Thinking of building a deck, there are two designs to consider freestanding or floating. It’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both options before starting construction. As they are not equal. It is not just a matter of personal preference but also key aspects of cost, construction and durablity.
Freestanding decks are similar to floating decks but are supported with frost-level footings. Costing more than a floating deck, but are more resistant to seasonal movement and are more stable. Freestanding decks eliminate the potential of water damage to your house since they are not attached to it.
But there is more to consider when deciding which deck is best for you. Such as cost, installation differences, flexibility in design, structural support requirements, along with durability.
Hopefully, after you will know which deck is best for you.
But before we get into the details, let’s define deck terms.
- Floating Deck
- Freestanding Deck
- Attached Deck
- Reasons Not to Attach a Deck to the House
- Difference in Movement Between a Freestanding and Floating Deck
- How a Floating Deck is Better than a Freestanding Deck?
- How a Freestanding Deck is Better than a Floating Deck?
- Is a Freestanding Deck Better Than an Attached Deck?
- Permits for a Freestanding Vs Floating Deck
- How far should the deck post be from the house?
A floating deck is a ground-level deck supported by free-floating footings. Often precast concrete deck blocks. The deck is built on footings that rest on the ground’s surface instead of footings that are excavated below the frost level.
Hence the name “floating” because it is not secured and only sits above the ground.
Because of its movement, a floating deck cannot be attached to the house because of the strain placed on the house and the potential of pulling away from the house a collapsing.
A freestanding deck is constructed independently, without a ledger board securing it to the house. Often built away from the house in the yard. But can be built beside a house when the house is stucco or brick, which makes installing a ledger difficult.
Unlike a floating deck, a freestanding deck is supported by frost-level footings. Eliminating seasonal movement and increasing the deck’s stability and strength.
An attached deck is supported by both the house and frost footings. The deck is secured to the house with a ledger board with frost footings away from the house supporting the deck’s beam and joists.
The majority of the decks constructed are attached.
Both because of the convenience of location besides your house along with the reduced cost compared to building a freestanding deck beside your house. By not requiring footings to support the deck beside the house.
Reasons Not to Attach a Deck to the House
There are several reasons not to connect a deck to the house, even when it is beside the house.
- Risk of Water Damaging the House
- The veneer of the House
- Cantivler House Floor
The greatest reason is the potential for water damage. Incorrect installation of a deck ledger can damage the house’s building envelope, creating the potential for water damage.
Plus, the ledger can trap water against the house leading to rot between the house and the ledger.
A house with a brick veneer or stucco can make bolting the ledger to the house difficult or often impossible. Without significant cost or potential damage to the house.
Finally, if the house is, if the floor is cantilevered, it is not designed to support the additional weight of the deck. Requiring footings beside the house to support the deck.
For these reasons, people may decide to build a floating or freestanding deck instead of an attached deck.
Difference in Movement Between a Freestanding and Floating Deck
Freestanding decks are more stable than floating decks. With footings that go below the frost line, they will not have seasonal movement.
Floating decks, on the other hand, sit directly on top of the ground and will have some movement with the changing seasons.
You can reduce floating deck movement by digging out the first six inches of topsoil, removing the organic material under the deck block, that is unstable. Then compact gravel in the hole before setting the deck block. The gravel will allow the water to drain along with space for the water to freeze and expand without impacting the deck.
But this will only reduce movement, not eliminate it.
If you want a stable deck, a freestanding deck is a better choice.
For a ground-level deck, this is not a big concern. But any deck higher than 2 feet from the ground, it should be considered.
Without footings, there is nothing to anchor the deck too. The wind can push over the deck or accidentally pushed over.
A freestanding deck provides additional lateral support with the footings anchored down. As opposed to a floating deck which can be moved.
How a Floating Deck is Better than a Freestanding Deck?
There are 2 ways that a floating deck is better than a freestanding deck.
Floating decks are significantly cheaper to build than freestanding decks since they don’t require footings and posts.
A quick comparison of the two footings.
- Floating deck Pier Block $40-65
- Poured concrete Footing $150-170
The depth of the frost in your area will make a significant difference in how much concrete and digging is required for a footing for a freestanding deck. But this will give you a rough idea.
A small deck 12’x12′ deck, a freestanding deck, will cost over $500 more, than for the exact same floating deck.
Start digging the hole for a footing, and you quickly realize why people prefer to build floating decks. Footings require a lot of digging, and then mixing of concrete.
Whereas floating foundations need only shallow holes to remove organic material and a little gravel compacted underneath.
Plus, you can start building right after setting the blocks, no waiting for the concrete to set harden.
How a Freestanding Deck is Better than a Floating Deck?
The advantage of a freestanding deck over a floating deck can be summed up into one word.
Supported from below the frost level. Eliminating season movement.
Heavy concrete footings dug into the ground, anchoring the deck in place.
Yes, a freestanding deck will be stronger and more durable than a floating deck.
Is a Freestanding Deck Better Than an Attached Deck?
The difference is the ledger. Which is both a pro and a con.
Pros of attaching your deck
Reduced cost. With most decks beside a house, attaching the deck will delete half the footing. Cutting your cost in half.
Not significantly, but there is some strength advantage to anchoring the deck to the house. Allowing the deck to draw from the rigidity of the house.
Cons of attaching your deck
An attached deck has an increased chance of water damaging the ledger and the house.
This risk can be reduced with flashing, joist tape and other water-diverting technics, but the risk will always be greater than not attaching to the house at all.
A freestanding deck gapped away from the house, will not trap water. No trap water, no rot. At least not on the house.
Permits for a Freestanding Vs Floating Deck
In most jurisdictions, it’s not the support but the height of the deck that impacts permitting.
With a lower deck, often either 30″ or 24″ from the ground generally, you will not need a deck permit. Regardless if it’s freestanding or floating.
Some municipalities require permits if the deck is attached to the house. Eliminating the need for a permit for a freestanding deck as it is not attached to the house.
And also a floating deck, as it should not be attached to the house.
How far should the deck post be from the house?
It is best for the deck post and footings not to be installed above the house footings. Without knowing the projection house’s footings, locating a freestanding deck posts the maximum deck joists cantilever distance away from the house is best.
Code varies by jurisdiction but often is a maximum of 24″ for 2×8 and 2×10 joists and 16″ for smaller joists size.
The distance will also make installing the footings easier as then you will not have to dig beside the house.
In summary, a freestanding deck is better than a floating deck in terms of cost, installation time and overall stability. Freestanding decks provide extra lateral support with the footings anchored down while floating decks can be moved when needed. Freestanding decks are also better for preventing water damage and are not subject to permitting requirements, as long as they are below a certain height.
Ultimately the choice of which deck type is best for you will depend on your individual needs and wants.