Building a deck is a big project, and whether you decide to take it on yourself or enlist the help of a professional, knowing what a decking project entails is essential to a successful install. 

In part two of our decking series, we’re going to share just that. We’re joined by one of the greater Seattle area’s premier deck builders: former co-founder of West Coast Decks, Joel Skillingstead. Joel has been building decks in the Pacific Northwest since 1990. With more than 30 years of experience building, overseeing, and waterproofing deck projects large and small, Joel is one of the best resources out there. 

In this episode, Joel shares his insights for installing safe and code-compliant key connection points in a deck project. Watch our conversation in the video above, or read the highlights below.

Safe ledger connection methods

Bracing for lateral loads

The primary safety concern with the ledger connection is lateral sway (when the deck pulls away from the house)—and when installing ledgers, it’s important to remember the connection is only as secure as what it’s connected to. This comes into play when taking the traditional route of attaching a ledger board to the rim of a house. Often, the rim (or band joist) of the house is only attached with nails, meaning—even if you use lag bolts to securely connect the ledger to the rim, the hold is still susceptible to pulling loose and potential failure.

Modern regulations for attaching deck framing to a house are stringent, and products have been developed to make ledger connections more secure. LedgerLOK screws, for example, are an evolution of the traditional lag bolt designed for a stronger hold without the need to pre-drill. Typically, you can install three ledger locks per 16- or 12-inch bay.

One of the most popular ways to address lateral load requirements is the use of deck tension ties such as the DTT1Z from Simpson Strong-Tie, hardware that connects your deck framework to the plate of the house. 

Sway bracing

Sway bracing protects the deck from moving back and forth (in an earthquake, for example). Post-to-beam knee braces can help here (and are often required on posts greater than four feet tall); additionally, installing two-by-six framing members (in a v-shape) to the bottom of the deck joists can add a significant amount of strength.

Railing post connection methods

There are several methods for connecting rail posts, but ultimately, safety comes down to how much load the post can support with minimal or no deflection in either direction. Typically, code will require posts to support a 200-pound load minimum (which means they’re tested to 400 pounds). 

If you’re working with wood posts, you can connect the deck framing to the base of the post using a deck tension tie (i.e., Simpson’s DTT2Z). You can also block the guard post inside the framework of the deck to create more stability. If you're working with surface-mounted aluminum railing posts, these will need to have adequate blocking installed below the decking surface. As always, refer to the installation instructions for specific details as to how the blocking should be installed. When building under a permit, municipalities will often require you to submit the specific installation instructions (and the engineering information) for the manufactured railing product you are using. Whether you are building with a permit or not, pay attention to the details surrounding railing post connections, as the safety of friends, family, and clients depends on it. 

Safe ledger and post connections are critical whenever you’re building a deck—but especially if you’re taking the DIY route. For more deck safety and permitting information, check out Joel's DIY deck resource recommendations and take a look at our deck safety evaluation checklist. You can also visit for code and permit information for the Puget Sound area.