Project Plans: Dress Up Your Deck

Embellish an ordinary deck with privacy-enhancing style.

The ideal deck invites you to relax, unwind and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, many decks place you on display for all your neighbors to see. As soon as you step outside, your every move can be scrutinized by prying eyes. Add to that the sun’s glare and your deck becomes an uncomfortable spot that you avoid.

However, you can reclaim your deck from nosy neighbors and harsh sunlight — and add a sense of style and sophistication — by incorporating arborlike structures into its design. Integrated into the deck’s railing system, these structures are a great place from which to hang draping plants or outdoor privacy screens. Here’s how you can retrofit your deck to block the neighbors’ view and create shade in the process.

The key to this project is proper placement and installation of the cedar 4x4 posts that support the railing sections and form the base of the two corner arbors. Because every deck is unique, actual spacing from post to post will depend on your deck’s size and construction. In general, you’ll want the posts that make up the corner arbors to be no more than 36 in. apart, and the spacing of the rest of the posts should follow local building codes. If you plan to use a manufactured railing system as we did, you’ll also need to follow its installation requirements for post spacing.

Once you’ve determined the posts’ placement, mark their locations on your deck by drawing a box for each post. Drill holes at two opposing corners of the box; then use a jigsaw to cut away the decking (photo 1).

Cut the posts to the correct heights. For this project, we needed six 94-in.-long posts, four 70-in.-long posts and four 45-1/2-in.-long posts. (The lengths include an extra 10 in. to allow the posts to be bolted to the deck’s framing.)

Insert each post into its respective hole (photo 2). Have a helper hold the post in position, check that it is plumb and then use lag screws and a building strap to secure the post to the deck framing (photo 3).

For this project, we used a modular railing system from Anchorail (see Sources in the PDF below) that features a metal top and bottom track with “anchor balls” that lock the individual powder-coated metal balusters in place (photo 1). Here’s an overview of the basic steps involved in installing the system.

To build the railing sections, start by cutting lengths of 2x4 that are 8 in. longer than what would be required to fit between the 4x4 posts. Attach the tracks to the edges of the 2x4s, and screw the anchor balls onto the tracks. Carefully align the top and bottom tracks, and mark the actual required railing lengths so that the first and last balusters will be equally spaced from their respective posts (photo 2); then use a miter saw to cut the 2x4s with the attached track to the required actual lengths (photo 3).

Push the individual balusters onto the anchor balls of the bottom rail (photo 4). Hold the top rail in position so that its anchor balls fit loosely into the tops of the balusters; then use a rubber mallet to tap the top rail firmly into place (photo 5).

Set scraps of 2x4 material on the deck to act as spacers for the positioning of the railing sections. Make sure that each section is vertically centered on the posts to which it attaches; then screw the railing sections to the posts (photo 6).

Once you have all of the railing sections installed, you’ll need to attach a cap rail fashioned from 1x6 cedar that has been notched to fit around the posts (photo 7). For a professional look, miter the ends of the cap rails (photo 8), and make sure that any seams where two cap rails meet fall behind a post so they’ll be out of sight.

CREATING THE ARBORS The two corner arbors lend style to the overall design and create shade and privacy. To build them, start by toescrewing the horizontal 2x4s in place (photo 1; see illustration in the PDF below for dimensions and placement). To accommodate the front 2x8 cross member (G), notch the tops of the tallest posts (photo 2); then set the front cross member into the notches, check that it’s equally spaced between the two posts and toescrew it in position (photo 3).

You’ll need to cut two diagonal notches in the rear 2x6 cross member (H) so that it can fit over the arbor’s top horizontal 2x4s (photo 4; see illustration for the location of the notches). There are a variety of ways you can do this; we made repeated passes with a circular saw, cleaned away the waste with a chisel and then used a file to smooth the notches (photo 5). Set the rear cross member in place and then toescrew it to the 2x4 upon which it rests.

For increased strength during high winds, you can attach a pair of triangular gussets to the back of the front cross member and to the topmost horizontal 2x4s (photo 6). Finally, stain the railings and arbors. Once they’re dry, you can hang any privacy screens or plants you desire and enjoy your newfound retreat.