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How to Build a Deck on a Roof

By: Danny Lipford
Completed rooftop composite deck and railings.

Completed rooftop composite deck and railings.

Watch this video to find out how to construct a deck on a roof to turn it into a great place for outdoor entertaining.

Roof deck topics covered include:

  • Deck Foundation: Using deck supports, which are adjustable in both height and pitch, for the foundation.
  • Deck Joists: Notching posts to fit deck band joists for added support.
  • Composite Decking: Installing tongue and groove composite decking with hidden fasteners.
  • Composite Railings: Assembling and installing composite handrails and balusters.

Read episode article to find out more.

Further Information

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Danny Lipford: This week we’re in Atlanta, Georgia, building a tremendous rooftop deck.

Announcer: Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford, the voice of home improvement, with projects, tips, and ideas to help you improve your home.

Danny Lipford: As you can see the guys are getting a great start on the framework for our new rooftop deck. Now, there’s been quite a trend over the last few years for people to move back to downtown areas. And developers are finding old buildings, like you see behind me, perfect to renovate into apartments.

Now, several years ago this three-story building I’m standing on top of was renovated very nicely into a number of loft apartments. And the person who bought the top apartment, Clif Sparkman, decided he’d like to develop an outdoor entertainment area for he and his family. Well, he had rooftop access, so this was the logical choice.

Well, he had a few challenges in order to get approval and all of the design necessary for this, and of course he had to choose the right materials for this type of application. Well, that’s kind of the same thing you have to do, no matter where you build your deck.

We’ll share with you some of his challenges and how he overcame them, and share with you some deck building techniques no matter where your deck is.

Now normally it’s not this cold in Atlanta. But once it warms up, Clif and his family can enjoy the Georgia dome and the skyline of downtown Atlanta. Stay with us.

Yesterday was very productive for the crew, and they completed just about all of the framing for the new deck, including the bridging or blocking in between the floor joists to really stiffen things up. Right now they’re concentrating on the four by four posts that are being installed around the perimeter of the deck, this will support all of the hand rails that will be installed once the decking material is completed.

Now earlier this morning, we caught up with the homeowner, Clif Sparkman, and his daughters, Clara and Calli, who are pretty excited that finally something is happening on their new deck. Clif is a professional photographer and the loft apartment he shares with his daughters also serves as his studio, so the girls already have an indoor playground. What they want is an outdoor space.

Well, Clif, girls, you can kind of get an idea of what your new deck will look like now that the guys have it kind of framed up and everything. What do you think?

Clif Sparkman: It’s looking great. It’s a little smaller than we thought, but only because it’s such a big roof, and you don’t really get the correlation of the size until it’s all in place, but it’s going to be so much fun.

Danny Lipford: Yeah I think so, and the view and everything is going to be great up here. Now I know that you had to go through a bit of a process because, it’s an apartment building and other tenants in the building, so tell us a little about that process.

Clif Sparkman: Well, the first thing I had to do was submit the plans from the architect, to the board of directors. Let them approve it, how it was going to be attached to the roof, any kind of impact that would be shown or done to the roof. Second part was to take it to the city hall, and get the inspectors to look at it—look at the plans. And then they sent me across the hallway to the urban design commission.

Danny Lipford: And that’s kind of the, like the historic development aspect of the city.

Clif Sparkman: Right, right the urban design commission isn’t so much concerned with the safety of it, that’s the building inspector’s issue. They just want to make sure nothing sticks up over the pair of the walls, so that it affects the visibility of the beauty of the neighborhood.

Danny Lipford: I see, OK. Well, I know Callie and Clara have their ideas of some of the activities they have planned for the roof, but as a family what do you guys plan on using this as?

Clif Sparkman: Well, we like to spend a lot of time out here. We like to cook out, we like to play. Fourth of July, we see a lot of fireworks, New Years. We have a lot of, we spend a lot of time. Even in the colder weather, we come up here a lot. And their friends love it up here, they think it’s just one big playground.

