How to Build an Elevated Deck on Uneven Ground
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.
Time required: 2 days with help, a few if doing alone
Cost: $500.00 roughly
- 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
- 16 80 lb. Bags ready mix concrete
- 4 2 x 10 Boards
- 1 Box 1 and 1/4 inch screws
The Setting of the Poles Will Make or Break This Project
- Skill Saw
- Face Mask
- 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.)
Be sure to keep kids and pets at a safe distance when using power saws.
Step 1: Dig the Post Holes and 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.
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.
Don't Do More Work Than You Have To
Step 2: Post Holes 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.
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.
Big, chunky bolts don't break like little skinny ones.
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.
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.
Step 6: Connect the Perimeter Framing
Attach the 8' long outer perimeter on each of the two remaining short sides. Be sure to check with a level and square before drilling.
Heavy-duty bolts were used to make these connections. Don't take a chance with a light-weight bolt.
Decks tend to support heavy objects like furniture and little ones running around. Go sturdy now to be sure you don't have to make repairs later.
Step 7: Attach the Floor Joists
Attach the floor joists. The attachments here were done using joist hangers, also known as hurricane clips.
Joists were spaced two feet apart. One and five-eighths inch screws were used to make the connections.
Tip: Always use screws instead of nails for porches, decks and the like. They are not near as likely to back out over time.
Step 8: Add the Struts
Put in the struts between the joists. We did one per row alternating the placement to provide added support.
This step does require some cutting of the 2' x 6' boards.
Mr. Lytle used the circular saw to make the cuts.
All struts were attached with screws using a power drill.
It Should Be Looking like a Frame Right About Now
By the time you get the frame done, joists hung and struts in place, it should look something like this.
Female speak translation: The joists are the long boards inside the frame. Struts are the short boards between the joists.
Tip: See the soap? Rub the screws on it just a bit before drilling them in. Mr. Vix swears it makes them go in easier.
Step 9: Check to Be Sure the Frame Is Right Before Moving On
Life gets so much easier from here on out. The hardest parts are finished.
If there is a mistake or missing piece, now is the time to correct it. Once the decking goes down, you have to crawl underneath for such repairs.
This is not something typically desired unless you are my puppy who wants to dig holes under the deck.
Step 10: Bring on the Saw!
It's time to cut off the tops of the posts level with the frame.
A Sawzall or more appropriately, a reciprocating saw would be best for this step.
Not having one, Mr. Lytle cheated and used a small chainsaw. It worked fine.
Either way, be sure to wear a face mask and safety glasses when doing this step, or any work using a power saw.
Step 11: Adding the Deck
Lay the plywood and screw it down using 1 1/4" screws. Start at one end and work your way to the other. It will take two sheets per row.
The last row will require the plywood being cut to fit.
Be sure to let the dog supervise. Elwood gives it two paws up at this point. He refuses to give until it's done and he gets to go fishing.
Step 12: Make It All Lay Down Perfectly Flat
Mr. Lytle insisted that I relay to you that the quality of plywood available these days leaves something to be desired.
It is neither perfectly level nor free from deformities. To be sure to get seams that line up well, he offers up the following advice.
Tip: Jump and scoot. It sounds like a dance, huh? I saw him do it, though. It works when an edge is just a hair off lining up flush.
Another tip: Get your wood from the lumberyard. While Lowes and Home Depot are cool for all kinds of stuff, the lumber yard has better, straighter boards at better prices.
Step 13: Be Sure to Take Care of Yourself
Once all the pieces are laid and drilled securely into place, take a breather.
Seriously, you must be sure to take care of yourself, especially if you are not used to hard manual labor in the heat.
Be sure to stay hydrated and take breaks.
Step 14: Let's Put Some Steps on This Deck.
This thing is up 3'–4' high depending on which side you are standing on. Steps are required. We used three pre-made risers.
Measure each attachment point separately from the ground up before cutting risers. Attach with screws. Here, we had some leftover 4' x 4' posts just laying atop to give us an idea of how it would look.
Step 15: The Trick to Steps Is Good Measurement
We used four 2' x 10' boards here to make the steps. Each is attached to the risers with 2 1/2" screws. The top step is 2' x 8'.
Tip: Start the steps at the bottom. If you start at the top and work down, it's somewhat awkward using the drill due to spacial limitations from the stair above.
You're Done! One DIY Deck on a Budget Was Just Born.
Teach the puppy to climb the stairs and kick back.
When building an elevated deck, if you have small children, consider installing a child gate or railing or tiny people will fall.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor. Then, Get to Sealing It.
Scope out the view and contemplate how you want to finish off the deck. At this point, one could stain, paint, tile, or any number of options.
The only functional parts remaining on ours are the handrail and under penning. But, we are tired now, so that's a project for in the morning.
Some Extra Tips and Tricks for Building on a Budget
Tip: Use cordless power tools when possible. They are safer because you don't get tangled up in or trip over the cords.
Further, around here cords are like gold for puppies. I don't know why but they always want to chew on them. Once the insulating cover is compromised, it's really not safe to continue using the tool.
Screws Come in Different Grades and Sizes
Tip: Be sure to use exterior grade screws for outdoor projects.
Tip: If finding a slightly warped joist or strut board in the frame, use bar clamps to train it into place.
Tip: If dealing with a slight up or down warp in a framing or joist board that, use a four by four scrap to push it up gently until it re-warps the way you want it. Just be sure to point that side down when framing.
See the crooked looking post? That's exactly what it is doing. It's just standing there, not set in concrete or anything. In a day or so, it will have done its job, and the slight bend in the two by six framing board will be gone.
For new lumber, you would think such would not be a problem, sadly that's just not the case.
A Finished Job Is so Rewarding, Especially If You Saved a Boatload on It
Grab the dog and go fishing. You're done for the day. There's always more work to be done and nothing ever comes out exactly perfect.
It's all good. Munch on some catfish tonight and worry about applying some sealant tomorrow.
My husband says this the best powerdrill. He had me use it and another one just to see.
Honesly, they both made holes. One hole was just as good as the other.
However, the Makita drill took a lot less effort on my part to make that hole. It was quieter, not as heavy and I didn't have to push near as hard with it.
Check out the Following Video for Advice on How to Use a Drill Safely
If you are anything like me, power tools are not your favorite. Don't get me wrong, my glue gun is my best buddy, but drills and saws, not so much.
While my husband grabs them up and goes like no one's business, they give me pause. Such tools can be dangerous.
Check out this video by Ace Hardware to get a good idea of how to properly use the tool in the safest manner possible.
How to Use a Power Drill
How to Safely Use a Saw
While I have overcome my fear of the drill, the saw is another matter altogether. As someone who is highly accident-prone, I have enough sense to know that this tool could kill me.
Does that mean I won't use it? Not a chance. It means I want to know everything I can about how to best use it. I'm blessed to have a great husband who teaches power tools whenever I ask. But, he won't make a video.
This guy is really good too. Check out the brief tips provided for safely using a power saw before you grab one up.
Building Your Own Often Results in a Better Product at a Better Price
Whatever it is you want to build, don't let things like inflated pricing and scary tools stand in your way. Give it some thought. Make a plan. Go for it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Rhonda Lytle