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The price is right, but is freeware actually useful to deck builders?

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Free Deck Design Software

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Better Homes the 1 last update 2020/07/10 and Gardens Design-a-Deck
bhg.com/gardening/design-deck/welcome-to-arrange-a-deck
Better Homes and Gardens Design-a-Deck
bhg.com/gardening/design-deck/welcome-to-arrange-a-deck

Big Hammer DIY/Pro Deck Design
bighammer.com

Design Workshop Lite
artifice.com

DIYOnline Deck Designer 3D
diyonline.com

Fiberon Deck Designer
fiberondecking.com

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for Home Depot (requires Big Hammer Security Certificate)
homedepot.bighammer.com

Lowe''re not even sure you''m most familiar with, Realtime Landscaping Architect (ideaspectrum.com). This is a relatively inexpensive ($400) full-featured design program that I use nearly every day in my deck business. I can generate construction drawings with it, but for me its most valuable function is producing photorealistic renderings I can print out or email to a client. None of the freeware I tested could match RLA''t. Many of the programs I tried out are template-based, presumably in order to speed up and simplify the design process. The user starts with a pre-existing basic deck, then modifies the template by stretching or shrinking the sides, changing the corners, and adding stairs, railings, and other details. I found this to be a quick way to get started, but more tedious than drawing freehand when I had a specific and detailed design that I was trying to execute.

Even though these programs are not really intended for professional deck builders, they offer a mixed bag of useful features. Many of the programs are very similar, so I picked out a few representative examples to provide an overview of what these free programs can—and can''s version, for example, offers different decking colors; the USP version focuses on hardware connections.

In all versions, the program starts with a standard 20- by 20-foot deck that you can resize by dragging the sides in or out. You can also choose from other basic shapes, including L, notched center, T, or octagon. A shaping tool provides options for modifying the corners: 45-degree, rounded, square-notched, angled, and concave.

The deck''t follow any of the cut lists, so I can''t add a roof or overhead structure like a pergola. And unlike in the real world, the terrain is always flat.

Even with the versions that offer multiple accessories, selections are limited and not scalable. Wall finishes and colors are limited, too, and graphics quality is quite low. Because you can''t drawing a deck; you''s free; just be prepared to scream once in a while, as when the program won''s no version for the Mac) and Internet Explorer 8, as well as a fairly robust video card. The Big Hammer site also has an option to download Big Hammer Pro Deck Design, a substantially enhanced version of the free software that requires a $150 set-up fee and a monthly $49 subscription. I did not review the paid version for this article.

Big Hammer''s properties.

The Big Hammer programs allow you to have as many deck levels as you want, and to choose the size of the joists. Unfortunately, these variables make no difference in the sizing or locating of posts or beams.

As with all software, there are things that it will do, and things that you can make it do. When you''s Deck Designer is that the program automatically generates a project price tag based on your materials list and pricing at your local store. Of course, since your actual post locations and beam sizes may be different, the price list might not be entirely accurate, but it''t require a lot of number-crunching.

Limitations. As with DIYonline, deck height is limited to 12 feet, with no elevation changes to the grade. Railing options are limited to wood, and you can add only one style of door or window. You can''t impress many clients.

Google SketchUp

With the free version of Google''s 3D Warehouse. This is a searchable archive of millions of user-created SketchUp models that have been uploaded to the site over the years.

You start by creating a 2D drawing of a deck element, such as a joist. Then, using an expansion tool, you can manipulate the drawing into a 3D model, or component. If you want to, you can color and texture the component or change its size; if you need to use a component more than once—for multiple joists, for example—you can copy and paste. And once you''m not a SketchUp power user and find this process for 1 last update 2020/07/10 very time-consuming. But SketchUp is easy to learn, and many builders find it to be a useful and powerful design tool, particularly for 2D plan views and elevations. The website has a number of resources to help users get the most out of the software, including online tutorials, a YouTube channel, and support and user groups.You start by creating a 2D drawing of a deck element, such as a joist. Then, using an expansion tool, you can manipulate the drawing into a 3D model, or component. If you want to, you can color and texture the component or change its size; if you need to use a component more than once—for multiple joists, for example—you can copy and paste. And once you''m not a SketchUp power user and find this process very time-consuming. But SketchUp is easy to learn, and many builders find it to be a useful and powerful design tool, particularly for 2D plan views and elevations. The website has a number of resources to help users get the most out of the software, including online tutorials, a YouTube channel, and support and user groups.

Woodworking Planshow to Woodworking Plans for SketchUp can import photos and other graphics, but its 3D renderings look average, just a step up from DIYonline freeware. Users who spend more time with the program, however, report that there are plug-in rendering programs that help produce much more lifelike results. SketchUp is compatible with both Macs and PCs, and can be upgraded to the Pro version ($500), which offers tools like DXF/DWG file compatibility and a great presentation program called Google LayOut.

Kim Katwijk designs and for 1 last update 2020/07/10 builds decks in Olympia, Wash.Kim Katwijk designs and builds decks in Olympia, Wash.

 

About the Author

Kim Katwijk

Kim Katwijk is an internationally known deck designer and builder with 45 years of construction experience ranging from heavy commercial building to log home construction.

However, his true love is designing and building decks—which he has done for the past twenty years. Kim is known for his articles in Professional Deck Builder Magazine as a contributing editor for the past 11 years. Kim and his wife, Linda have also published feature articles in The Journal of Light Construction and Fine Homebuilding. He teaches The Deck Clinic at Deck-Expo and JLC Live shows and has taught several “how to” classes in South Africa, Canada, and other national trade shows.

Kim established Deck Builders, Inc. in 1996. He lives in Olympia, Washington, has been happily married for 38 years, and is the father of 10.

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