Which is Better, a Floating or Freestanding Deck Beside your House?


Majority of decks are attached to a house. The convenience of an outdoor living space connected to your house is great. Walking from the comfort of your house, unto your deck to enjoy the fresh air and the warming sun if fabulous. But just because a deck is beside your house does not mean it has to be attached.

A deck conveniently located beside a house does not mean it has to be attached to the house. You can build a floating or freestanding deck beside your house without attaching it. It may be advantageous not to attach a deck to a house.

You may not want to attach a deck to your house because of masonry veneer on your house. Or not wanting to damage the houses’ weather shield by cutting the stucco or siding. Also, some jurisdictions do not require permits for un-attached decks. Making it advantageous, saving money and paperwork apply for a deck permit and inspections.

Lastly, some decks are just not close to your house. A deck surrounding a tree or in the middle of the yard cannot be attached to the house. There are two ways to build an un-attached deck, either freestanding or floating. Some people use the terms interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference between the two.

Freestanding decks: are built on post supported by footings below the frost level. Ensuring that the deck remains level and in place regardless of water or freezing.

Floating decks: are built on ground level footing or merely rest on the ground without any structural support. As the name says, floating decks “float” on the ground rising and sinking with seasonal changes.

Lets first discuss some questions about floating decks before we move unto freestanding decks.

First, can a floating deck be attached to a house?

No, you cannot attach a floating deck to a house. Attaching a floating, moving deck to a solid house will cause either the deck to break off or damage the foundation of the house to with the added stress of the rising and falling of the deck. For both the good of the house and the deck, never attach a floating deck to a house.

But that doesn’t mean you cannot have a floating deck beside your house. Depending on where you live, a floating deck may save you money and work, which leads us to our next question, explaining why floating decks cost less.

Does a floating deck need footings?

No, floating decks do not need footings. This is the biggest advantage of a floating deck, is that you don’t have to dig footings. With a ground-level deck, the joist can rest on the ground with minimal blocking for levelling. They should be treated for ground contact but can rest on the ground. A floating deck not resting on the ground may have pre-cast concrete piers supporting the beams but not installed below the frost level.

Will a floating deck move?

Yes, floating decks will move with the ground and seasons. If the ground is stable, the deck will reflect this but cannot be counted on. The ground that may appear to be stable, after a good rain, suddenly sinking as the ground gives way. Think of a floating deck as a blanket lying on the ground, it may be a nice surface to enjoy but it will move with the ground.

One way to minimize movement with floating decksOpens in a new tab. built on precast piers is digging out the first six inches or so of topsoil, removing the organic material as it is most unstable. Clay is not perfect, but it does not soak up water the same as loam. Then set the piers on top of compacted gravel. The gravel will allow the water to drain away while providing room for the water to freeze and expand without impacting the deck. By replacing the spongy topsoil with compacted gravel, a floating deck will move less. 

Are Floating decks any good?

The quality of floating deck is like all decks, is dependent on the quality of construction and application. In a yard with stable ground with limit heaving from frost or moisture, a floating deck may last for years. The deck remaining in place along with the ground.

For a small deck less than 10’x10’ not attached to anything else or having stairs, stability is less of a concern. For with a small square deck, if one corner sinks, it can easily enough be raised up and more material slide underneath to stabilize it. A larger or more complicated deck configuration may become unusable. Twisted and very challenging to level later.

Small, unattached decks that can easily be levelled are good as floating decks. Larger or complicated decks should have footings. The footing will keep the deck level for many years.

Another thing to consider is the decks’ cost. If the decking is going to cost a few thousand dollars, it may be worth it to spend a few hundred more on footings to ensure you can enjoy the deck for years. But an economical deck costing only a few hundred bucks, footings may cost too much.

Is a freestanding deck better than a floating deck?

A freestyle deck is costlier than a floating deck but is more stable with the addition of footings to anchor too. Also, the deck footings providing a stable deck for years to come. The deck supported from stable ground below the frost level.

Unless your budget is incredibly tight or you are building a deck around a tree so as not to damage the trees roots. I would always go with a freestanding deck over a floating deck. Yes, they will cost more but you will be able to enjoy it for many more years. A freestanding deck is better than a floating deck.

