10 Qualities of a Well-Build Deck

Standards and codes for deck building requirements are different from city to county and State, and each inspector’s interpretation will vary. However, each build or replacement should intend to meet and exceed building standards in your area.

As a deck builder in Raleigh, NC, our recommendations are based on the regulations in our area.

Building durable decks doesn’t necessarily add significant costs. However, paying extra for a few upgrades will provide a longer-lasting deck protected from rot and failures. Here, we will explain how.

1) Deck Board Installation

There are many installation methods. While some are controversial, we are sticking to standard requirements for a quality deck, and these recommendations may not apply to fast-paced new construction jobs.

Screw vs. Nail

The best way to fasten a wood deck board is with 2.5-inch Simpson StongTie deck screws. Unlike nails, screws will not back out. Even the best nails, such as ring shank, will back out over time. Composite boards are best screwed using a hidden screw system and will not last as long when fastened on the face of the board.


Additional Tips: 

Predrilling holes before screwing the edges of deck boards will prevent additional wood splits. 

Treating the edges of boards containing less than .12 copper chromate is recommended.

Wood Type

All horizontal deck boards should be ground contact grade treated lumber. Number one, lumber will look better, have fewer wood knots, and should come from leading wood manufacturers. Wood sizes range from 5/4×6 deck boards to 2×6 boards for added strength.

Wood Decking Installation  

Placing boards with definitive grain orientation crown-side down can minimize cupping. However, most lumber will not have this distinction. Therefore, this detail is not essential in most cases, and screws will contain the few boards that contain directional grain patterns.

Composite Decking Board Installation

Composite decking is best screwed using a concealed screw system and should never be fastened on the face of the board.


2) Floor Joists

Floor joists should be 12″ on-center for composite decking and not exceed 16″ for 5/4×6 wood decking. 

A 2×10 floor joist or wider is recommended to reduce floor bounce and racking. We prefer joist hangers instead of ledger boards when installing a deck substructure. Hangers prevent unwanted sags, movement, or separation over time. 

Blocking between floor joists provides additional lateral stability and increases floor strength overall.  

3) Rim Joists & Band

A rim joist is found on the outer edge and holds all floor joists together. Single rim joists are a thing of the past in modern builds. Two rim joists nailed together every 6-8 inches create a stronger floor and prevent the outer joist from twisting and cupping. Screened porches will require three rim joists for added strength.

Band boards attach the deck to the home or structure and should be bolted on using 5/8 carriage bolts with nuts and washers or lag bolts staggered every 8 inches. 

Building engineers will spec metal corner support brackets referred to as L90’s and L50’s. 

4) Footers

All accessory structures must be placed on concrete footers. The load, solid ground depth, and post-placement determine footer dimensions and specifications.

All ground posts should be placed on piers, post anchors, or stand-off brackets. Concrete piers raise posts above ground level, keeping them drier and helping them last longer. 

Consult with a deck builder or refer to the engineer’s plans for adequate specifications on footer and pier specifications.

5) Deck Posts

Post is a general term for vertical wood or metal support bearing weight or load. There are a few types of posts, and they all are installed differently.

Ground Posts

The best ground post for a deck is 6×6 ground contact treated lumber. 6-inch posts are rated for taller decks. Ground-level posts should be strapped using hurricane ties. 

Post Bracing


Post cross bracing or knee bracing will prevent the deck from shifting from side to side. Fastening braces include 2 5/8 through bolts no more than 2 inches from the edge of the post.

Standard knee bracing extends 1/3 the length of the post. However, be advised that inspectors vary in measuring procedures. Some will measure from the ground, and others from the footer. Cross bracing is needed when the footers are deep or when posts are close.

Second-level Porch Posts

Like the lower post, second-level posts will match in size, and metal straps must be installed on both the top and bottom of the post. 

6) Rail Posts

4×4 rail posts are a minimum standard and should never be notched. Instead, the entire post must be bolted to joists using 1/2 inch or 5/8 bolts. Rail posts can be placed outside or outside the rim joist. 

6×6 rail posts can be notched, eliminating two 4×4 posts on outside corners. Matching ground and rail posts look more appealing, creating an intentional deck design queue. 

7) Handrail Caps

A 2×6 handrail cap or composite material lasts longer than a standard 5/4×6 deck board. However, handrails for steps cannot exceed 3.5 inches wide. 


8) Balustrades

Handrail balustrades for areas above 58″ cannot be more than 4 inches apart. Install balustrade 3-3.5 inches to eliminate minor errors or discrepancies. Each spindle is spaced apart from one other, and spacing more than 4 inches can result in having to rebuild everything.

According to the International Code Council, the national standard for handrail height ranges from 34-38 inches for safety and visibility. Handrails are available in wood, PVC, glass, aluminum, and stainless-steel cables. Metal and composite materials provide less maintenance.

9) Steps

Stair stringers are cut from 2×12 treated lumber. Stringers are spaced 12-16″ apart, similar to floor joists. The transition from the deck to the steps must be level without any tripping hazards.

The rise of each step ranges from 6 to 7.5 inches. All exits after step termination must meet or exceed 35 inches. 

10) Flashing

Flashing areas of a deck where it meets other structures are among the most critical deck standard building practices. Proper flashing installation includes tucking it behind the siding and draping it between the band joist and flooring. 

Aluminum flashing will corrode and have a chemical reaction with treated lumber. Plastic, rubber, and specifically treated metals are permissible for flashing treated lumber.

Joist Tape 

Joist tape provides additional protection when applied to joists with nail holes and is a best practice when replanting an entire deck floor.

Final Thoughts

In summary, use concrete, bolts, screws, and metal brackets wherever possible. Using larger lumber and water prevention are critical considerations to futureproof your new deck build or repair. 

Contact us for your next deck repair or build today.

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