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. ...

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.

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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).

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    9 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 7

    It looks great. Your post inspired me to try to add a patio cover. It would be placed on a concrete slab. Its around 10x12. I was wondering if you would have any input on how to do it. The problem which I have is the right side of the the roof which has

    an angle.

    Thank you.

    House back view.jpg

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, lag bolts are imperative.
    Some sort of ceiling, say, of corrugated fiberglass panels, could make the patio a sheltered outdoor space when it rains. Pitch them to control runoff, by using successively thicker spacers on the undersides of the joists. Such a space comes in handy if you sometimes crave BBQ and the weather isn't cooperating, or if you just like sitting outside during a warm rain without getting wet.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I have built many decks as a second job, this looks really good.  High decks are becomeing more popular, so I usually put posts against the houses to bear the weight load and use the house  as bracing.  Lag bolts are always a good call too.  Also, I run the support posts all  the way up through the deck to add support to the railing, but that is just a personal preferance.  You have to change the look of the railing or add 'scabs' to the outsides to match the other post-rails.  I do like the look of the two main support posts though.    Good IBLE.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Wonderful, great project, will do this to my new house, it has a deck, but really small, will expand it out and upward like this. I agree with the lag bolts and support close to the house. My brother built a deck that didnt have support close to the house and after having so many friends and family over for cookouts, and football games, the deck added a lot of weight to the wood studs and support beams in the house... not realizing they were actually week, even though they looked good, there wasnt enough support for all the weight, the deck started to sag against the house and causing stress for those supports for the house. He had to fix everything, even his house supports......


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice Instructable with good pictures. The only thing I would add is to make sure to use a sufficient number of properly sized lag bolts and washers (NOT nails) to securely anchor the deck to your house.  About a year ago a deck full of people in a town nearby separated from the house and collapsed,  killing three people and injuring many more.  Lag bolts are required by code in many parts of the USA, and they would be a good idea to use whenever a deck is attached to a home.  


    9 years ago on Introduction

    A beautiful deck and a very well written and illustrated instructable! 


    9 years ago on Introduction

    What an outstanding write-up!  Clear pictures, great documentation, and it looks like you did everything to code, with permits and all (even more awesome).