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How to Build an Elevated Deck on Uneven Ground

Rhonda loves DIY projects and sharing her experiences to help others save money, too.

The finished deck before painting and sealing.

The finished deck before painting and sealing.

How to Save Money by Building Your Own Deck

This article will explain how to build an elevated deck with common tools, on a budget, in female speak. My husband and I built this ourselves—mostly it was him, but I helped.

Technically, we are still working on it, but the remaining work is all cosmetic. The functional parts are done. We saved a boatload of money. Neither of us are carpenters, but we have built things around the house in the past, including porches and a gazebo.

I got some professional estimates to have this built before we decided to tackle it ourselves. They ranged from just over $3000–$5000. I think not! In a big time kind of way. Who needs to shell out that kind of cash? I'm way too cheap to pay that much money. We built this 8' x 20' elevated deck for just under $500. That's a fraction of what the professionals wanted.

As you can see, ours has a solid plywood floor. This could be done in decking boards for a more traditional look. We are going to screen this in after building another larger one in the back. With traditional boards, the mosquitoes would just come up from the bottom. Later, I will cover this not so attractive plywood, but that's the subject of another article and a separate budget.

Follow along to see how you can build your own and save your cash. I won't tell you it was easy. In fact, it's kind of hard. The construction is not rocket science by any means, but lumber is heavy, and it's not always easy physically. We learned a few things here that I will share, including pitfalls and some time- and labor-saving tips.

Let's go outside and get started.

Materials and Tools Needed

Time required: Two days with help; a few more days if you're doing it alone.

Difficulty: Medium

Cost: $500.00 roughly

Materials List

  • 30 2 X 6 pressure-treated boards
  • 1 box 1 and 5/8 inch screws
  • 1 box 2 1/2 inch screws
  • 8 4 X 4 treated, straight posts
  • 20 joist hangers/hurricane clips
  • 8 galvanized 3/8 inch in diameter 6 inch long bolts
  • 24 galvanized 3/8 inch in diameter 8 inch long bolts
  • 1 box of lock washers to fit 3/8 inch bolts
  • 1 box nuts
  • Soap
  • 16 80 lb. bags ready mix concrete
  • Rocks
  • 4 2 x 10 boards
  • 1 box 1 and 1/4 inch screws

Tool List

  • Drill
  • Skill saw
  • Hammer
  • Jigsaw
  • Face mask
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Water hose
  • Large level
  • Small level
  • Post hole diggers
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • T square
  • Bar clamps
  • Sawzall (or cheat and use a chainsaw like we did.)
The support post set in concrete. The setting of the poles will make or break this project.

The support post set in concrete. The setting of the poles will make or break this project.

Step 1: Plan the Post Holes and Prepare to Set the Poles

After determining where you want your structure, you will need to dig the holes to set the posts. My husband had already started this project before I thought to document it with pictures. Sorry.

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We did this in multiples of four because lumber comes in eight-foot lengths and plywood comes in 4' x 8' sheets. Building something 8' x 20' ensured minimal cuts, saving labor and materials.

There are four posts on each 20' side. At the steps, there is a corner post. From there, there are two posts spaced 8' apart.

The last is spaced 4' away. This is because that's as big of a deck as we wanted. The same spacing is repeated for the other long side.

A Few Tips for Setting the Poles

  • Get a buddy to help if you can.
  • Wear the gloves or you will get splinters.
  • Don't skip the rocks or it's going to sink.
  • Dogs will try to eat wet concrete. It's really bad for them.
  • Right after setting the poles is a great time to supervise the kids to put their palm prints and names in it. Years from now, you will all get a huge kick out of knowing it's there.
Measuring out the post hole with the post hole digger. Don't do more work than you have to!

Measuring out the post hole with the post hole digger. Don't do more work than you have to!

Step 2: Dig the Post Holes (Ours Were 2' Deep)

Tip: To determine how wide to make the hole, simply center the post hole digger where you want the hole and use one side to trace out a perfect circle.

Digging within the circle ensures you have enough room but aren't digging more than you have to.

Tip: Once dug, line the hole with a few inches of rocks to ensure the posts will not sink over time.

The frame with joists and struts.

The frame with joists and struts.

Step 3: Assemble the Front and Back Frames

Most people would set the post and then build onto them. My hubby wanted to be sure about the spacing being perfect so he wouldn't have to do any extra cuts. So, he built the frames onto the posts before sinking them in the ground with concrete.

To the front and back of the first three 4' x 4' posts, is attached an 8' long 2' x 6' pressure treated board. The attachments are done with heavy-duty bolts, washers, and nuts. The last board was cut to 4' before being attached the same way.

You will need to drill the holes for the bolts. Be sure to use a level before attaching the boards, so everything stays good and straight.

Once the four posts were connected, the two of us picked up the entire assemblage and dropped it in the holes. Yep, it was heavy. But this deck is perfectly square with almost no cuts needed so I would do it this way again.

Bolts connect front and back frame and posts.

Bolts connect front and back frame and posts.

Step 4: Do Connections With Heavy-Duty Hardware to Ensure It Lasts

As you can see in the picture, the posts are secured to the frame by two heavy duty-bolts through each.

IMPORTANT: The ground here is far from level. In fact, the entire thing slopes down. You have to measure from the ground up for each post in regards to how high to attach the 2' x 6' boards.

The posts near the stairs are on higher ground that the ones on the other side by almost a foot. From one side of the stairs to the other is a 10 1/2-inch slope. Measure, measure, and measure again to ensure your deck is good and level.

Remember, the plywood that will cover this will raise the height another 3/4 of an inch. Be sure to take that into account when doing your measurements. The posts are taller than needed at this point. Don't worry about it. We will fix it later.

Set post supporting frame

Set post supporting frame

Step 5: Mix the Concrete and Set the Posts

Be sure to wear a face mask and safety glasses for this.

Mix one bag at a time in a wheel barrel according to the directions on the bag.

Keep the water hose handy. Each post hole will require two bags of concrete.