How to Build a Deck: A Guide to Do it Yourself

The idea started as usual, idle talk. Before long, plans were drawn up, and over the course of a year, we set to building our “masterpiece.” My husband, being a brilliant scientist and college professor, helped me measure, lay and lanscape our patio.

THE PLAN: All projects should start with a plan. From talk to laying bricks, we did it all. First, you have to look at the area you want this patio, is it suitable? Our backyard was not the best of situations. From the existing wood deck, the backyard sloped upward, posing a drainage problem, even without the patio in place. Another problem, the septic tank! How do we continue with this project, and not interfere with the septic system. The county that we live in requires a yearly inspection so whatever we did, we had to make sure that none of the patio covered it up or disturbed it in any way! So we drew out what we wanted, took measurements and went about the planning process. You should be as detailed as possible. And, we were, including where we wanted our plants for the landscaping! In doing it that way, we were able to add a few things, including a small (50-gallon) pond complete with fish and one or two of the local indigenous frogs from our area. As much detail as you can get on paper will help you along immensely. It can also help you get a real sense of location so that you remember exactly how you want the place to look.

THE MATERIALS: At this point came the decisions on what we wanted to build this patio out of. We decided that regular brick pavers was our best bet. Thanks to a great neighbor in the construction business we were able to save some money by ordering through him. We got the pavers and cedar through him. For the vertical, undulating, tiered wall, we needed to first set it with cinder blocks. We were able to find these by scrounging around all over, asking at construction sites was one way. Get what you can from the sites, all you have to do is ask. What’s the worst that could happen? They say no, then just push on. We had 9 tons of gravel and 16 tons of sand delivered as well. You may not need this much, but it did for us, especially with us having to “join two patios” with a walkway so as not to interfere with the septic tank as mentioned above. You will also need mortar, cement, a short flat board, a table and a line level, a wheelbarrow for mixing and hauling sand, cement and mortar. A couple of trowels to smooth cement, mortar out. The biggest things we had to get were to rent a tamper, a brick saw, and the guys we hired to brick the vertical wall.

THE WALL: Like I mentioned before, my husband “formed” the wall with cinder blocks, digging them in or stacking them up as much as needed to keep them level. It is best to take ground stakes and string, and line level and place them so as to assist you in keeping things straight. Because we are not professional or even amateur for that matter, bricklayers, we decided to hire brick layers to put up these vertical walls in brick. It was the best $20 per hour each that we ever spent. Three of them were able to do all of the work in 8 hours! And it came out not only as good as I expected, it was better! So if you are unsure about your wall making skills with brick, it is best to go ahead and hire someone. Now the wall is up and this is where we come back in.

THE PAVERS: To start the process of putting the pavers down, we dug out as many uneven areas as needed and placed the dirt behind the vertical wall to level the yard behind it, it is an interesting contrast! We then began spreading sand over the area and tamping it down. After that and again using the ground stakes, line and level we “gridded” our patio out, corner to corner and center to center. Then we sprayed the outline of the patio down with water soluble spray paint. This gives you an excellent view of the scope of your project! We then outlined the patio(s) with pavers, being sure to mortar them down, to keep them and everything else contained within the dimensions we wanted. The most time consuming part for us was laying the pavers. There were three of us and it still took over a week to get everything done. Now the pattern you use it strictly up to you, but we used the most simple, “the running bond”. It has courses that “offset each other by 1/2 of a brick, to break up the pattern and give it some visual interest. For those of you who don’t know, a “course” is a laid row of pavers. I cannot tell you how many courses we laid, it was a lot! It is best at this point and as you are laying the pavers to check your work with a level both vertically and horizontally. Also, keep that short flat board handy to smooth out the areas completely as you lay the pavers, it must be as flat as possible to avoid having drainage problems in the future. I also had someone “eyeball” each course from the side to make sure it didn’t bow out or in. Like I said, in about a weeks time we had laid 3,000+ pavers!

THE FINISHING TOUCHES: After you finish laying pavers, take sand and spread it out on top of the patio areas. Then sweep with a broom to encourage that sand into the cracks between the bricks. This beats having to mortar those pavers in hands down, but you can also do that if desired. It may take several sweep overs over the course of a few weeks to get the crevices filled. Don’t get rushed! It will come together and be beautiful, and you know what? It’s all your work with your own hands! We left an area between the wall and the edge of the pavers to plant our different varieties of plants and trees, and it was here that we put in that small pond! The most significant foliage was the Japanese Mu mi tree, The paper plant, and the Peking Willow. We placed both the Mu mi and Paper plant above the wall. The Willow we planted behind the pond to offer it shade and hopefully keep the algae in check. At the other end, the fire pit we like to call it, we placed a wood burning fire bowl. The plants around it included grapes and a Weeping Mulberry. We then put up cedar pergolas! We placed these on the walkway between the two patios. Whether or not you build these and the wood you pick is a matter of choice. We have started and are going to plant white Wisteria on each of the 8 vertical posts of the pergolas, when these mature they will provide a beautiful covered walkway and shady area. I have pictures if our project and if you would like to see it, just email me : Also I can try and answer any questions you may have. Good luck!

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