All you need to make accurate deck plans are a pencil, ruler, and graph paper.
Measuring window sill

Draw your deck to scale on graph paper (typically 1/4" to the foot). You'll need at least a site plan, a plan view, and one or two elevations. You also may want to draw detailed plans for complex parts of the deck. Drawing plans can be tedious, but it's worth the effort to make the project go smoothly.

Take measurements

Deck plans begin with measurements of your property. Take a 100' tape (and a pad and pencil) out to your yard and measure the distance from the house to the property lines, as well as the dimensions of the house, the location of windows and doors, electrical outlets, dryer vents, and water valves.

Draw a site plan

A site plan is a drawing that shows your property boundaries, the house, and other major features. It also shows the distances between elements in your landscape that might affect the deck construction. A simple deck plan only needs to be a sketch that includes these measurements. More complicated deck plans will require a scaled drawing.

Writing on note pad

Make detailed plans

With detailed plans that show every framing member, you can count the pieces of lumber you need. You also can show obstacles such as dryer vents; plans will help you work around them. Detailed plans can also save you money. For example, because lumber is sold in even lengths, you can keep costs down by making deck dimensions correspond to those lengths. If your detailed plan specifies a 12 1/2' ledger and you can reduce the size to 12', you'll avoid cutting a 14' board and wasting a lot of lumber.

Note pad with house written on top of it

Complete a plan (overhead) view

A plan view shows the deck as viewed from above. It illustrates the exact location of piers, beams, and joists. It also may include a partial view of the decking, railing, and any other structures attached to the deck. The drawing shown combines a view of the framing with the decking installed above the beams and posts. For more complex decks, these two views can be drawn separately. Draw the foundation and framing plan first, then use tracing paper to produce the finished view.

Include all dimensions overall length and width, joist and beam spacing, and material sizes.

Floor plan

Elements of an elevation (side or front) view

A front or side elevation illustrates the vertical arrangement of deck elements footings, posts, railings, and any built-in planters, benches, or overhead structures. Each elevation should show the depth of the footings and spans, plus post and railing dimensions. Railing dimensions should indicate the height of the railing as well as baluster spacing.

Tip: computer-assisted planning
Design your deck with computer-assisted drafting (CAD) software. Most CAD versions will produce a plan view, an elevation, and a perspective. Many also will produce a list of lumber and other materials.

If you're not confident of your computer skills, ask your home center staff for help. Many retail outlets offer computer planning programs and have staff members who know how to use them. Bring in a rough drawing with dimensions (height, width, and length) and have the computer draw your plans.

Got a question on design or woodworking software? Go to:

Floor plan, call-out “Baluster spacing”