How to Create Deck Plans


The process of creating deck plans has become much easier with a proliferation of online tools that do the tricky detail work of applying engineering principles to draw the framing members. That leaves you free to focus your time on dreaming up your vision for how your deck will look. The ultimate appeal of your deck will hinge upon careful consideration of your options during this design stage.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Graph paper
  • Rocks
  • Scrap wood
  • Flags
  • String level
  • Choose a site, usually outside the back door of your house or on the roof in denser urban neighborhoods. If these obvious choices are not ideal, pick a site, and add a door or build a walkway to reach it. Consider your climate--a southern exposure may require a screen or shade tree--as well as views and traffic.

  • Determine the function of your deck, be it entertaining, gardening, reading or day or nighttime use, and adjust accordingly the overall square footage, amenities and need for natural or artificial light.

  • Review local zoning rules. These may require you to limit the size of the deck, set it back from property lines and restrict its height. Check neighborhood or subdivision covenants for additional design restrictions.

  • Measure the sides of your house abutting the envisioned deck area to create an overhead view. Measure out from the house 12 feet and place rocks, scrap wood or small flags at two spots to indicate the deck's corners. Adjust these markers between 8 and 16 feet to determine an ideal width for your deck.

  • Sketch a plan on a piece of graph paper, with the house, the deck access door and the envisioned deck all drawn to scale as viewed from above. Use four graph squares to indicate 1 foot for good detail or fewer if planning a sizeable deck.

  • Note views, slopes, trees and roadway on the graph paper. Sketch any utility lines.

  • Mark special features, including planters, hot tubs, split levels, stairways, electrical or cable outlets and lighting.

  • Place a level on a string and hold it at a level approximating the deck surface. Drop the string vertically, and tighten it, centering the bubble on the level. Measure the length of the string between the top of the string and the ground. Do this for each corner of the deck (and at closer intervals if desired) to determine the slope.

  • Create a second sketch, called the elevation view, showing the deck from its side. Show ground slope, height of posts supporting the deck surface and height of railings, which typically must be at least 36 inches for residential properties.

  • Generate a plan showing location of posts, beams and joists--the framing elements--using online software. Enter figures jotted down on your overhead view and elevation view, beginning with the overall dimensions, in the guided menu. Add stairs and other special features. Rotate the provisional design to study it from various angles.

  • Save the completed deck plan to your desktop computer. It will contain a deck layout diagram with elevation and overhead views; a framing layout, including technical specifications for obtaining a permit if needed; a materials list, including cutting lengths; parts descriptions; and tool and installation tips.

Tips & Warnings

  • Size your deck in increments of two or ideally four feet to make the best use of lumber that often comes in lengths of 8 feet and sometimes 10, 12, 14 or 16 feet. Avoid a deck wider than 16 feet to save expense.
  • Ask your jurisdiction's zoning department if it requires a building permit and what kind of plans you'll need to submit. Many require a plan stamped by a registered engineer or architect, so prepare to turn over your sketch or software-generated printout to a professional, who will convert it to an approvable blueprint.
  • Check with local utility companies to make sure overhead wires or buried pipes and utility lines don't affect your plans.
  • Design a deck in keeping with the scale of your house so that a tiny deck doesn't look lost by a large house or vice versa.

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  • Photo Credit deck with a view image by Bruce Shippee from
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