Installing the Ledger

The ledger attaches to the house framing or a masonry wall. It serves the same function as a beam, except that the load carried by the ledger is transferred to the house foundation. Installing a ledger first creates a reference point for the rest of your deck. Using a ledger reduces costs and labor by cutting the number of postholes that must be dug and filled with concrete.

However, attaching the ledger can be a time-consuming chore— one of the most difficult steps in building a deck. On houses with beveled siding, you may need to cut away some siding to create a flat surface for the ledger. This opening must then be flashed carefully to keep water out of the wall. The ledger should be of the same dimension lumber as the joists and 3 inches shorter than the width of the deck to allow room for the overlapping end joists.

Hire a Pro? The ledger is just a board (or series of boards), but on some houses it can be a tricky component of a deck. It must be level, safely beneath the doorway threshold, and attached firmly to the house’s framing or a masonry wall. If you need to remove siding to create a flat surface for the ledger, flashing must be installed carefully around the opening. If this job seems too intimidating, consider hiring an experienced carpenter to get you started.

Locate the ledger on the house. The finished deck surface should sit about 1 inch below the bottom of any door threshold. Add this figure to the thickness of the decking material to determine the location for the top of the ledger. Thus, if you are using 2x6 decking (1 1/2inches thick), measure 2 1/2 inches below the bottom of the threshold, then draw a level line at this height to represent the top of the ledger.

Attach ledger to masonry wall... Cut the ledger to size and have a helper hold it in place against the wall. Make sure the ledger is level, then drill bolt holes through the ledger every 16 inches. Insert a pencil through the holes to mark their location on the wall. Remove the ledger and drill holes for expansion anchors at the marked locations. Insert the anchors, then attach the ledger by inserting lag screws with washers through the ledger and tightening them.

...attach with spacers, ... An air space between the ledger and the wall helps keep both dry. Your building supplier may stock plastic or aluminum spacers manufactured for deck use, but you easily can cut your own out of pressure-treated plywood. Position the spacer diagonally so it sheds water. Other choices for spacers include galvanized or stainless steel washers or sections of plastic or metal pipe cut to length. If you use pipe, add washers on either end to keep the pipe from digging into the ledger and flashing.

...or fasten directly to house. This section view shows a ledger properly installed on a clapboard wall. The siding has been removed and flashing added to keep water out of the house. The ledger is bolted through the rim joist. To make even, vertical cuts through uneven siding, use a 2x4 as a flat surface for the saw. Set the blade just deep enough to remove the siding without cutting into the sheathing. Slide the flashing under the siding an inch or more (cut a notch around the door threshold if necessary). After the ledger and joists have been installed, bend the flashing over the ledger edge to allow water to drip off.

Caution! Don't Attach the Ledger To the Siding - You're asking for trouble if you attach the ledger directly to clapboard or beveled siding, as shown above. First, you create a pocket for water. Second, tightening the ledger against the uneven surface crushes the siding. Both consequences can undermine the connection and lead to serious water damage.

Preparing the Site

Eliminate drainage problems around your proposed deck before you build it. Some of the ground beneath the deck will be wet from time to time, but you want the areas around the foundation to be firm. If you have standing water or chronic soggy areas near the site, consult a landscaping contractor for advice on improving the drainage. If a downspout empties close to the deck, reroute it. If necessary, add a drainage ditch to divert water away from the house and deck. Be sure water drains into a dry well or municipal sewer and not into a neighbor’s yard.

Tools: Garden rake, flat garden spade.

1. Level the grade. Install batter boards and pound stakes in place for tying guidelines to aid you in grading the site. (You’ll set guidelines for the deck structure later.) Remove the sod. If the deck will be close to the ground, check for high spots in the grade that could interfere with joist placement. Smooth high spots with a rake or shovel. To ensure grass and weeds don’t grow under the deck, cover the area with landscaping fabric. In addition to controlling weeds, landscaping fabric allows water to drain through it while keeping the gravel from sinking into the soil. Fasten the fabric in place with landscaping fabric staples and cover the surface with a 2- to 3-inch layer of gravel.

2. Build sawhorses. You’ll need a stable work platform on which to cut your deck material. This sawhorse design is easy to build and far more sturdy than the metal-bracket and scrap-lumber types you can buy at home centers. Cut one 8-foot 2x4 in half to make the T-beam. Make the 30-inch legs from a single 10-foot 1x6. Put it together with 2 1/2-inch general-purpose screws.

Plan for Lumber - Give some thought to where to unload and store the lumber. Store the lumber close enough to the deck site to save you from moving it again, but not so close that it interferes with construction. A garage near the deck site is ideal for keeping lumber dry and secure. If you store lumber outdoors for any length of time.

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