How to Lay Decking on Uneven Ground

Saturday, June 29, 2019 - 12:00am
How to Lay Decking on Uneven Ground
DS Brothers Ltd This post was written with the expertise of DS Brothers Ltd, a professional group of builders in London.

Unless you’re rich enough to buy whatever you want whenever you want it, you’ll most likely have to deal with things in life being imperfect from time to time.  A common example of this is an uneven yard. It’s exceedingly rare that a home is bought with a perfect yard that’s already leveled, at least for those of us who fall into the middle-class range. Luckily, with a little bit of research, it will be easier than you think to build a great deck or patio and get the results you want. 

The Plan Is the Most Important Part

The first piece of the puzzle is the plan. By laying out a succinct game plan, you will have a better vision of what the finished project will look like and stay better directed toward your goal. Starting a project as big as this without every step of the way dialed in is a recipe for disaster, so be sure to cover your bases, be patient, and don’t start working on it until you know exactly what you want.  Without a proper plan set in place, you’re likely to spend more than you’d meant to buying tools and supplies you might never use.

There are a couple of ways to overcome an uneven lawn as a base for your party platform so read up and choose which one is best for you, and then go from there. If you still have any questions, you could always ask a contractor friend for advice, or even contact a neighborhood code inspector to come take a look at it. Get creative and use your resources. The more effort you put in at the beginning, the more it will pay off in the end.

Proper Preparation Is Paramount

It is very important to make sure that your work area is prepped properly before continuing on your build, otherwise the whole thing could end up being of poor quality or even dangerous. If deciding to build a flat, patio-style platform, you will need to make sure the cutaway is square and level repeatedly by using lines and levels.  You will also need to be certain that the ground has been properly compressed or tamped before continuing on with your build. Failure to properly tamp your dirt will most likely result in shifting or unevenness after it’s all said and done.

If you choose to build a raised deck upon the existing slope, you need to have someone carefully calculate the angle of the slope and produce a rise-over-run equation, noting how the deck needs to be situated to create a level structure when compared to the natural fall of the earth.  

Start Building

There are two main ways you can build your platform on a sloped or uneven surface. The first of these is by just building a ground level patio. This is a bit more labor intensive as it requires excavation of the ground in order to create a level surface to start from. You can begin by mapping out the area where you plan to build your deck. By using wooden stakes and some string. you can easily lay out a perimeter for yourself to follow and eliminate the guesswork.

Now’s the time to either break out the hand tools or call up a good friend with a dozer or skid-steer to cut away the offending ground, leaving only your level surface. Flatten the freshly exposed dirt as much as possible, using either a plate compactor or handheld tamper. This step is absolutely crucial, as without a well-tamped base to work from, there will end up being no structural integrity. Check and recheck the squareness and levelness of the area repeatedly, this cannot be perfect enough.

Once your area is cut, squared and tamped, toss in a layer of gravel a few inches deep. Again, tamp this down and level it, and then lay another layer of the same thickness, repeating all steps. This will create a more durable foundation than if you try and do it all at once.

Cover the gravel with a couple inches of sand, compact, and screed level with a 2x4. Then you’re ready to start laying the pavers of your choice. Once they’re all fitted to your liking, cover with sand again to fill the cracks and then sweep clean.

If going with a raised or ‘floating’ deck rather than a patio, always use as high-grade lumber as you can afford. Decks have to withstand years of outdoor parties, raucous kids, heavy stair traffic, shifting ground conditions, extreme temperatures, heavy hot tubs, etc.  

Begin by digging as many holes as needed for your upright posts. Dig down enough to hit solid earth and roughly a foot in diameter.  Your uprights can be a good few feet longer than the desired height of the deck and can be used to strengthen any handrail around the deck. Place the posts into the holes and fill around them with concrete. It might help to use some 2x4s nailed into the posts as legs to keep them plumb while the concrete sets. 

As the concrete dries, keep checking back to ensure the posts are upright with a level. Repeat this step as many times as there are posts. Using a level, draw a string around the posts at the height you want your deck, then install the horizontal beams using lag bolts at the prescribed height, always checking to make sure they’re level.

Once the beams are in place, this is a good time to either paint or weather seal the deck framing. Lay your floor planks and screw them into place, and paint or seal the planks as well.

Last is your railing. Either purchase a pre-made system or create your own railing between three and four feet high. Cut balusters of the proper height and attach around the outside edge of the deck less than nine inches apart, and attach your 2x4 handrail to those, and to any exposed uprights you left for rail strength.

And there you have it. With good planning and hard work, you’ll have a backyard oasis you can enjoy for decades.  

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