Danny Lipford: Oh, I’ll bet so. Yeah, this is great. And like I said, when the weather gets a little warmer, you’ll really be able to utilize this a good bit. And girls, I know that you have to go to school. But when you get back from school, you’re going to see a big difference on this deck.

Much of the work that’s being done here is identical to what you would see on any deck built in a suburban backyard. But the rooftop location does offer some unique challenges, particularly in regard to the deck’s foundation.

One of the challenges in building a deck on a roof like this that’s unlevel is the deck needs to be level. Now, unlike your backyard that may be unlevel when you’re building a deck, you can set your post and adjust your framing nice and level. But here it’s a little bit more of a challenge.

But to solve the problem a buddy of mine, Dave Raught, has just the solution. Dave, tell us about how you’re going to solve this little dilemma.

Dave Raught: Well this is a product, Danny, that’s designed by Bison Deck Supports. It can be used in various applications, whether it’s a patio or even in landscaping. But in this particular application where it serves a good purpose is, not only can you adjust for height you can also adjust for pitch in two different directions, whether it’s on the top or on the bottom. So with a sloped roof like this one is, we need to be able to come back and dial these into place to support this deck system.

Danny Lipford: OK, now I see you also are suggesting putting some thick pads there under it. I guess that’s the same kind of material that the roof itself is made out of?

Dave Raught: It is. It’s a half-inch asphalt type material that’ll help cushion the blow, so that we’re not putting all that weight directly on the roof system.

Danny Lipford: OK. Well, this should be great because you really don’t want any type of fasteners going down through this roofing because sooner or later, there’s going to be a leak.

Dave Raught: Exactly. And with this Bison Deck Supports, they’ve designed this so that you don’t have to penetrate the roofing system, so we don’t void the manufacturers warrantee on rubber roofs or any other type of, whether it’s torched on, or other type roof systems.

Danny Lipford: I see. Now this can be used on other areas other than just roofing.

Dave Raught: That’s right—patios, landscaping.

Danny Lipford: Well, this should make it a lot easier for the contractor and we’ll keep moving along on this deck. But first check out this week’s Simple Solution.

Announcer: It’s time for this week’s Simple Solution from home repair expert, Joe Truini.

Danny Lipford: Joe, looks like your paint job’s working out pretty well here.

Joe Truini: Yeah, I’m just finishing up, trying to end the day here. I’ve got one coat of primer on the wall and one topcoat. And I’m going to let it dry and come back tomorrow and put on the second coat.

Danny Lipford: Well, it’s pretty good coverage on all of that, but you probably can finish up a little quicker if you weren’t snacking so much here.

Joe Truini: Yeah, I wasn’t snacking on this, this is actually an old chip tube that I saved. Because I hate to clean at the end of every day, especially if you’re just going to come back and paint the very next day.

Danny Lipford: That takes forever. And really to clean a roller right, you’ve got to use a water hose and just really work on it for quite a long time.

Joe Truini: Right. If you don’t get all the paint out of, paint out of the roller sleeve, it’ll dry and you might as well just throw it away.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Joe Truini: So this is going to save me some time. You notice the tube is almost the exact same size as the roller see.

Danny Lipford: It looks like it was made for that.

Joe Truini: Isn’t that great? So I just roll as much of the excess paint as possible. Then you just slide it out, pop the top back on, and that’ll seal out the air. And in the morning when I come back, I can just put it back on and start rolling.

Danny Lipford: Now, I’ve heard of people taking rollers and putting them in the refrigerator or a freezer. I guess that would work, too.

Joe Truini: It would. But in the case, since I’m going to be back here in the morning, it’ll be fine just to leave it here. But if I was going to paint like another day or two, I’d probably seal it with plastic, put the top on, pop it in the refrigerator so it stays nice and moist. And it comes out good as new. It’s like you’ve just taken it off the roller.

Danny Lipford: Boy, that save a lot of time there.

Well, we’ve talked to the homeowner, and we talked to one of the suppliers that are supplying the little adjustable feet to the deck. Now let’s talk to the guy that’s putting everything together, contractor Steve Evans.

