Read This Before You Build a Ground-Level Deck

Ground-level decks that are floating (not attached to a structure) are easier to build and cost less than standard deck construction. Here’s what you need to know before you begin.

By: John Riha
Platform Deck With Ocean Views

Oceanside Deck With Seating for Two

This raised platform TimberTeck deck provides the perfect ocean viewing point.

Photo by: TimberTech


A ground-level deck is a great way to add some livability to your backyard: it can be a place to barbecue, hang out and entertain, all on a nice flat, level surface that’s clean and safe.

If you want to know how to build a ground-level deck, start with the reassuring fact that it’s one of the easiest decks to build. There aren’t any posts, and if it’s free-standing — meaning it’s not attached to your house or any other structure — you won’t have to dig the footing holes that are required by building codes to prevent frost heave. Instead, you can build on inexpensive store-bought deck pier blocks that you set directly into the ground (check your local codes for proper installation of deck blocks).

Gray Pergola and Deck

Graceful Greenery

Landscaping hugs the curves of the deck and creates a living frame with greenery just off the dining area. Using layers of plants in the landscaping and gives the space a lush, textured feel of an outdoor oasis.

Photo by: Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

Robert Peterson, Rustic White Photography

Place beams on your blocks, add joists, and bam! — your substructure is complete. Because a ground-level deck is so low, railings are optional (codes require railings on decks with walking surfaces that are more than 30 inches above grade). You can add railings if you want, for sure, along with built-in benches, planters, and arbors, depending on your budget and design.

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Ground-level decks can be any shape or size, depending on your needs. Put them close to the house as a transition from inside to outside, or toward the edges of your property to create an island oasis. You can find free ground level deck plans and design tools at the websites of home improvement centers and manufacturers of decking and deck parts.

But because ground level decks are so low, with framing often only inches from dirt, structural members have to endure a damp, dark environment. Use only pressure-treated beams and joists to help prevent rot and insect attack. Give the cut ends of framing members a coating of wood preservative or finish to help seal the end grain against moisture. Use only stainless steel or galvanized steel fasteners.

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How to Build a Ground Level Deck
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Decking, too, is close to those often-damp conditions. Use either pressure-treated or synthetic decking boards. If you prefer cedar, redwood or some other wood, give the undersides a coat of finish or water sealer before installing them.

It’s likely that your finished deck will be a few inches off the ground. It’s good that there are openings to circulate air under your deck, but those openings can also be a problem. Leaves and other debris can blow under your deck and accumulate where you can’t get at them to clean them out. Too much debris can even speed the deterioration of pressure-treated lumber, and it can create havens for critters and insects.

Neutral Contemporary Deck

Neutral Contemporary Deck

This outdoor deck is ideal for entertaining with lots of seating, a bar area, and a pergola for shade.

To keep debris and animals from getting under your deck, add a wire screen along the perimeter just behind the rim joists. Galvanized wire mesh with 1/4-inch openings is a good choice. Bury 2 to 3 inches of wire mesh into the ground to deter burrowing animals.

Next Up

How to Build an Attached Deck

Plan and construct an attached deck with these step-by-step instructions.

How to Build a Simple Deck

Learn basic deck construction with this easy design.

How to Build a Detached Deck

Transform a boring backyard with these step-by-step instructions.

How to Build a Tree-Encompassing Deck

Bring nature into your outdoor entertaining area with a deck built around existing trees.

How to Replace Wood On a Deck

Repair a damaged section of your deck with these step-by-step instructions.

How to Replace Composite Playhouse Decking

Eliminate the safety hazard presented by rotting wood with this repair project.

How to Paint a Deck

When it comes to painting your deck, thorough prep is key to good-looking results that will last for years.

Create Storage Under the Deck

It’s a big, empty space — put it to good use with these smart under-the-deck storage ideas.

How to Seal a Deck

Keep your wood deck looking beautiful by applying a fresh coat of deck sealer every year or two.

How to Build a Backyard Deck

Host Steve Watson helps a homeowner build a backyard deck.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.


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