Preparation: How to Check a Materials List, or Write Your Own


If you are working with one of our deck plans, your plan comes with a materials list. Our lists are very detailed and cover everything from the footings, framing and hardware, up to the deck covering, railing and skirting.

What a materials list should include

A good materials list will include everything from the ground up that is included in the full construction of the plan. A materials list should describe the material, give a quantity and include sizing information. If you are using your own list, or a list from another plan source, here are the basics that should be included:

  • Footings, including concrete, forms if needed and any specialty brackets, or hardware
  • Post materials, including hardware and fasteners, with full dimensions of lumber and board lengths
  • Framing materials including lumber, brackets, fasteners and hardware, with full dimensions of lumber and board lengths.
  • Decking materials including lumber, or other decking, (such as composite materials), fasteners and specialty hardware. (if required for your plan) It should include deck lumber dimensions and board lengths.
  • Step or bench materials including frame materials, decking, hardware and fasteners including lumber dimensions and board lengths.
  • Railing materials including posts, rail, balusters, brackets, other hardware and fasteners including lumber dimensions and board lengths.

Writing your own materials list

If your plan did not come with a materials list, you are working on a custom project, or you have adapted a plan so that materials have changed, you will have to write your own materials list. Working from the bottom up is the best way to ensure that nothing gets left out. You should be able to work from your plan to determine what is needed.

Start from the bottom up

Start from the footings. Will your deck require in ground footings, be set on piers, or is it a small grade level deck set on deck blocks? Be sure to include quantities and sizes of every piece. Start with the concrete required for traditional in ground footings, or grade level blocks. If you are using brackets to set your posts on piers, include size and quantity. Be sure to include any bolts, other hardware and fasteners needed for each footing.

Framing lumber is calculated based on the square footage and the joist spacing. Our plans work from a 16 inch on center spacing, but many small decks are built with a 24 inch on center spacing. The number of joists required will be based on this spacing plan. Joists typically run the whole width or length of the deck, so lengths should be the same in most cases, across the entire deck. You will need one piece for every 16 or 24 inches, depending on your spacing. Select your board lengths as close to the correct length as possible to minimize waste.

Double check lumber sizes for safety on framing

You will also need to consult a span table to ensure your joists are heavy enough to carry the load. These charts will show you how large your joists need to be for the size of deck you are building. Typically, the outside frame, or rim joists, are the same size, or slightly larger than the inside joists. Include enough lumber for the outside frame.

You will need joist hanger brackets and fasteners for each piece, in addition to brackets, screws or nails and possibly bolts for attaching to posts. Give as much detail as you can when describing hardware to make shopping simple.

Always include extra decking material

The decking is calculated by square footage. You will also need to include approximately 15% extra for unusable short pieces, or missed cuts. Remember that lumber sizes are "nominal" meaning a 2x6 deck board is actually only 5 ½ inches wide. You can account for this in your 15% extra. One other tricky definition to be aware of is the 5/4 deck board. This is a fairly standard size of decking lumber that is approximately 1, 1/8 inch thick, as opposed to the 1 ½ thick 2x lumber used in framing.

*When calculating decking material, include stair and bench tops if they will be made from the same material.

Rails, stairs and skirting vary from deck to deck

The materials for the accessories, such as rails, steps and skirt will depend on your deck design. Safe railings can be made from simple dimensional lumber, but many plans call for more decorative or specialty railing products. Skirting is usually optional, unless neighborhood or building codes call for it. Describe these products carefully when writing your list. If you are unsure, consult the website of your favorite home improvement center for information.

As with the rest of your materials list, include quantities, descriptions and sizes on every piece when possible. Home improvement center, or lumber yard employees can be very helpful, but they do their best work when the customer knows what's needed.