Now, Steve, you had a great day yesterday, you got a lot of the framing done, tell us about how everything went for you.

Steve Evans: Well we just came in here and just chalked our lines out and kind of laid out where we wanted our deck. And then we put our adjustable feet in and just did a little measuring and little leveling and got them like we wanted it. Then came in here and built our frame around it. And just, and it just kind of all fell together from there.

Danny Lipford: Now, the little adjustable feet here. We spoke with Dave earlier, the supplier of those, and he told us in theory how they’re supposed to work, but how do they really work?

Steve Evans: They work great. They’re absolutely some of the best foot tools I’ve used on the job. Much easier than even a home deck, you just put them under there and screw them up the way you want them and they’re there.

Danny Lipford: Well, it’s great that you don’t have to penetrate the roof in any way. Because I’ve seen a lot of roof type decks and a lot of different ways of tarring around it. But after a few years and the movement of deck, you’re going to have a leak there somewhere or later.

Steve Evans: Absolutely, absolutely.

Danny Lipford: Well, you’re pretty close to being ready for some decking material, what else you have to do here?

Steve Evans: Well they’re just, they’re putting in the last post here now for our railing and just doing some last minute measures to make sure everything is exactly like we want it. And then we’ll go on and start doing, you know, the final touches on the deck.

Danny Lipford: Right, OK. Well, now, putting the, the posts in. Boy, I see a lot of homeowners building decks, and sometimes they don’t attach the post as securely as they should. In your opinion what’s the best way to really integrate this in as part of the deck.

Steve Evans: Well, in my opinion the best way I have found that works great is I take my post and I notch it back around the band. And I take a screw and screw it in there. And then that gives it some really good stability, and it doesn’t wobble real bad. And you don’t have any problems when you come up here and lean on the post. It doesn’t, you know, you don’t have to worry about it falling off.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Because I’ve seen some homeowners cut it, and just toenail it to the top of the decking, or just nail it to the outside. And, boy, you have a little get together, and someone leans on the deck, and you have all kinds of problems.

Steve Evans: Absolutely, absolutely.

Danny Lipford: OK. Well, at what stage now—I guess you’re pretty much ready for the decking?

Steve Evans: Right. As soon as we get the last few measurements done, we’ll start laying our decking on there and we’ll be on the home stretch of it.

Danny Lipford: The first piece of decking will begin flushed with the outer edge of the structure, so Steve is trimming off the tongue portion of the tongue and groove board to create a smooth edge. Then he marks the post locations so that they can be cut out for the board to fit over them.

The tongue of each new deck board slips into the groove of the previous one and is fastened to the frame with long screws driven through the groove. As posts are encountered, the boards are notched to accommodate them, and then persuaded into place.

Now this makes for a lot of measurement and some pretty precise cuts, but the result is a strong deck with very clean lines. The tongue and groove designs means there are no visible fasteners on the surface. And the fact the material is composite is a big advantage. Unlike wood, there’s no danger of this stuff splitting along the grain because of the placement of a cut or the screw.

The next step with the decking is to cut all of the excess material so that it’s flush with the outside band. Then we can apply a skirt board to give it a nice finished appearance.

Now the area between the new deck and the steps that lead down into the loft will have a platform here, a couple steps, another platform to provide that transition. That should look great.

You know this composite material’s pretty neat because it, you know it really cuts and works just like regular wood, but you just don’t have the maintenance that you’ll have with so many types of wood—whether it’s treated or cedar or redwood.

It really is very easy to work with, and now they have so many components that are available to completely encapsulate every piece of the deck because even though the treated material under it is necessary for the structural integrity of the entire deck, it’s nice to cover it up wherever you can.

I mentioned the skirt board will be covered up. We’ll even be covering up all of the treated four by four posts with the post covers that slip right down over it, then the handrails can tie right into it. And even handrails are now available made out of the same material, we’ll look at that next.

Announcer: Let’s join Danny at the home center to check out this week’s Best New Product, brought to you by The Home Depot.

