Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of outdoor decks, which are in many ways an ideal do-it-yourself project, a wide variety of products and services have made their way into the marketplace to help you build that deck faster, easier and sturdier, with more professional results.

Deck Kits: If your plans are for something fairly basic, most of the larger lumberyards and home centers can provide you with a complete deck-building kit in several standard sizes and configurations. The kit contains all the lumber, hardware, fasteners, and other items you need, and some even include basic construction instructions. If you need a railing around your deck–required by most building codes if the deck is over 30 inches above the ground–there are rail-building kits available as well.

Deck building kits can offer you a simple and less expensive way to get started, and they provide a building block for future expansion of the deck as well. “Floating” decks, which sit on specially notched pier blocks and are not anchored to the house or into the ground, are another deck kit alternative for a building a quick and simple deck that you may want to remove or alter in the future.

Computerized Deck Design: Thinking a little larger then just the basics? Got the perfect deck idea in mind, but not sure where to go next? Many lumberyards and home centers also offer computerized deck design services that can save you hours and hours of planning, as well as avoiding wasted materials. The design consultant will walk you through several basic designs, and help you customize them to your exact size and layout requirements. They can add railings, stairs, benches, and other features, and then the computer will provide a complete material list from main girders to finish nails, along with simple assembly instructions to help you get the job done right.

Precut Stair Stringers: If your deck needs a set of stairs, you may have been scratching your head in consternation about how to build them. With the help of precut stringers cut from pressure-treated lumber, all the hard layout and cutting has been done for you. Just select the number of steps you need based on how high the deck is, and secure them to the deck and to the ground. Add the treads, which are usually built from the same lumber as the deck itself, and you’re all done.

Rail Parts: Deck railings are often part of a deck design just for aesthetic reasons, and they’re required by most building codes if the deck will be over 30 inches above the ground. As with the stairs, rail design and construction can be a cause of concern for many do-it-yourselfers, but the wide selection of rail parts on the market really simplify things.

Many retailers now carry precut two-by-two pickets that offer consistency and speed when building a railing–just install the horizontal rails and nail or screw the vertical pickets to them. To simplify rail attachment, there are also hardware brackets available that are sized to fit standard lumber. Some retailers even offer precut and pre-notched four-by-four posts in cedar, pressure-treated fir, and other materials to simplify rail construction even further.

Concealed Fastener Systems: For a truly professional look, you may want to consider something different from the standard method of installing deck boards with nails or screws driven through the top of the board. Concealed fastener systems, which offer a variety of different methods for attaching the boards to the support joists, eliminate visible nail and screw heads and helps prevent splinters and cracks.

Books and Videos: Nothing improves your confidence and your enjoyment more than having a solid game plan of how to attack that big pile of lumber that just showed up in the back yard. There are many great books available on deck design and construction, as well as a growing number of videos and DVDs that visually walk you through the whole construction process.

Remember that many decks require a building permit, and have certain construction standards that must be adhered to for safety. Check with your local building department before you get going on any deck design or construction project.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

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