Extending your outdoor living space by building a deck doesn’t need to cost thousands of dollars. There are many ways as a DIYer that you can build a quality that will give you years of pleasure. If you’re wondering what the cheapest way to build a deck is, we’re here to help.
Building a deck yourself saves all the labor costs. Using free plans or creating your own design saves money too. Sourcing some or all of the building materials and tools for free or cheaply also contributes to keeping expenses down when building a deck on a budget.
In this guide, we’ll discuss some of the most inexpensive ways to build a deck, how to source free plans and materials, and how to build one on a budget. We’ll explain the tools required, foundation options, freestanding vs elevated, plus framing and decking suggestions. We’ll even break down the costs of building a 10×10 deck. Our goal is to provide you with the information necessary to build an affordable quality deck.
Is It Cheaper to Build Your Own Deck?
Adding a deck to your home or yard is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and improve the resale value. You can choose to hire the pros to build your deck, or you can do the work yourself. The intricacies of the deck design and construction will affect the costs and may impact your DIY decision, as may your skill level and confidence.
The cost of building a deck includes plans and permits, the materials for the foundation, framing, decking, stairs, and railings. It may even include some landscaping. No matter who builds the deck, those costs must be borne. If you build the deck, it’s your time and labor, so, aside from Band-Aids and beverages, it’s free. Therefore, building your own deck is cheaper.
Hiring others to do the work will save your time, labor, and blisters, however, it will significantly add to the cost – doubling or tripling the material costs. Those hired usually have the know-how, experience, and tools, all of which are included in their charge. They will also complete the task within a set timeframe, which is often shorter than the DIYer’s.
If you’re looking for an exact dollar value between a DIYer’s labor costs and those charged by the professionals, yours is free. Those hired may or may not charge what you earn in an hour, but they also need to make a living and cover expenses. Expect to pay between $10 and $25 or more per square foot for labor, in addition to the material costs.
What is the Cheapest Way to Build a Deck?
Decks built to simple plans using free materials are the cheapest to build. That means a ground-level free-standing deck is less expensive than one with similar dimensions attached to a house and raised off the ground. The most inexpensive deck is probably one made from free pallets.
Acquiring pallets for free from local stores or businesses may take some time and possibly some discussion with the business, however, many just stack unwanted pallets outside their buildings, free for the taking. Arranging similar-sized pallets on leveled, slightly sloped ground so the slats are parallel or form a checkerboard pattern can create an attractive avant-garde or eclectic-looking deck.
Using extra pallet wood to fill in the spaces between slats provides for a deck that will support patio furniture and the BBQ. Staining or painting the slats protects them from the elements and provides a uniform finish. Alternatively, paint the slats or whole pallets different colors to express your own personal flair. Your only cost for this deck is the paint you use.
How to Build a Cheap Deck from Scratch
The cheapest way to build a deck is to do the work yourself, so the labor is free and materials are the only expense. Sourcing the materials and any tools from online community marketplaces like Craigslist, construction site cast-offs – with permission – seconds or damaged stock at lumber yards, free or low-cost pallets, or other places offering low cost or free materials are all ways to build an inexpensive deck.
One expense you don’t want to skip is the building permit if one is required. It’s commonly a fixed cost based on the size and value of the structure planned, and where you reside. The permit usually requires a detailed plan and material list, along with a dollar value.
1. Find Free or Cheap Deck Plans
Plans can be acquired online or from books for free, or even homemade. The larger and more intricate or customized the design, the greater the costs and skill level required. Select a plan that suits your needs and skill level. The design can be slightly above your skill comfort level, but shouldn’t be beyond it if you’re doing the work.
Many plans include material lists and even suggestions for construction, but some sites charge for those. Simple, ground-level deck plans or those within 30” of the ground are easier to build too. They require less structural reinforcement than those raised further off the ground or attached to buildings, plus, no railings are required. Look for plans that maximize the use of dimensional lumber and minimize waste, and orient the beams and joists so the decking runs the way you want it to.
Simple decks are less expensive, so select a simple design plan that uses standard dimensional lumber. Create a materials list if one isn’t provided, or pay for one if it is available. If your deck requires a permit, you’ll need a copy of the plan and material list. Some building departments require detailed plans and lists; however, I’ve seen them submitted on the back of placemats and even on napkins.
Past generations and even many builders today rely on commonly available hand tools.
