Building a Deck Beside the House but NOT Connected to the House

There are several reasons not to connect a deck to the house, even when it is beside the house. A house with a brick veneer, which you cannot attach a ledger to. Or even a house with stucco, yes, you can bolt the ledger to the house, but the building envelope’s damage makes it better not to attach the deck to the house. Another reason not to attach a deck to the house is if the house is cantilevered. Which again cannot support the load of a deck.

What is the best solution for not attaching a deck to the house?

A freestanding deck allows you to have a deck beside the house without attaching the deck to the house. Providing you with an outdoor living space to enjoy the summer beside your house without compromising the house’s building envelop or the additional load of the deck.

Building a freestanding deck is actually easier than it sounds. The design and construction are similar to an attached deck except with an additional beam and a little bracing. Replacing the ledger attached to the house with a beam.

Of course, this beam will need to be supported as it is freestanding.

Which raises the question of footings. Does the deck need footings below the frost line, or are you going one more step and building a floating deckOpens in a new tab.?

A floating deck is exactly as the name says, it’s floating. Built resting footing at ground level, not below the frost level. As the name says, rising and falling as the ground freezes and thaws. The deck floats with the ground.

A freestanding deck on footings below the frost level will cost more to build and involve more work but will not float with the seasons. With the deck supported below the frost level. From the same stable ground, the house is supported by. So regardless of how the ground freezes or thaws, the deck will stay consistent with the house. With the same step from the door unto the deck as the first day, you build it.

 Floating Deck FootingFrost Deck Footing
Labour30 Minutes2 hours

One more consideration in choosing the type of unattached deck to build, is building codes. The height of your deck is limited with a floating. The International Building Code limits a floating deck to less than 30″ (762mm) from the ground. In Canada, we go one step further, or should I say shorter, limiting floating decks to less than 24″ (600mm) above grade. 

In some jurisdictions, the deck’s size also limits if the deck can be floating or not. Limiting a floating deck to less than 200 square feet (18.5m²). Which is a pretty big deck but check before you decide. Build it right the first time.

Footings For a Freestanding Deck Not Connected to the House

Which footings you choose will change the work involved in construction. So, I will break this step out, Floating and Frost Footings. Of course, no deck is supported by only one footing. It is a good idea to space footings between 4′ and 8′ (1.2m-2.4m) based on the joists’ length and beam used.

The Canadian Wood Council has a handy chart. If you wish to check it out, click hereOpens in a new tab.. The chart includes both joists and beams. If permitting, check your local code. I am always amazed by the little differences between cities.

Now you have the beams and joists figured out, unto the footings.

Installing Floating Deck Footings

Since deck blocks are cheaper and easier to install than poured footings, you can increase the number of blocks and reduce the beam’s size and joists if you want. Personally, I like to build it the same as a deck with frost footings.

Material Needed

  • Deck Pier blocks, according to deck design
  • Bag of gravel, one per Deck Block

Tools Needed

  • Spade
  • Compactor
  • Small hand shovel
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit or a Laser level

Pier Block Installation

  1. Determine the location of the deck
    1. Define size using the joist and beam material to define the area
    2. Square by running tape diagonal
  2. Mark pier block locations
  3. Determine the height of the deck in relation to the house
    1. Mark deck height on house
    2. Minus the depth of the decking, joists and beam height to determine the bottom of the beam. Which is the maximum height for the top of the footing. Keep everything clear by actually drawing it out.
  4. Remove the first few inches of grass and soil, plus whatever depth you need to set the pier block below the beam and joists
    1. Dig holes about twice the size of pier block base
    2. Giving freedom to adjust location and makes digging easier
  5. Level bottom of the hole and scrape all loose dirt out using the small shovel
  6. Compact about 2″ (50mm) of gravel on the bottom of each hole
    1. Gravel is for drainage to minimize deck heavy from water under the deck blocks
  7. Set Pier blocks,
    1. Set Beam material on Pier Blocks
    1. Check heights with level between blocks
      1. Post may be needed for correct beam heights
      1. Brace as required
    1. Adjust blocks or cut posts till level and at correct heights.
  8. Frame Deck, install decking and railing if required

Installing Frost Deck Footings

This will require a lot of work but is the stronger footing option for a deck. Have a plan of what to do with the extra dirt from the holes. Either spreading it out below the new deck, filling in a low patch in the yard or possibly dispose of as clean fill at the landfill. Always check with landfill rules before loading the truck. Some landfills have some particular procedure and what they accept as “clean fill.”

