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How to Build an Outdoor Multi-Level Deck?

Monday, November 20, 2023

A multi-level deck gives you more space for outdoor relaxation and adds style to your dining area, hot tub, and fire pit. It also makes plants and water features stand out and connects the sun and shade in your backyard.

Of course, multi-level decks require more work and planning but don’t worry. Multi-level decks are built the same way as single-level decks. Here’s how to build a multi-level deck, including how to choose materials, dig a foundation, build a deck, and install stairs to connect the levels.

Choosing Materials for a Multi-Level Deck

You can choose the same materials for a multi-level deck as you would for a single-level deck. Use pressure-treated lumber for the framing, and choose wood, composite decking material, or synthetic material to install the deck boards. Choose the decking material that best suits your actual needs.

Pressure-treated lumber

Often chosen from Douglas fir or southern yellow pine, these woods are protected from insects and rot by the addition of pesticides and other chemicals. This is the most popular and cheapest type of deck material. However, it should be noted that it requires frequent maintenance, which means extra upkeep and cost.


Cedar is a traditional wood that doesn’t naturally rot or attract bugs. It’s also soft and easy to cut and join. It costs about twice as much as pressure-treated decking. Every few years, you’ll need to stain and seal it to keep it from turning gray.


Composite decking

Made from a blend of recycled plastic and wood fibers, composite decking is weather-resistant, sturdy, and low-maintenance. It doesn’t require much maintenance other than regular cleaning with soapy water twice a year.

Composite decking costs more than wood decking, but it never needs to be painted, sealed, or stained. It is also guaranteed not to split, crack, rot, or become infested with insects for 25 to 30 years.


Like cedar, redwood is resistant to pests and weather, but it requires frequent cleaning and refinishing to maintain its appearance. Plus, it’s more expensive than pressure-treated wood.

Some people are also concerned about how long it will last since it comes from old-growth forests that are difficult to restore.


This wood is thick and hard and comes from the rainforests of South America. This wood is expensive, but it looks great and won’t rot or attract insects. In addition, IPE is more difficult to work with than other materials because it is heavy and dense.


PVC Decking

PVC decking is primarily made of polyvinyl chloride, a decking material that won’t rot and bugs won’t damage it. However, there aren’t many colors to choose from, and PVC doesn’t have the warmth and character of solid wood or high-end composite decking.

Structural Materials

Depending on the size and shape of your multi-level deck, different types and amounts of materials will be needed. You can use this list to get an idea of how to make your own deck.

  • 4×4 and/or 6×6 pressure-treated lumber
  • 2×8, 2×10 and/or 2×12 pressure-treated lumber
  • Joist hangers
  • Concealed joist hangers
  • Standoff post base
  • Anchor boltsBolt
  • Post-pour anchor bolts
  • Structural wood screws
  • Lag screws
  • Hurricane straps
  • Carriage bolts with nuts and washers
  • Hot-dipped galvanized framing nails
  • Metal and butyl flashing
  • Concrete mix
  • Tubular concrete forms
  • Wood sealer/preservative

Creating a Multi-Level Deck Plan

Each level of a multi-level deck can be used for a different purpose, such as entertaining, cooking, or sitting with the little ones. The bottom level of a multi-level deck can also extend up or down depending on the slope of your yard. This guide will introduce you to the extra steps needed to build a multi-level deck.

Determine Whether to Frame a Freestanding or Connected Deck

You can connect the framing of multiple decks together, or you can have each deck stand alone. Freestanding decks are not connected to other levels and can stand on their own. Each level can be built on its own deck, one level at a time.

A connecting deck is where the framing of each floor is connected to the next floor. With the connecting method, once the framing is complete on all floors, the entire project is finished. Before you start building a multi-level deck, check with your local authorities to finalize which connection method is right for your home.


Choosing Flush Beams or Suspended Beams to Build Each Level

Each level of the deck can be built using either flush beams or drop beams. Whether you use drop beams or flush beams depends on how the deck is built. If there is enough space between the deck framing and the ground, drop beams can give you more design options. You can install drop beams below the joists.

Flat beams are used when the deck is very close to the ground. The top of the joists will be level with the top of the flat beams. To make installation easier, you can attach an angle bracket to the top of the joist and hang it a little above the edge of the joist.

Selecting Deck Materials

Most builders use pressure-treated lumber to build multi-level decks. This lumber material is the cheapest, but it requires you to perform regular maintenance and upkeep work. Even when properly maintained, wood decks usually only last 10 to 15 years.

While composite decking costs more to install than wood decking. But it requires little maintenance and is strong and durable. When installed correctly, composite decking typically lasts 25 to 30 years or more.


Getting the required building permits

Different places have different permit requirements, but in most cases, building officials want to see a scaled drawing of the structural framing of a multi-level deck.

In addition to this, you may need to indicate how large the footings will be used and where they will be located. You may also need to indicate how the different levels will be connected to the house and how they will be connected to each other.