Danny Lipford: This style window would look great in any room of your home, but many homeowners would cringe at the thought of having to paint or stain all these little pieces of wood. Here’s something that’ll make it a lot easier called Quick Corners, which is simply a roll of stickers that you use to cover the glass along the edge here, and you put one in every corner.

And it works great on a window like this, or the popular 15 light or 10 light French doors that you see inside and outside of homes these days. And this will stick right like this, and after you get all of your corners installed in each one of these. It really doesn’t take long and certainly doesn’t cost a lot because you can get a roll of 48 stickers for only $3.

And after you get those in place then you use your pressure sensitive painter’s tape, and you finish covering up around the perimeter there, and you’re ready to start painting or staining.

Now, it may take you a day or two in order to finish a project like this, because you’re going to have to prime it and then paint it, but that’s not a problem because you can leave these on up to 14 days without any problem in removing them.

Like I say, 48 stickers at only $3. You can find it right next to the masking tape in your paint department.

Well, we’re at the end of our second day on our rooftop deck that we’re building here in Atlanta overlooking the Atlanta skyline, and things are working out pretty darned well. One of the main reasons is quite a good contractor working on this, Steve Evans.

Now, Steve, you’re really moving along on this thing, and I know that you’re trying to get most of the handrails up. But seeing this go together just a few minutes ago, it went up pretty quick. Tell us about how all of it goes together.

Steve Evans: Well, it’s a real simple operation. The balusters and all, we just cut them to all the same length. And then the handrail, the top and the bottom part are already predrilled, so we just sink our screws in there, put the balusters up there and sink them it and we got it.

Danny Lipford: Well, that’s perfect if they’re predrilled, because that way you know you’re complying to the spacing requirements because that’s something I also see mistakes being made in trying to save a little money. Sometimes in putting them a little too wide that doesn’t comply to the code, but that’s certainly a safe way of doing it.

And then of course you’re—I see the guys are screwing another panel together. So basically you’re just screwing it together on both sides, right?

Steve Evans: Right. Josh and Dave here are just kind of applying a little pressure to each other where they can get the balusters good and tight in the handrail. So as you can see with that handrail when you jiggle it a little bit it’s good and stout.

Danny Lipford: Well, you know it’s kind of neat, because after it’s all said and done there’s really very few fasteners that are left exposed. And I know part of that is to finish the handrail. What do you have in mind on this?

Steve Evans: Well, this particular homeowner, he’s decided to go with a little wider handrail. So what we’ll do is cut the top of the posts off and run our handrail all the way through, and then put some screws in there just to secure it.

Danny Lipford: Well, that’s perfect. And what type of screw is this, is it a stainless steel or coated?

Steve Evans: It’s a stainless steel three-inch screw just to get down in the baluster real well. It helps keep them from splitting out if someone were to bump it or something like that.

Danny Lipford: Well, this really will be a maintenance free deck then won’t it.

Steve Evans: That’s exactly right.

Danny Lipford: Well, it looks like you’ve got probably 15 panels or so to go. I’ll let you get back to that.

Steve Evans: All right.

Danny Lipford: The beauty of assembling the rails horizontally is that once each baluster is positioned, gravity holds it in place while you drive the screws in. At the same time, it only takes a single screw for the top and bottom of each baluster because the rails have a small lip molded into them that keeps the balusters from turning once it’s tight.

The cool thing is that you get a finished look so quickly, slip on a couple of post sleeves, measure and assemble the rail panel, set it in place and attach.

Meanwhile, Steve begins laying out the lower level of the deck that will access the roof door. But we’re running out of light on day two, so the rest of the work will have to wait.

Now on day three, it’s plenty cold and there’s still plenty of work yet to be done. The last overhanging deck boards are trimmed, the lower platform is constructed, and the framing of the landing and the stairs get started.

Now Steve’s taking care to layout these stair strangers, so that the treads work out to be exactly the width of two deck boards. This will save time later on and fit in with the deck’s clean line.

The last couple of days have been cold, but today is really cold—windy, and snow flurries are just starting to fall. Not the kind of weather you think about in Atlanta, Georgia.

