Ground Level Decks, the Cheapest Decks to Build


I have built many decks over the years. Ranging from a couple of hundred bucks to over thirty thousand. I have even seen decks that would compete with your house budget to build.

But if you are looking for an economical deck. Something to enhance the backyard, to set a few chairs on without breaking the bank.

Floating ground level decks are the cheapest and easiest decks to build. Two main factors make ground-level decks cheap, the lack of poured concrete footings and railing. These two items alone will save you thousands of dollars and hours in work. Making a ground level deck the most economical deck to buildOpens in a new tab..

A ground-level deck is defined in Canada as any deck less than 24″ (600mm). In the United States, most states are a little higher at 30″ (760mm) from grade (the yard).

But for the real savings in deck cost, a deck low enough to the ground as not to require a step is ideal. A ground-hugging level. Just one step up from the grass at less than 8″ (100mm).

Besides, deck stairs take a lot of thinking and time to build, so the lower, the better. Avoid all that complicated construction with a simple raised platform.

A Ground Level Deck is Cheaper without Concrete Footings

Most building codes require footings below the frost level for a raised deck. Anything above that magical height of 24″ (600mm) in Canada or 30″ (760mm) in the States. Which in Calgary, where I build decks, is 48″ (1.2m). That’s a lot of digging and concrete work.

A 10″ (250mm) concrete column, 48″ below grade, with a saddle holding the deck post or beam, will cost around $60 bucks just for material. Then a couple of hours of back-breaking work, if you’re lucky when digging the hole and mixing the concrete. Times that by 3 for a 16′ (4.8m) wide deck attached to the house, and you save almost two hundred dollars. Double the footings and costs if it’s a free-standing deck. Along with hours of work.

But a ground level deck can simply sit on the ground. 

It is often a good idea to stabilize the deck frame with deck blocks. You don’t want to feel like your out at sea while you walk across your deck! But a deck block only cost around ten bucks plus a bag of gravel or limestone screenings for drainage and levelling for about the same.

Now instead of a couple of hundred dollars for footings, its around hundred and twenty for six-deck blocks and drain gravel.

Yes, you read that right. Six deck blocks because a floating deck cannot be attached to the house. Keep it separated.

 A Ground Level Deck is Cheaper Without Railings

If you can’t hurt yourself falling off the deck. No need for safety railing. It’s safe enough without a railing. Again, savings in the bank. How much? Well, that depends on the type of railing.

I am a fan of aluminum railing because of its low maintenance and strength and ease of install. But aluminum railing runs at around forty dollars afoot. So, for three sides of a 16’x12′ (4.8mx3.6m)

Would cost around $1600 for aluminum railing plus installing it.

A simple wood railing with 2×2 (38mmx38mm) pickets will cost less, around $600 but will take much longer to install.

Yes, there are many different railing options. If you want to learn more about railing cost, click hereOpens in a new tab. to compare the five most popular railing costs.

But not having railing really makes a deck cheaper.

A Ground Level Deck is Cheaper Because it Doesn’t Require a Permit

Before you count your savings, check with your local jurisdiction. But in Calgary and most cities, ground-level decks are excluded from the building codes. So nothing to inspect, nothing to permit.

Which will save you a couple hundred dollars and hours in drawing up plans and pulling the permit.

A still suggest you build to code, with proper sized beams and joist. You want a cheap deck, not garbage.

Even without a permit, build something you can be proud of and enjoy for years.

Ground Level Deck Total Costs Savings

Before getting into design and examples, just with these three savings, building a ground-level deck will be between $1 000 and $1 600 cheaper than the same size raised deck. Same size, same space to set up your chairs but costing less.

All at a convenient yard height.

Here is Jeff from Home RenoVision DIY building a ground-level deck. I can’t entirely agree with everything he does, but he explains and shows how to build an easy and cheap ground level deckOpens in a new tab..

Ground Level Deck Are Cheaper When DIY

If you have the tools and are handy, ground-level decks are even cheaper when you build them yourself.

How much cheaper?

Well, that depends on your market and who you hire. Hire the kid down the street to put the deck together, not much. Hire a dedicated professional deck contractor with skills and experience to boot, a lot.

A simple rule of thumb is half. If it’s a thousand dollars worth of lumber going into the deck. If you Do It Yourself, you’ll save about a thousand bucks.

So, if your looking for a cheap deck. Plan to build it yourself. But as Jeff showed, it’s not that hard to construct a ground-level deck.

Save Money and Time Building a Ground Level Deck with a Simple Design

There are so many ways to dress up a deck. To emphasize its beauty and increase its functionality. Like picture frame decking, angles, skirting, arches, curves, just to name a few. But if you want a cheap ground level deck, build a square or rectangle, with perpendicular decking all running the same direction. As low to the ground as possible.

The simpler the deck design, the less waste and time required. The cheaper the deck is.

Example of Costs of Ground Level Deck Designs  

I hate disclaimer but let’s start with one before getting into the numbers of ground level deck costs. At the time of writing, this lumber is expensive. This happens almost always during the summer deck-building season, but this year is higher than usual. Hopefully, when you read this. It’s way cheaper, but who knows.