- A pencil
- 25-foot tape measure
- Nail remover
- Brace and bit
- Framing level
- Framing square
- String line
- String level
- Hand plane
- Wrench or socket set
are all you need to build a deck or even a house. Also, a shovel, pick, rake, and wheelbarrow are handy for footing and groundwork, and for mixing and moving concrete. Four to twelve wooden stakes for marking corners and aligning supports are helpful too, as are a couple of clamps for holding boards in place. A tool belt or nail pouch is helpful too, but not necessary.
When buying tools, heavy-duty is usually better and lasts longer. Check out downsizing auctions, yard sales, or community marketplaces for second hand tools and power tools. If looking for electric drills, saws, or planers, look for corded power tools with higher AMPs and battery-powered tools with high torque – AMPs and torque are more important than RPMs.
There are other tools that will save time and effort but you may never need them again once the deck is built. If needed, save the budget and rent or borrow if possible. Power posthole augers make quick work of support post holes, and concrete mixers are helpful if mixing large batches. A laser level makes leveling easier, and a power or pneumatic nailer will save on hammer swings.
Pro Note: When buying tools, comfort, fit, ease of use, and feel are more important than looks.
The purpose of a foundation is to provide lateral stability, distribute the load to the ground, and create a level building surface. The foundation needs to meet the load expectations of the deck it will carry, so don’t cut corners for the sake of a few dollars.
Foundation or footing requirements for ground-level decks differ from those that are elevated and attached to a dwelling, so check the Codes or with the local building department. There are many types of footing options, here are the least expensive for a floating deck, plus the best for an elevated one too.
Free Standing, Floating Deck
Free-standing floating decks are usually at or near ground level. They don’t ‘normally’ require permits or inspections as long as they don’t exceed 200ft² or 30” off the ground. They also shouldn’t be attached to a building or service a point of egress from a building according to the IRC (International Residential Building Code). It’s always best to check your local Codes before you build.
Ground-level decks don’t require footings or supports that go below the frost line, making them easier and cheaper to install. However, a greater number of supports may be required to support the weight of the structure and the loads it will carry. The number of footings is determined by the allowable spans based on lumber and beam dimensions.
Digging or augering holes below the frost line don’t need to cost anything, just time and labor. Once dug, cover the bottom of the hole with gravel for drainage, set the pressure-treated or cedar posts (or logs) in, level them, and then tamp the dirt back in to keep the post aligned.
Once all supports are set, string line for level and continue with the build. The cost depends on the depth into the ground and height above ground required, however, cedar posts may be had for free.
- low cost
- below the frost line
- stable, strong, and permanent
- heavy on the labor
- time-consuming digging holes
Deck blocks are precast concrete with a small 12sq in or so footprint, average between 6” and 8” high, and cost $8 to $12. Due to the small footprint, more will be needed to support the weight of the structure.
Most deck blocks are designed to support a 4×4 post, but other more expensive blocks will hold 6×6 posts. Place the blocks where needed, remove the ground cover, pour gravel where blocks go for drainage (optional), align and level each block and with each other, and commence your build.
- easy to install
- quickest footing solution
- requires more supports
- cumbersome to place and level
Elevated, Attached to House
A raised deck usually requires a building permit and inspections in most areas. It is higher than 30”, so needs footings below the frost line, support posts, lateral bracing, approved railings, and stairs; all of which add to the cost. A deck attached to a house is commonly done using a ledger board fastened to the home’s rim joist with approved hardware. Joist hangers are then spaced and fastened to the ledger board.
Since the house structure will carry a portion of the deck and potential loads, permits and inspections are required in most jurisdictions. It also means that fewer support posts are necessary as the building supports part of the load. The deep, solid footings and lateral bracing are needed to prevent damage to the building’s structural support, hence the need for permits and inspections.
Footings need to be below the frost line, rest on gravel, and often extend 4” to 6” or more above grade level. Concrete poured into a cardboard form is one of the least expensive options, and often has a post support anchor embedded in the top. Rebar may also be recommended depending on loads and location.
The cost depends on the depth and diameter of the footing post required, which affects the cost of concrete and cardboard forms. One 4-foot deep, 8” diameter footing, with an adjustable post support anchor, will cost between $30 and $40, while a 12” diameter one will cost between $40 and $55.
- stable and strong
- reasonably easy for a DIYer
- takes 24 hours to cure
The size or dimensions of the deck help determine the framing requirements. The species, grade, and dimensions of the wood affect the distance joists and beams can span. The greater the dimensions the further it can span and the greater the load it can carry. A single SPF 2×6 beam can span 4’1”, while a double 2×6 can span 6’-1”. This also means the joist can span 6-feet and cantilever 12” at either end, allowing for an 8’ wide deck.