But you can get an idea of what the completed deck will look like when this section of railing that’s all been put together. Now we have the top rail in place, which is a piece of the composite material that’s five and a half inches wide and one inch thick, so that’ll serve as a nice top rail.

Have the spindles, and all the way down at the bottom you can see the skirt board material I had mentioned earlier. And that completely covers up that outer band that’s pressure treated wood. And once this deck is complete, you’re not going to see any treated wood at all. It should have a very nice looking finished appearance.

Now when we come back, right after our Around the Yard segment, we’ll look at the finished deck, check in with the homeowner—Clif—on what he thinks about the deck, and hopefully have some better weather.

Announcer: Let’s head outside for Around the Yard with lawn and garden expert Tricia Craven Worley, brought to you by TimberTech Composite Decking.

Danny Lipford: Well Tricia this is working out pretty good. I’ll keep bringing the plants and you keep planting them.

Tricia Craven Worley: Thanks for your help, Danny.

Danny Lipford: Now how can you really go wrong with planting plants like this? I mean they seem pretty healthy but just put them in the ground, you’ve got good soil, any problems with that?

Tricia Craven Worley: Well, you can put them straight in the ground, but you know there are ways to give them a little bit of a head start.

Danny Lipford: OK, good.

Tricia Craven Worley: And you know one thing that I like to do is after digging the hole the right size, I put in a little amendment, or in this instance a little compost, just to give it a little bit of nutrition.

Danny Lipford: I see.

Tricia Craven Worley: And then I put some water right now in.

Danny Lipford: Water it before you ever even plant it.

Tricia Craven Worley: Absolutely. Well, if you take a look at this primrose, you can see its leaves are a little bit wilty.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, it is kind of sad looking isn’t it?

Tricia Craven Worley: It is. So when I put this in the soil it’s going to get those, get the water into the roots immediately.

Danny Lipford: OK, well that makes sense.

Tricia Craven Worley: And what happens with a lot of gardeners is you get involved, and you think I’ll go back and water it at the end of the day.

Danny Lipford: Right, easy to forget.

Tricia Craven Worley: Easy to forget. And that, at sometimes at that point, it’s a little bit too late. So how I finish it off is I water it right now, right when I put it in this, in this space. And then something else that I always like to do is give it just a little bit of a basin. See what I’m doing here with the trowel?

Danny Lipford: Similar to what you would do with planting a full tree.

Tricia Craven Worley: Correct. Just a little bit of an area where when you put the water, when you pour the water there, it’s going to catch it and give it a little bit more time to sit.

Danny Lipford: Well, Clif, the weather’s definitely a lot nicer today than it was a few weeks ago when they were putting the deck together.

Clif Sparkman: Yeah, at least we’re not getting the rain that looks like we should be getting.

Danny Lipford: Yeah, I know it, a lot better. You know, quite the transformation here. I mean before you just had a roof not really a conducive place for entertaining or even walking around.

Clif Sparkman: Right, yeah. Now we can use it and not feel guilty for walking on the roof. And people can come up and enjoy it and not feel like they’re going to fall over the edge.

Danny Lipford: Exactly. And it didn’t take that long with putting the little supports down and then they framed it up and put all the composite material together. You’re probably going to inspire some of the other people living in the building to maybe do some of the same thing here.

Clif Sparkman: Well, for such a high tech product, it went up quickly and looks great. And I think a lot of the people will jump on this wagon with us, hopefully.

Danny Lipford: Now I know you use your living area in your loft area as your photography studio, but now you got almost an outdoor studio out here.

Clif Sparkman: Right, yep. We can shoot out here a lot, this’ll be another extension to our studio for sure.

Danny Lipford: Well, thanks a lot for letting us kind of follow along on this project. And I hope you enjoyed seeing how easy it is to put together a rooftop deck. We’ll see you next week.



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  • Andrew Goldner Says:
    July 11th, 2016 at 8:31 am

    It is my understanding that notching a deck railing post weakens the 4 x 4 post and is against code in most cities. The notch will split over time and causes the railing to fail. Any thoughts on this?


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