Have you ever wondered if you could build a deck directly on the ground? And if so, how long would the deck last? If you’re wanting to spend more time outdoors and want to landscape your yard to a cost-effective budget, you might consider a detached, ground-level deck to add conveniently usable space to your yard.
A ground-Level deck is a freestanding deck that’s constructed less than 30 inches above the ground. Any deck higher than 30 inches requires guardrails, stairs, and possible permits. If your ground-level deck is not attached to your house and is less than 200 square feet, you do not need a permit. (With some exceptions on a per county basis).
How nice would it be to have a secure and stylish deck in the middle of your yard just under that shaded tree you’re so fond of? Or tucked away in a corner behind some shrubs for some morning coffee privacy in your pajamas? You can build a ground-level deck anywhere in your yard and the best part is that it’s easy to build in a day if you have the right equipment on hand.
Read on to find out more about ground-level decks, the benefits, and some ideas that might fit your budget, your time constraints, and your backyard.
Ground-Level Deck Benefits.
You might hear of ground-level decks also being called floating decks, free-standing decks, island decks, or platform decks. This is because of their proximity to the ground and because of their detachment to a house or dwelling.
Although the names are commonly used together, you might find some differences in these decks across different companies and construction businesses.
You can legally build a ground-level deck anywhere in your yard as a type of platform or floating deck as long as you adhere to any easements and setbacks to your property line.
There are numerous advantages to building a ground-level deck that make them a popular option for homeowners across the country.
If you’re just starting to research good options for a backyard deck, here are the benefits of building a ground-level deck that might help you to decide:
- Ground-level decks are cost-effective.
- You don’t need stairs or railings
- Less risk of injury from height-related incidents.
- No permits are required if the deck is detached from the house and not used as a house entry, is less than 30” from grade level, and in some cases can not exceed certain square footage sizes. (Check your local guidelines for confirmation on the acceptable area)
- A ground-level deck can legally be built anywhere in your yard. (You still have to follow the rules in your county concerning easements and setbacks from the property lines)
- Less time-consuming than elevated decks.
- Frost-depth footings aren’t required. (Although here at TNT we overbuild everything so we still recommend following your local caisson depth requirements to avoid future issues.)
- They’re generally easier to build because of their closeness to the ground.
You can read more information on the Building and Construction Code and Standards here for any permit and construction queries you might have. See Section 105.2 “Work exempt from building permit”. Alternatively, here’s an easy-to-read PDF brochure from Larimer County Community development on residential deck information for your property.
Do I Need Footings for a Ground-Level Deck?
At TNT Home Improvements we recommend using footings for every deck, even ground-level decking that “hugs” the ground. What you don’t need for ground-level decks are the typical frost depth footings for higher-built decks, depending on your area of the country.
Footings provide the foundation of a solid deck. Ensuring that the deck doesn’t quickly rot, fall, or tip, and blow away in strong winds. You need one footing and/or support block for every angle of the deck.
12 inches below ground is the recommended and required depth of the footings for ground-level decks. Some platforms and free-standing decks can be supported by concrete blocks instead of footings.
At TNT Home Improvements we recommend using footings to support the overall weight of the decking as well as to maintain the structure longer and to avoid fast rotting by being so close to the ground.
Ground-Level Deck Ideas
There are a few options that you can choose from to support your ground-level or free-standing platform deck.
You can opt for the traditional footings, dug 12 inches below ground level or alternatively, you can use blocks. Blocks can be DIY or store-bought, either way, if you want a stronger deck, no matter what the size or height, supported decks are stronger and longer-lasting decks.
Here are a few options that might work for your ground-level deck:
One of the cheaper options is concrete blocks. Depending on the style of your deck, these might not be the most attractive option so you might want to spend a little extra on having them covered up. Then again, maybe you like the rugged concrete look!
The pier blocks were designed specifically for floating decks so they’re a popular option.
Depending on the height of the blocks used, keep in mind that you may need to partially bury them in the ground to ensure your ground-level deck doesn’t exceed the 30-inch limit, resulting in it no longer being a ground-level deck and needing to rethink the whole project.
