Build a Front Deck

Builders wouldn't dream of selling a new home without a finished bathroom, but decks are another story. Building a deck is one of the most popular DIY projects — so popular that many homebuilders forgo these structures on new houses, knowing that buyers often prefer to design and construct their own.

Although they're most often built on the back of a house, decks can be a great front-entry focal point. Like the traditional porch, a deck creates a more defined and appealing entryway in addition to a place to relax outdoors. Here's how you can determine whether a front deck will work in your situation and design one that enhances your home and yard.

General design
The design considerations for a front-entry deck are almost identical to those of a typical backyard deck, but there are a few important factors that should not be overlooked.

First, the distance from the bottom of the doorsill to the ground will have the most impact on your design (and may even eliminate the option of installing a deck). If the bottom of your front door is less than 16 in. above the ground, it will be difficult to install adequate framing; your best option will be to build an entryway patio.

When there is adequate distance between the bottom of the door and the ground, I prefer the open appearance of an entry deck without railings. But this approach only works if the bottom of the door is no more than 36 in. from the ground. Most municipal codes require railings if the deck is more than 30 in. high. And even if railings aren't required by code, you may choose to install them to create more privacy or add architectural detail.

The second design consideration is scale. Design scale is important for any project, but the scale of a front-entry deck in relation to the rest of the house and yard merits extra attention. In most cases, bigger is not better. Front decks only need enough space for a few chairs or a bench; a deck larger than 80 to 100 sq. ft. may look like you built an ark in your front yard.

Third, consider how existing entry steps factor into your construction plans. The daunting prospect of breaking up and removing concrete stairs has stopped many homeowners from proceeding with this project. Although it is easier when the steps have been removed, in many cases you can build a new deck right over them long as they are in good condition (not crumbling) and built on a stable footing and there is at least 3 in. between the top of the steps and the doorsill (see "Framing Over Steps," below).

Finally, check with your local building-code department for special rules about front decks. For example, the project featured in this article is a freestanding (not attached to the house with a ledger board) ground-level deck, which typically does not require a permit. However, because this structure acts as the home's primary entrance, a permit and inspection were required.

Digging Footings

Pouring Concrete Footings

The beams for this ground-level deck are supported by 9-in.-dia. footings that extend down below the frost line (in this case 42 in. deep). A power auger makes digging footings much faster and easier.

Framing over steps

The trick to building over old stairs is to notch the framing around the steps so that they provide continuous support for the framing. The joists are scribed to follow the slope of the concrete, and a filler block is installed on the first step down to support the joist where the notch is cut. The old steps act as a large footing or support for that corner of the deck.

Fastening Decking

Not long ago, hidden deck fasteners were only used on professionally built custom decks. Now there are several systems that any DIYer can use. We used the Camo Deck Fastener system on this deck with great results.

Framing Stairs

You can build one step with a simple box frame, but two steps (or more) require stringers.

Built-In Natural Features

A great way to make any deck unique is to incorporate a natural feature, such as a boulder or tree. You can build around an existing feature or install a tree or rock for this purpose. Follow proper framing practices to ensure that structural integrity is not compromised. It's easiest to work around features that are located in corners or at the ends of joists that are supported by beams. All framing modifications should be approved by a licensed building inspector or structural engineer.