Arrangement of the substructure, railings and other vertical members should be drawn in elevation views (seen straight on from the side).  Attachments and other details should be drawn from the view that most clearly shows their construction.

The scale of a drawing is the number of inches or feet represented by each square on the graph paper.  Generally, the more squares used to represent one foot or one inch of actual deck dimensions, the more precise and useful your plans will be. A scale in which six squares equal one foot (6:1) works well for deck surfacing patterns and general arrangements of joists, beams, and posts. In the 6:1 scale, one square equals two inches. However, a scale larger than 6:1 should be used for details of railings, benches, and other relatively small features.  For these, the easiest scale to work with is one square equalling one inch.  Tape several sheets of graph paper together if you need a larger drawing area than one sheet.

Try to see your design as a whole.  Your deck is both part of the yard and part of the house, so its size, design and location will have an effect on both.

Your deck design plan should show the dimensions of your lot, as well as doors and windows and the rooms from which they open.  The design should also reflect the points of the compass — north, south, east or west — the path of the sun and any hot spots it creates; the directions of winds or prevailing winds and winter storms; existing plants and trees; utilities, such as gas or sewers and septic tanks; underground wires; exterior outlets for water and electricity; meter boxes and air conditioning units you may want to screen.

Also reflect in your design, the locations of easements or other rights-of-way contained in the deed of  your property, as well as any problems beyond the lot line which may affect sun, view or privacy such as trees, major plants, a neighbour’s window or traffic noise.