Is a freestanding deck better than an attached deck?

A freestanding deck beside a house will cost more than an attached deck. A freestanding deck will need additional beams and footings to support the load which if attached to the house, would be supported by the ledger.

A freestanding deck is better than an attached deck in that water remains away from the house. With no ledger attached to the house, water will not become trapped against the house, possibly rotting the side of the house and deck. A freestanding deck gapped away from the house; water will freely flow off the deck. Keeping the house and rim dry, preventing rot.

What is the house’s finish at the deck’s level?

Some houses claddings are easier to repair than others. Vinyl siding, for example, is easy to remove, modify and reinstall. Allowing you to remove the siding, install the ledger, cut the house wrap and slide the flashing underneath the house wrap. Resealing up the house wrap, ensuring water running down the house will be directed away from the house, not getting behind the ledger.

Other finishes like stucco are hard to modify and tie into the building wrap behind the stucco. Increasing the possibility for water to get behind the ledger and rotting the house. With stucco and similar cladding, a freestanding deck may be better than an attached deck.

A low deck at the houses’ concrete foundation level, the biggest risk is not to the house but water getting behind the ledger and rotting. As you cannot tie into the building wrap, directing the water off the ledger with flashing.

Decks level with the concrete foundation height, you have two options. Freestanding deck with a ½” (12mm) gap or so, allowing water to run pass the ledger. Prevent the ledger from trapping water and rotting. Or you can attach the deck ledger with spacer, giving the same gap but without the additional beams and posts. Deck2Wall sells quality spacers designed for this very purpose. Here is a link to Deck2WallOpens in a new tab. spacer if you would like to read more or order.

Freestanding decks are durable, better for preventing rot but cost more.

In summary, is a freestanding deck better? Freestanding decks are stronger and more durable than floating decks but will cost more. A freestanding deck will also cost more than an attached deck but may be advantageous where it is hard to install deck flashing correctly due to the house finish.

Do I need a permit for a freestanding deck?

When a deck requires a permit varies with jurisdictions. Some base permits requirement on size, others’ height and some attachment to the house.

In Calgary, Alberta, the requirement is height. All decks higher then 24’ (0.6m) from the ground require a permit regardless if they are freestanding or not. The concern is falling or structural failure where collapse could cause injury, not the structural impact of attaching a deck to the house.

Most houses in Calgary have concrete foundations or wood framing that lends itself to attaching a deck to the structure. The largest reason to not attach a deck to your house in Calgary is not to compromise the exterior water seal of the house. Being especially true with stucco houses, as its extremely tricky to properly seal the house for water when the house is finished with stucco. Stucco is an excellent water barrier in its original design. But the elements that seal are hard to integrate in later, as the system is built off layering of material.

If you decide not to attach your deck to your house but build a freestanding deck, the location of the deck post becomes important.

How far should deck post be from the house?

It is best both for the deck and construction to keep the post as far away from the house as possible while still having the deck close to the house for convenience. With a freestanding deck, this limits you to the distance of the joist overhang. This is good as it will sufficiently clear the house’s footings while giving you room to work when digging the holes for the footings. Setting the deck beams with maximum overhang on both sides will increase the strength of the deck by reducing the joist span.

Joist Size Maximum Overhang
2×6 2×8 16” (400mm)
2×10 2×12 24” (600mm)

How close can deck posts be to a house?

I don’t know of a code, but the best practise deck post should far enough away from the house as not to impact the houses’ strip footings. In Calgary, for example, most house’s footings extend 8” (200mm) from the house. Meaning your deck’s footings should be no closer than 8” (200mm) to the house.

Another element is the size of the footings. A deck post should be centred on the footings, meaning that if your beam is 16” (400mm) from the house the edge of your footing is closer. Again, using Calgary as an example where we are required to have 10” (250mm) diameter footings. Which is small compared to some other regions but with the deck beam 16” (400mm) away from the house, the edge of the footing is 12 ½” (318mm). Amble room to not put pressure on the footing of the house.

Hopefully this has helped you to decide if you are going to build a floating, freestanding or attached deck by your house. In short which ever you decide make sure it is safe and you can enjoy it for years to come.

Ryan Nickel

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

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