5 Reasons Why Deck Plans Are Necessary and How to Create Them For Free

The front view of the deck plans for our second story deck

The front view of the deck plans for our second story deck

If you are planning on building a deck you will need a good set of plans to make a quality deck. You can pay a lot to get custom plans, but you can also get free plans or create the plans yourself with inexpensive or free deck software.

If you followed the last article designing your new deck you should now have a good idea of the overall design for your deck and what features you want. Now it is time to get your plans on paper.

Years before we had detailed deck plans, we had someone develop a landscape plan for our front and backyard. The landscape plan included a rough plan for our new deck.

It did not include a lot of details on the overall deck design, but it did have the deck layout, location, stairs and deck railing. Basically, a good overview of how it would fit in with our backyard and landscape plan.

5 Reasons Why Detailed Deck Plans Are Useful

When we finally decided to build our new deck I got a local architect to create detailed plans. Having a good set of plans can be used for a lot of different thing that include.

  1. Providing a detailed plan of where and how your deck will be built
  2. Getting your city building permit
  3. Getting a material list for your project
  4. Getting quotes from builders
  5. Making sure that you or the builder builds your deck to your design specifications

Before spending the time or paying someone to create your detailed plans, it is a good idea to create a rough set of plans and take them to your local city planning department for review. I learned this lesson the hard way because I had to pay the architect to update our plans after the first review with the city. This is because I did not take into account our side lot lines and an easement that went through our property.

For the initial visit I think a rough drawing is all you need. This will give the city staff a good idea of what you want to do and they can provide advice based on your lot and the local building codes.

Your local city planning department can also provide you with the following information.

  • Decide if you need a building permit.
  • Review any easements or restrictions on your property.
  • Provide information on what you need to include in your detailed plan to get your permit.
  • Get a copy of your property location plan.
  • Determine if there are any pipes or cables buried on your property that you need to worry about.

4 Ways to Create Your Deck Plans

For my deck I had an architect create my detailed plans. It’s a big second story deck and I wanted to make sure it was designed well and to code. I was also having someone build the deck and I wanted to make sure they knew what they were supposed to do and hand know questions. If you are making a simple deck and do not require a permit, you may not even need plans if you have built a deck before.

If you do need plans, here’s four ways to save your money and develop them yourself.

  1. Use paper, pencil and ruler
  2. Use an existing plan
  3. Use Google sketch up or other free software
  4. Use deck design software

One advantage to all of these methods is that it does not cost anything to make any changes to your plans. This is great if you change your design or want to see what different features will look like.

Deck design software has really advanced in the last few years and it has lots of great features. You can print out your completed deck attached to your house. You can print out the material list. There are also free software packages available. If you are interested in this, please keep reading this post.

Unless you are planning on building a house, I do not think it is worth purchasing a software package that creates house and deck plans. Go with the specialized deck software, because it will be cheaper and focused on designing deck plans.

3 Sites That Offer Free Deck Plans

Free plans are available for download on the Internet. There are some really good plans available and some that are not so good. Before you start building your deck using these plans you should review the overall plan and make sure it includes all of the information you need to build your deck.

I would also take the plans to city hall when you get your permit and have them review them. They won’t go through all of the details, but they should review them to make sure they are up to your local code and are okay on your proposed building site.

Here are a few sites I found on the Internet that offer free plans for download. You may have to provide your name and email address to download the plans. I have not used any of these plans, but I expect you may get automatically signed up with their newsletter.

Decks.com – a good selection of plans with a lot of different sizes

DeckPlans.com – simple deck plans and deck component plans

TimberTech.com – a good selection of simple plans that include the material list

4 Sites That Offer Free Deck Design Software

Something else that I’ve noticed in the last few years is free deck software. These are available download or you use them over the Internet. There is usually a catch that you need to use their building materials, but if you like their products this is a great way to develop your deck plans for free. They also provide tips and information on their products. Here are a few free packages that I found on the Internet and I’m familiar with.

Big Hammer Deck Designer – Big Hammer developed deck design software years ago and it use to cost around $29.95

Home Depot Deck Designer – this is a version of Big Hammer software designed for Home Depot Deck Designer

Real Cedar Deck Designer  – this software is supplied by the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, so they know about designing cedar decks

Trex Deck Designer Software – this software is provided by the Trex Company that is the country’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing products

Lessons Learned In Creating My Deck Plan

Review your initial plan, property lines and easements with city planning department before you start a detailed plan. This will save you time and money if you do not have to redo your plans. Also, you won’t be disappointed when you can’t get the deck you thought you would.

Have a good set of detailed plans can speed up your permit application because it is easy for the city planning department to review and accept them.

Here’s a link to the next post, Do I need a building permit and the process to follow.

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