How to Build a Level Deck on the Ground

Every homeowner has dreamed of turning their yard into the perfect outdoor oasis, and building a deck is at the top of the list.

People might think this is a hard project, and they’d be right. However, if you build a ground-level deck, you don’t have to build stairs or safety railings. How do you build a deck at ground level?

Read on to find out exactly how to build a ground deck, including the layout and design, planning the foundation, and laying the deck.

What’s the Process of Building a Ground Level Deck?

One of the easiest outdoor structures to build is a ground-level deck, but it’s not the easiest. Because the deck isn’t very high, it needs a lot of airflows underneath or it will rot quickly. Due to their height, many people don’t see a reason to add stairs or safety rails. However, if you have toddlers running around, you may need safety rails.

A deck that is less than 12 inches from the ground is called “ground level.” It should have plenty of airflows to keep mold and rot from growing. For the frame and decking, you should always use pressure-treated wood or better.

Also, a ground-level deck doesn’t have to be attached to anything, so there’s no need for a ledger board, which, if not installed correctly, can cause wood rot in your home’s foundation. Because there are no stairs or railings, this type of deck is cheaper to build than a regular height deck.

Most ground-level decks that you build yourself cost $10 per square foot for pressure-treated framing and decking, and if you hire someone to do it, it will cost you two to three times as much. Depending on the materials used and the size of the deck, the price can go up quite a bit.

Here are the steps you need to take to build a ground-level deck yourself:

Lay Down The Plan And Design

Planning is the key to the success of any project. If you get this right, you’ll be halfway done with a project that will turn out well. At this point, you should think about the following:

  • Location: You don’t need a big space for the deck. Small and simple is always better. Make sure you choose a spot where you can see your yard well.
  • Drainage: Standing water is bad for wood, so you should make sure that the area around and under the deck drains better.
  • Size of the deck: The deck needs to be high enough off the ground to keep mold and rot from growing. To avoid getting a permit, the deck shouldn’t be bigger than 200 square feet or taller than 30 inches. If you want a bigger deck, you can get a permit or, as I did in my backyard, build separate frames.
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Most pieces of wood are 8, 10, 12, or 16 feet long. For the least amount of waste in framing and decking boards, you should use a size that combines the above lengths. A 1216 deck is one example.

Get All The Materials Needed

The main thing used to frame a deck, especially one at ground level, is pressure-treated wood. No matter if you live in a wet or dry area, building codes say that any framing members that touch the ground must be treated with pressure.

Make sure your beams and joists are made of pressure-treated wood that can come in contact with the ground. If you don’t use that kind of wood, your framing might not last as long.

There are many different kinds of materials that can be used for decking, as shown below. Pressure-treated decking is the lowest grade that can be given, and it will also be the least expensive. Many decks are made of wood that has been treated with chemicals to make it last longer.

Consider tropical hardwoods like ipe, cumaru, tigerwood, or composite wood decking if you want to improve the look of your deck and make it last longer. They cost two to three times as much as pressure-treated decking, but they last two to three times as long.

  • Pressure Treated Decking
  • Cedar
  • Redwood
  • Tropical hardwood
  • Composite wood

Account For Deck Ventilation 

Keeping the ground under the deck dry and clean should be at the top of your list of priorities. If you want to build a ground-level deck, I’m guessing you want to go below a patio door or you don’t want something with a big step up.

If you’re building a deck that’s less than 6 inches off the ground, you’ll need to dig out some dirt to give it the airflow it needs. One of the biggest parts of the building will be getting rid of the dirt. I try to dig at least 6 inches or more of dirt out from under my ground-level decks. I then put 2-3 inches of gravel over weed barrier fabric, which helps water drain.

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Set up the framing and leveling

The foundation of a building is very important because it determines how strong and long-lasting it will be. If your deck is going under a patio door, this height is important to know. When I build decks, I do things backward. I put my flush beams and joists together first.

I build the outside layer of my framing to the height I want it to be under my patio door, and then I use concrete blocks to level each side. To lay on top of the framing boards, it helps to have a long level. When everything is level, you can start framing.

Make sure your outside frame is a few inches shorter than your longest deck board. Most of the time, you want at least an inch of space between your deck board and the framing below.

If your deck boards are 16 feet long, or 192 inches, you will want your framing to be 190 inches or less. Because some decking boards will have checks or cracks on their ends that will need to be cut off, I usually build my framing 4-6 inches shorter.

Set Up The Beams

The flush beams will be needed so that water and air can flow better under the deck. “Flush beams” are on the same level as your joists, not underneath them like regular beams.

Make sure they are supported all the way to the bottom of the deck, either with concrete forms buried in the ground or with concrete blocks that float on the ground. Which one you can use may depend on where you live.

Anywhere there is a chance of high winds, you will need to anchor the deck frame to the ground. Either put the posts in concrete or use concrete forms and hardware to connect them to the deck’s frame. If you can use floating concrete blocks, make sure you have enough to support the framing properly.

If you need to level a few spots with shims, use pressure-treated or composite shims under the beams. Another way to level the ground would be to add more gravel to it.

Add Inner Joists

Make sure your deck is square by taking a diagonal measurement from each corner before you connect all the inner joists. If the measurements are not the same, make changes until they are the same.

I use structural screws to connect all of my outside beams and joists, and joist hangers to connect my inside joists. With this hardware, you can be sure that the framing of your deck is very safe. Most beams and joists on ground-level decks will be 26 or smaller.

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I try not to frame a deck with anything shorter than a 26, unless it’s going over a 2×4-supported concrete patio. When using 2x6s as joists, the distance between them should be 16″ or less. Most building codes show how long beams and joists can be for different kinds of wood.

Add blocking between the joists, especially if they are longer than 10–12 feet, to make your deck even stronger. By adding blocking halfway up the joists, you can make the deck more secure.

Lay The Decking

You should be able to see that the deck is starting to take shape now. Before you put the decking down, check each one to see if it has any cracks or checks at the end.

If any do, cut them off if you can. I like to put all the boards on the deck and put a couple of screws in each one. Then I go back and put the rest of the screws in. For each decking board, each joist will get two screws.

I also cut off the ends of the boards after putting them up instead of cutting each one before putting them up. Note that you should cut the first board to size if it will be next to a house.

If your deck is on the ground, you’ll want a bigger gap to let in more air. I leave a 1/4- to 3/8-inch space between the boards on my deck. If you use pressure-treated decking boards, make sure you leave enough space between them because the boards will shrink as they dry.

To cut the ends of all the deck boards at once, draw a line across the board where you want to cut it or clamp a long straight board to the framing, as shown in the picture above. Use a circular saw to cut through each board where the line is drawn.

If you don’t think you can screw in a straight line, mark the locations of the joists so they are parallel to the decking. This will make your decking screws look more professional and keep them in a straight line.

Final Words

Ground-level decks are a great way to make your outdoor space something you’ll want to spend a lot of time enjoying.

It’s also easy to put together if you have the right plans. We hope that you now feel ready to take on this project for your backyard.

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