Materials Needed to Build a Multi-Level Deck

You probably already have many of the tools you need to build a multi-level deck yourself. You can rent specialized tools such as a cement mixer or an auto-feed screw gun. Below is a list of all the tools you will need to get the job done.

SafetyMeasurement and MarkingConstruction
Protective eyewear
Leather gloves
Dust mask
25-ft locking tape measure
Ground-marking spray paint
Chalk line
Mason line
String level
4-ft Level
Post Level
Framing square
Speed square
Plumb bob
Circular saw
Power miter saw
Hand saw
Claw hammer
Flat pry bar
Drill and drill bits
Impact driver and driver bits
Screw gun with an auto-feed
Ratchet wrench and sockets
Posthole digger
Cement mixer/mixing tub
Trigger clamps

How to Build a Multi-Level Deck

Do-it-yourself DIY deck installation projects can save money, but they usually take more time. Don’t rush it, and make sure each step goes smoothly when building a multi-level deck. You’ll be able to enjoy your garden more when you’ve finished building your multi-level deck.

Step 1: Prepare the deck location

Before digging, call 811 to find out where the deck will be located. Take enough dirt from the sloped areas of the building to make it level or nearly level. Even if the ground is flat, take away sod and organic soil. The soil will drain better this way, and weeds and trees will not be able to grow there. You can add landscape fabric later.

Step 2: Lay the Foundation

Use a tape measure, level, and lead hammer to find out where to dig the foundation. Then mark each location with spray paint. To dig to the right depth, use a hole digger or drill. Then, place a cardboard template into the hole. Place the formwork on the ground and level it.

Then, fill the form with concrete and level the top. As soon as the concrete dries, the brackets that attach the struts or beams to the footings are installed. Helical piers can be used instead of pouring footings, but special hydraulic equipment is required to drive them into the ground.


Step 3: Install the Ledger Board

Set the height of the finished house deck, remove the thickness of the deck, and draw a straight line. Using the straightest boards you can find, place the ledge along this line. Don’t put screws where the joists connect; make sure they reach a solid structure.

Engineered trusses and joists may need additional support from the inside. To keep water away from the sill and house, add covered steel flashing and butyl tape to the exterior. To do this, you may need to temporarily remove a row of panels.

Step 4: Erect Support Columns

Starting at the footing, measure the distance from the top of the stringer bracket to the top of the siding. Then subtract the height of the crossbeam. This is the length of the strut. Don’t stress over small changes in length. To do this, simply remember which post goes with which footing. Put the posts in place and tighten the frame with screws.


Step 5: Install the Crossbeam

Place a crossbeam at the top of the post so that it is centered left and right. Make sure the crossbeam is level and in full contact with the top of each post. There should not be any holes between the posts and the crossbeam, nor should they be tilted.

Take diagonal measurements from corner to corner to make sure that the crossbeams are straight to the ledge and from crossbeam to crossbeam. Use brackets or structural nails to attach the stringer to the crossbeam.

Step 6: Attach the Upper Deck Joists

Attach an angle bracket or piece of wood to the framing so that one end is suspended. This tab will keep the joist flush with the ledge or flat beam as you put the joist hanger in place. Push the joist hanger support flange all the way to the bottom of the joist, then install the structural connectors according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 7: Install Nails and Blocks

To prevent the joists from flexing, put blocking in the middle of the span between them all. To make the deck stronger, add more blocking around the edges. If sagging beams are used to support the joists from below, lay blocks straight across the beams between the joists.

Fire Pit Deck Benches

Step 8: Framing the Lower Deck

Frame the lower deck the same way you framed the top deck. Since the lower deck is usually not supported by joist plates, attach it to the structure or support columns on the upper level. Keep in mind that the beams of the lower level usually rest directly on the foundation, not on the support posts.

Step 9: Install the railing posts

Now it’s time to install the railing posts. Secure each post to at least two structural members using a method approved by your area building department. You can use trigger clips to hold the posts in place while they are secured. A cleat can also be screwed to the side of the post in order to keep the post at the proper height. Do not cut holes in the 4×4 post to secure the safety fence. This is dangerous and against regulations.


Step 10: Install Deck Boards

Apply butyl tape to the joists and beams to prevent rot. Install the boards with deck screws or the invisible fastening method, making sure there is consistent spacing between the boards. Elongate the ends and when all the planks are in place, draw a chalk line along the planks and cut them to length.

Step 11: Build box steps on the lower level

If you have a multi-level deck in your backyard, you will need multi-level deck steps. A box step is when you add a small platform between the lower deck and the upper deck. This is usually done after the deck boards are laid. The height of the box steps should be such that the space between the upper and lower decks is approximately the same, with a difference of no more than 1/4 inch.

The height of each step should be no more than 7-3/4 inches and no less than 4 inches. Attach the box steps to the upper deck framing with 3-inch structural screws. Use brackets on the inside of the box to secure the leading edge of the box steps to the lower deck framing before installing the deck.

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