Let’s get into some example prices as priced out today. These are only for material, so if you hire a professional, your deck will cost more. But then you won’t have to build it either.

The Cheapest Ground Level Deck, $400 for 96 square feet of deck

A simple 8’x8′ square deck for two chairs and an umbrella when it gets to hot outside.

8’x8′ Deck Material List

  • 4×4-8′ posts (9)
  • 5/4×6-8′ decking boards (19)
  • GRK 3/8 x 6-inch GRK RSS Rugged Structural Screws (14)
  • #8 3″ deck screws (350)

The cheapest design is 4×4 fence posts for joist with 5/4″ decking. Screw together with structural screws, spacing the joist at 16″ on centre. Do footings, not even deck blocks. Simple screw the posts together. Hopefully, they are consistent in length. Level with blocks of wood or shims off the ground and lay the decking down.

Arrange the decking with an equal overhang on both sides and screw them down to the post.

Set your chairs up and enjoy.

Not a thing of beauty but cheap, quick and gets your feet out of the mud and dust.

You could use treated 2×6 instead of posts, giving you a little more height, costing about the same as 4×4 joist. Adding four-deck blocks will make it easier to level while making it a little more stable, but that will add $80 to the cost.

A Cheap Ground Level Deck for a Table with Chairs, $900 for 144 square feet of Deck

If you want a table and chairs, you need a bigger deck. A 12’x12′ square deck is excellent for setting up a table for six with a little extra space. Maybe a barbeque on the side, to cook and eat all out of the dirt.

12’x12′ Deck Material List

  • 2×8-12 Pressure Treated (14)
  • 5/4×6-12′ decking boards (28)
  • #8 3″ deck screws for decking (550)
  • #8 3″ deck screws or 3″ galvanized nails for the joists (160)
  • Deck Blocks (6) optional
  • Bags of Gravel/Limestone for deck blocks (6)

Build your perimeter box, level with blocks off the ground.

For stronger build, dig deck blocks into the ground and level with gravel or limestone. Keep the blocks low for minimum step up to the deck. Adding deck blocks will increase the cost, about $120 plus a couple hours or more digging and levelling.

Install the 2×8 joist 16″ (400mm) on centre spacing screwing with 4 screws for each joist end. Or you can use nails, which are stronger, cost less but take a little more work to install. Unless you have an air nailer, then it’s easy and fast.

Cutting the boards and joist to size will improve appearance but isn’t necessary. I would, but it’s your deck and time.

Double up the 2×8 at the ends of the joist to increase strength after installing the joist.

Arrange the decking with an equal overhang on both sides and screw them down to the joist. Two screws per joist, for each board. Using Camo edge screws will improve the deck’s look but increase cost by about $100 for the screws and Camo Marksman Pro Tool. Your call a nice look but not cheap.

12’x12′ deck gets you, your table, a few chairs and some friends off the dirt for under a grande.

A Cheap Ground Level Deck for a Table with Chairs and More, $1250 for 192 square feet of Deck

Now we mean business. A deck large enough to enjoy with friends and have some fun on it. Big enough for table, chairs and room to barbeque. Just don’t overload it. This is still only a floating deckOpens in a new tab..

16’x12′ Deck Material List

  • 2×8-16 Pressure Treated (4)
  • 5/4×6-16′ decking boards (28)
  • #8, 3″ deck screws for the decking (700)
  • #8 3″ deck screws or 3″ galvanized nails for the joists (225)
  • Deck Blocks (8) optional, increase costs $160
  • Bags of Gravel/Limestone for deck blocks (8)

Construction of a ground-level deck 16′ wide by 12′ deep is not much different then a 12′ square deck, just a couple extra joists and deck blocks if you choose to support it.

But in case you did read it, here are the steps.

Build your perimeter box, level with blocks off the ground.

For a more robust deck, dig deck blocks into the ground and level with gravel or limestone. Keep the blocks low for minimum step up to the deck. Adding deck blocks will increase cost by about $200 plus a few hours or more digging and levelling.

Install the 2×8 joist 16″ (400mm) on centre spacing screwing with 4 screws for each joist end. Or you can use nails which are stronger, cost less but take a little more work to install. Again, air nailer changes all this.

Cutting the boards and joist to size will improve appearance but isn’t necessary. This will immensely improve the look of the decking ends, allowing for overhang.

I am a big fan of overhang, but it does add work and cost. But I am such a big fan of overhanging decking that I have written over 2000 words about the advantages and limitations. Click hereOpens in a new tab. to read all of them.

Double up the 2×8 at the ends of the joist to increase strength after installing the joist.

Arrange the decking and screw down.

As always, I recommend using Camo edge fasteners to make your decking look better and last longer, but that will increase costs.

Yes, there are endless designs for ground-level decks, but to keep it cheap. Keep it simple and with minimal waste by building it to the size of material from the store.

Ryan Nickel

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

Recent Posts