16.6.15

We Built a Deck!: Free Online Deck Design Software

By Ed



We have been planning on building this deck for many years now. When we renovated in 2007, we put in two patio doors that, for all their lives, have opened onto a rusty old air conditioner and a 2 foot drop into a garden. Go out those doors and you'd have gotten tetanus or a sprained ankle.  As you can imagine, they didn't get used much.


But last year - finally!- our finances cooperated and we are able to build this sucker.  Because last year, after killing off our line of credit in 2013, in WE PAID OFF OUR DEBT! (except our mortgage, which we are ok with - more on this later.)


Of course, before you build, you plan. We collected resources; books, magazines, city building code printouts - for as long as we've been thinking about this. They are all good and useful in their own ways, but none gave me exactly the information I wanted for my our deck. 


I played around with some other software ranging from Google Sketchup to trial versions of expensive Professional design stuff. Either too steep a learning curve, too reliant on me knowing structural engineering or too open ended.


Why couldn't someone just make a simple plan like this for me and give it to me for free? 
Oh, wait, someone did that!


I was drawing this baby on graph paper and laying awake at night trying to figure out how many beams, joists and boards I would need.  What I needed was a user-friendly, deck design software.  Free would be nice.


A little searching and I found one...





I found Lowes Deck Design Software and my face lit up.  Lowes Deck Designer is a free deck planning tool that produces a free plan and a free shopping list.


Did I mention it was free?


My Love List:

  • Simple, internet-based interface. Pick your closest store and the program lets you launch. You don't even need to give any personal information unless you want to save for later.

  • Simple design options. Most of us will never build a multi-tiered, curved edge hot-tub deck, but if you wanted to, I think the Lowes software provides enough options to make it happen. For the rest of us, simple basic shapes (We chose a rectangle to start with) and then custom tweaks (Our design included a cropped off corner for a set of angled stairs).

  • Get a price quote almost instantly. Once the design is complete and you've chosen your materials, the engine chugs away and produces a 15 (15!) page design plan, materials list, general building guidelines and price quote. You can then edit your plan and see how much different options would cost. 

  • Our basic design came in around $2200. If we wanted Tiger Bamboo, that would add another $4000! But we found we could add premium Brown Pressure Treated for only a couple hundred dollars more, making the deck more eco-friendly and pretty to look at.

Weird - they actually tell you real numbers reflecting what your deck might cost you. 
Where is the mystery in that?


  • They don't force you to shop at Lowes. This has got to be the nicest thing they do - the document the Designer creates can be downloaded and printed without going to a local Lowes store. Sure, they give you a reference number to get your deck materials and access it in their system, but you could go to another lumber yard in your area if you didn't have a Lowes and the materials list would still work. What good people they are.


And an actual material list that isn't coded with Lowes-Specific names. 
What a good bunch of people.


The disclaimer, as it should be, is on the plans to warn you that making sure your design meets code is up to you. I did notice the footings on one version of my plan are only 2 feet deep- way too shallow for Canadian winters. But the most recent version I did had it listed correctly.


But everything else in the plan looked good. Really good. I now felt waaay more confident in ordering and building my deck. 


If you are considering a deck in your future, I strongly suggest you play around with the Deck Designer and see what you think too.


Looking for more affordable DIY ideas?  We've got lots here!




8 comments:

  1. Beautiful deck - Congratulations on a great project! This is good to know, and I'm pinning it for future reference!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jeanine, we love how it turned out! Good luck with your planning. :)

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  2. Great job. It turned out a amazing

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, cred! We couldn't be more happy with it. :)

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  3. I see you used one of the metal framed pergolas....the reviews are not that great for those. Can you tell me about your experience? Is it still lasting? Any rust? Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. We LOVE this one, Jonique. It is very sturdy and no rust - maybe a little at the base where the holes are for the screws. In fact, we're glad we got a movable one - we've shifted it from our original plan to shade better - we couldn't have done that with a built-in! This one is Hampton Bay from Home Depot. We plan to buy another cloth shade b/c that will be the first thing to go. :)

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    2. Good to know! Did you do anything special when you put it together?

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