Introduction: Bi-Level Deck and Patio

About: I sit at my desk at the clinic for six hours a day; often, during the middle of the day, you can find me drawing a new idea on a scrap of paper. I enjoy making projects and fixing things around the house. I …

A bi-level deck provides both a sunny, elevated dining area as well as a shady gathering spot.  Working around two obstacles on the exterior of our split-entry home (the electric meter and the window) inspired the design.

Step 1: Draw Up Your Plans

Make a grid of your deck plans (here are mine).  The major deck was planned to be 10' x 12' and the minor deck was 10' x 7'.  I got the permit from the City of Minneapolis around the third week of April for the deck (and it was completed almost exactly three months later).  The City needed these plans and explanation where it was in relation to the property lines before I could get the permit. 

Step 2: Lay Out the Footings

For this deck, there were a total eight footings (five on the minor deck and three on the major deck).  They were 12" in diameter and 42" deep.  There were cinder blocks in the way of the footings, and it was awkward and time consuming to remove the cinder block with a sledgehammer.  A larger hole had to be dug to allow the sledgehammer to swing.

Step 3: Pour the Footings

The footings on the major deck were poured first; I used twelve 80# bags of quickrete for that alone.  Metal supports that will hold the uprights were sunk slightly into the top of the concrete when it was ready to set.  The poured footings and cardboard tubes were covered with plastic garbage bags and wood so the rain wouldn't "undo" the work or soften the cardboard as they cured.

Step 4: Lay Out the Patio

Dig the patio area out and frame it up with 2x4s.  Our patio was about 12' by 12.5'.  Be sure to schedule the ready-mix concrete truck for this step; there is no reason to haul and mix this concrete on your own!

Step 5: Pour and Level the Patio

We worked around an old deck landing (seen here as a darker color) so had to use wheelbarrows to get the concrete on the side furthest away from the sidewalk.  It takes two people to successfully level the patio.  I tried doing it myself but finally ran down the street to recruit a friend.

Step 6: Construct the Main Frame

I used three 6" x 6" posts for the major deck and 4" x 4" posts for the minor deck.  I was told that 4" x 4" posts would work fine for the major deck, but proportionally, the 6" x 6" posts looked better.  The gap you see in this picture is where the short stringers of stairs will go in order to access the major deck.

Step 7: Add Stair Stringers

Here's the tricky part--measuring and determining the angle for the stair stringers.  I wanted the stairs to end on the patio and a little further out from the first 6" x 6" post so that you could use it like a newel post and swing around into the yard after your descent.  I also had to cut the stringers for the ascent to the major deck, three stairs total.  Working around the electric meter made for a bit of a challenge.

Step 8: Lay Out the Deck Boards

I used composite wood for the decking and used nails to space the boards.  This step was a lot of fun as you can see progress quickly and even walk on your new deck!  The composite decking is somewhat flexible but surprisingly sturdy! It saws, drills, and screws just like wood. I counter-sunk all of the deck screws, using a "quick-connect" drill bit set--drill a while, flip the bit to the screwdriver side and screw the boards down all in one quick and easy swoop.  It's a necessity as it reduces the amount of time spent on one's knees!

Step 9: Construct Railings

Posts for the railings were constructed with treated 4" x 4" lumber as the composite decking materials are not meant to be structural.  Composite deck facade was used to cover them.  Holes for the carriage bolts were countersunk so they could be concealed under the facade.

Step 10: Add Balusters

I used 42" black metal balusters for the major deck and 36" balusters for the minor deck.  The balusters came with a template so that you could make sure the spacing was even.  The holes for these were drilled on the upper and lower railing boards.

Step 11: Stair Railings and Plant Bump-out

The stair railings were a bit tricky because the angles made baluster and railing construction difficult.  You may also notice that there's a bump-out for a plant above the stairs.  That was actually a mistake but made a good design feature.  A potted plant sits on the bump-out, a basket of flowers is hung underneath, and a potted plant sits on the patio.  When I water the top plant, all three get watered at once!

Step 12: The Completed Deck

Here is the completed deck.  There is about 7.5' of headroom on the patio, the deck has a bump-out to allow the meter readers access to the meter, and the major deck is about 1.5' under the living room window (it's behind the table).