Ground-level decks, due to their closeness to the ground, require pressure-treated lumber. Wood that is near the ground or ground contact must be treated to protect it from moisture, insects, and rot. When using pressure-treated wood, only use hardware and fasteners intended for treated wood, otherwise, the chemicals will corrode them.
There are two ways to frame a ground-level deck: drop beam and flush beam. A drop beam requires two or more 2 or 3 ply beams that rest on the footings or supports, to support the joists. A flush beam is similar, except that the joists are set between the beams for a lower profile finish.
Joist hangers are commonly used to fasten the joists to the flush beams. Remember to insert blocking at the 1/2-way or 1/3rd mark between joists.
Deck beams can cantilever beyond the last support at each end up to 1/4 the allowable span between supports. The heavier the beam, the greater its span, and the fewer footings required. Joist dimensions affect the beam span as well. Using 2x4s for joists means the beams must be closer together, requiring more footings and beams.
The lumber used for joists should also be pressure-treated. The dimensions, as stated, determine the beam spacing, as well as the spacing between the joists themselves. SPF 2×4 joists at 12” OC can span 6’6”, while a 2×6 at that spacing can span 10’-3”, allowing for a larger deck and fewer supports. So, although 2x4s are less expensive than 2x6s, the impact of using 2x4s may be more costly than if using 2x6s. Plus, 2x4s place greater restrictions on deck size, loads, and thus use. Although more expensive, 2x6s offer greater design and building options than 2x4s.
The decking is the finishing touch. It is what everyone sees, so you want to make it look good. Decking can be fastened perpendicular or diagonally to the joists. Perpendicular requires fewer cuts and generates less waste, so is usually less costly.
The least expensive option is untreated 2x4s that will need to be treated or stained before being placed to protect them from the elements. The exposed surfaces will also need to be treated on a more frequent basis to keep them looking good. Pressure-treated 5/4×6 deck boards are more expensive than 2x4s but don’t require treating, plus they cover a greater surface area so fewer are needed, which may mean savings to the budget.
Both 2x4s and 5/4×6 can span joists at 16” OC if perpendicular or 12” OC if diagonal. 2×6 planks can span joists at 24” OC when perpendicular and 16” OC if diagonal. The decking affects the joist spacing, which may produce marginal cost savings, but the decking produces the aesthetic effect as well as surface strength, so it isn’t the best place to cut corners.
How Much Does it Cost to Build a 10×10 Deck?
A 10’x10’ free-standing DIY floating deck on deck blocks, made of pressure-treated lumber, whether drop beam and flush beam, will cost between $600 and $1,000. Having one built by the pros will up the cost to between $1,500 and $3,000. If you decide to go with composite or exotic wood decking, expect to pay an additional $130 to $1,000 (or more) above what pressure-treated 5/4×6 deck boards would cost.
The cost and amount of waste depends on the length of lumber used too. Most dimensional lumber is available in 8’, 12’, and 16’ lengths, so unless you can purchase 10’ lumber, expect to do some cutting. Cut-offs can be used for blocking between joists to help minimize waste, although there will be some scraps left.
Cost of Deck Materials
Here’s a breakdown of the costs (before taxes or delivery charges) based on materials used to build a DIY 10’x10’ free-standing floating deck using pressure-treated dimensional lumber.
|10’x10’ Free Standing DIY Floating Deck Costs|
|Purpose||Material||Number||Average Unit Cost||Cost ($US)|
|Foundation||Gravel (45lb bags)||9||$9.30||$83.70|
|Beams||2x6x10 PT – 3 double 2×6 beams||6||$10.88||$65.28|
|3” #10 galvanized nails
(1lbs = 76nails)
|Framing||2x6x10 PT – joists @ 16” OC||11||$10.88||$119.67|
|2x6x10 PT – rim joists||2||$10.88||$21.76|
|2x6x10 PT – blocking @ 1/2 span||1||$10.88||$10.88|
|3-1/2” galvanized nails
(2lbs = 104 nails)
|2-1/2” deck screws
(5lbs+1lb = 435+86 = 521)
Building a deck need not adversely affect the budget. Check electronic marketplaces and yard sales for cheap or free materials and tools, or borrow tools if needed. Free plans are available too, so it is possible to build a free-standing deck for less than $100.
Even buying new materials needn’t break the bank. Hopefully, you have a better idea of how to build an inexpensive quality deck.