Material Needed

  • Premixed concrete according to deck design

Roughly one 55 lbs (25kg) bag of ready mix for 9″ for depth for a 10″ diameter column 

4’ (1.2m) footing depth= 5.5 bags of 55 lbs (25kg) bag of ready-mix concrete

  • Post Saddle
  • Sono Tube (Concrete Forming Tube), sized as required

Length of Frost level in your area

Tools Needed

  • Spade
  • Clam Shell Post Hole Digger
  • Metal Pry Bar (For loosing soil and rocks)
  • Garden hose with spray nozzle
  • Wheelbarrow (For mixing Concrete)
  • Saw for cutting concrete tube
  • Tape measure
  • Spirit or a Laser level

Frost Footing Installation

  1. Determine the location of the deck
    1. Define size using the joist and beam material to define the area
    2. Square by running tape diagonal
  2. Mark footings locations
  3. Determine the height of the deck in relation to the house
    1. Mark deck height on house
    2. Minus the depth of the decking, joists and beam height to determine the bottom of the beam. Which is the top of each footing. Keep everything clear by actually drawing it out.
  4. Dig each footing to the depth below frost level
    1. Get tired, ask yourself if footings are really necessary
    2. Contemplate if deck blocks would be easier, while continuing to dig
    3. Question locations as you try to pry that boulder out of the hole
  5. Insert sono tube into the hole
    1. Adjust for size and location as required. Rough hole is rarely correct
    2. Set to correct height, often 6″ (150mm) above grade
    3. If beam is less than 6″ (150mm) from the ground, remove a few inches of dirt from around the top of the sono tube to drain water away from the beam.
  6. Mix concrete in the wheelbarrow or inside the installed sone tube
  7. Set post saddles
    1. Either to receive post if deck is higher
    2. Or to receive beams with a lower deck.
  8. Give concrete a night to cure before setting beams and posts
  9. Frame Deck, install decking and railing if required

Challenge of Not Connecting the Deck to the House

Beyond the additional beam required to support half the deck. This would have been supported by the house if attached. You have the challenge of stability. Connecting a deck to a large fixed object like a house does a lot for stability. If the house can’t move, nor can the deck.

But a freestanding decking has to be constructed with additional stabilizers. As the deck is now freestanding, free to move. With the potential to collapse from the sudden movement of people on the deck, or even a gust of wind can blow the deck over.

Or when you chase after the dog running off with your patty, and the deck moves with you!

For a taller than 3′ (900mm) freestanding deck, the post needs to be braced to stop to lateral movement. Maintaining the post base location to the deck above.

Bracing should be run at a forty-five degree from the beam or joist down to a minimum a third of the post height or two feet (0.6m), whichever is greater. Bracing should be a 2×4 or greater material strong enough to resist movement, fasten with structural screws or bolts to ensure that they remain connected over time.

Working together, the braces need to prevent the deck from moving in all directions. Both moving front to back but also side to side. Needing bracing running both front and back along with side to side. Running braces to the corner post both from the beam to the post and also from the joist down to the post. 

Next to beam construction, lateral bracing is the most critical aspect to prevent deck failure. Don’t be afraid to overdo it a little bit.

Keep it intentional and neat to improve appearance. You can also read more about hiding it all under the deck hereOpens in a new tab..

As an extra precaution, you can also run a 2×4 diagonal brace on the joist’s underside to prevent racking of the deck. This is not as critical as post bracing but can increase the deck’s strength.

In Conclusion to Building a Deck Next to a House Without Connecting

A freestanding deck may be an excellent addition beside an house even without connecting it to the house. Minimizing the impact on the houses building envelope.

An un-attached deck simply needs to have an additional beam and footing to replace the ledger and brace to provide stability lacking from not being attached to the house.

And with all that, set up the chairs, pull up the barbeque and enjoy our freestanding deck beside your house.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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