Remember, solid concrete is heavy, so you might want to work with a partner on this one if the blocks are a little heavier than you realized. You might also need gravel to support the blocks if you’re needing to dig them into the ground.
Keep in mind this is the easiest, but the most temporary solution which doesn’t always make it the best; especially over the long run. Here at TNT, we don’t even give this as an option to our customers as it’s more of a DIY solution. Not commonly seen on a professional grade deck.
A more costly but more attractive DIY option is the wood post anchor.
A great option to help avoid premature rotting and is quick and easy to install. If you have a good hammer, you can easily install these anchors in the ground without needing to dig or spend any more money on gravel.
They also come in a few different options, including colors and sizes depending on what your deck requires. Some, which may be of interest to you and your design style, can be painted.
You might want to check the hardness of your ground area where you plan to build your deck before going out and purchasing this option as it’s essentially a giant spike that needs forced down into the ground. If the foundations of your land have concrete anywhere underneath, this might not be the best option for you.
No need for concrete or gravel, this lightweight composite post foundation is tested by third-party engineering labs, approved and certified by the International Code Council Evaluation Services (ICC) and can provide support for your deck and up to 2355lbs (1068kg).
Simply dig a hole that fits the footer, flatten the bottom of the hole, place the footer in and attach the decking structure for a wholesome and peace of mind type of ground-level or elevated deck.
A huge pro is that these footings pads aren’t too expensive depending on how many you require and another bonus is their lightweight design meaning you can carry these on your own.
This is definitely a more permanent, long-lasting solution that we here TNT are more prone to use for the majority of our projects big or small. This solution doesn’t require you to break the bank, but it does require a bit of sweat equity as we dig all of our caissons to at least the 30” frost mark for Northern Colorado. If the deck does require a permit then you will have to adhere to the exact width and depth for your footer holes.
After digging the required (or even non-required) caisson hole size, be sure to ‘bell-out’ the bottom of the holes making it impossible for any future uplift. Then run on down to your local builders’ supply and grab a flat cart full of bags of the appropriately rated concrete mix. With the right amount of water to concrete mix ratio, you can fill your holes and add any required hardware to the top most surface.
If this one sounds too hard/complicated then you may have to make a decision to either settle for a less secure method… or call in the pros. Here at TNT Home Improvements, we’ve got the big-boy tools like giant two-man augers that can make the job of punching 10+ holes in your yard fly by in just an hour or two.
What Timber Should I Use for my Ground-Level Deck?
On every outdoor deck we build, we use pressure-treated lumber for the framing of the structure. Pressure-treated wood is wood that has undergone a process to make it more durable and sturdy, less vulnerable to rot and decay from the elements, and in some cases is even fire retardant. If you are planning on setting your deck framing directly ground (which we don’t necessarily recommend), then you would have to use special ground-contact lumber to further prevent rot for your ground-level deck.
As far as the decking that you pun on top of your ground-level deck, you can go with either a natural wood (like a redwood) or you can choose a synthetic decking material (like a composite or ‘Trex’ material). Keep in mind that referring to Trex as composite material is very similar to referring to Kleenex as a tissue. Not every tissue is created by kleenex just like not every composite deck board is created by Trex. There are many options for composite decking material manufacturers.
Here at TNT Home Improvements of Loveland, Colorado, we recommend TimberTech decking materials to all of our customers. With numerous composite decking options to choose from, TimberTech has a sustainable approach to designing your decks.
Up to 100% of the wood used at TimberTech is made from recycled materials and since 2001 Timbertech has helped to save over 3 million trees.
TNT Home Improvements can help you to design your dream ground-level or elevated deck using high-quality materials and dedicated, experienced, professionals in the construction and building field. If you are located in the Northern Colorado/ Southern Wyoming area, then give us a call today at 970-663-2868 or fill out the contact form here to make an appointment to discuss your options for your ground-level deck vision.