So, there’s this tree in my way…

Building a deck around a tree is not difficult and can really give your deck that “Wow” factor (plus avoiding that oh so un-eco-friendly solution of cutting the tree down!)

BEFORE
AFTER

FRAMING
Your framing needs to be close enough to the tree to support the decking ends, yet far enough away so the tree has room to move (in the wind) and grow.  I keep the decking 2-3” away from a full grown tree so the framing should be 5”+/- away.

Any joists that run into the tree need to be headered off, this is similar to building in a stairwell opening in a floor system.

First, install your joists on layout except those that the tree location interferes with.

Second, install 2 pieces of blocking between the 2 joists on either side of the tree, one on the house side and one on the rim joist side. (You’ll want to double up this blocking if you’re spanning more than 4’)

Third, install the remaining joists on layout between the house ledger and the blocking.
Fourth, install shorty joists on layout on the outside edge of the tree from the 2nd piece of blocking to your rim joist.

Fifth, cut blocking w/ 45º angles and nail to interior corners of the box around the tree.

Tree is fully blocked and ready for decking

Your framing should now be within 5” of the tree on all sides.  (You may need to adjust your joist layout slightly or add additional blocking to keep the box within 5” of the tree).

DECKING
I normally start at the house and work out so in this case, I lay down decking until the tree interrupts the course.

Decking Ends cut in contour of tree

Set the deck board down in place on the deck and trace a line following the tree’s contours on the board, keeping the final cut 2-3” away from the tree
Cut out the line using a jigsaw and clean up the edges w/ a router and 1/8” roundover bit.
Install the deck board.

Subsequent rows on either side of the tree get a similar treatment –

  • Rough-cut the end of the deck board to the tree,
  • Butt the rough cut up to the tree and trace the final cutline,
  • Cut the final line w/ a jigsaw, clean up w/ router and roundover bit,
  • Install the deck board keeping that 2-3” gap.

At each row, I pull measurements from both sides to make sure everything lines up on the far side of the tree.

When I get to the far side of the tree, I trace a final cut line on the full-length piece of decking, cut and install.

Continue on w/ your decking until you’re finished, install all handrails, clean up and voila!  You’ve now got a tree in your deck!

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About Mac MacDonald
Born & raised in Western Montana, moved to Oregon in '01, started building decks in '03, spent the last 10 years learning as much as I can about the process of building 'bombproof' decks!

5 Responses to So, there’s this tree in my way…

  1. Nancy McLean says:

    Help!!! I just had an Azak deck installed, there are three sets of stairs and I need gates on all. The builder was not aware that the opeinings had to be a certain size for the Azak Deck Gates and none of them fit. It is a brownstone azak color. What do I do now??? No one is taking any responsibility for this problem, Builder says the lumberyard didn’t tell him and didn’t know until he opened the box. The lumberyard did take the gates back, but now I have no gates and no clue of what to do. I am absolutely besides myself. I wanted it to look consistent.

    • Hi Nancy,

      It’s unfortunate that you, the client, are caught up in the middle of this predicament.

      As much as I hate to say it, 100% of the responsibility lies on your contractor not knowing or understanding the products they installed. Now, if you told you contractor AFTER the fact that you wanted gates, that’s a different story. The lumberyard is NOT responsible for the layout of your deck posts and to even mention this to them is bordering on insane. They just sell the material!

      All prefabricated non-custom gate systems require a specific rough opening between the railing posts, regardless of brand, much like a door. This should not be “news” to your contractor, but if they don’t specialize in decks, maybe they just didn’t know. Mistakes happen.

      The only way to solve the issue is to reinstall the posts in the proper locations to fit the gates which will undoubtedly require resetting most of the posts on the deck to properly spaced locations. This may require replacing decking as well.

      You learned the hard way that it’s really important to hire specialists for the tasks at hand. An experienced deck builder would not have put you in the situation.

      Alternatively, some gate kits can be modified on site, but it’s not recommended.

  2. Nancy McLean says:

    Thank you for your fast reply. I have another question. There are short little pieces that were not installed on the railings. Were those needed? Will it affect my warrenty on the deck?

    • Matt Breyer says:

      I just saw this post Nancy… so you may have already had your question answered.

      However, just in case:
      There are small “squash blocks” that are supplied with most railing systems. These are usually 3-4″ tall mini-balusters, that are designed to help keep the railing level.

      Azek’s railing has them, and they are required- but they come about 1/8″ too long from the factory… so it’s a “gotcha” from a code-perspective if installed as-is (creates a gap too tall).
      My rule of thumb is that every railing over 4′ should have at least 1 support, but Azek might draw their requirement at a shorter span.

      Before I bore you with any additional details, let’s leave it here- but as always, please don’t hesitate to ask if any of us can assist!

      ~Matt

  3. enderberett says:

    That is a real talent to be able to build decks around trees! I am sure I would have a tough time doing so! I’m not even sure I could think of a way to do it in the first place!

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