You’ve made the decision to build a new deck or replace an existing deck. Now what? The next decision most people grapple with is “Should I build it myself, or should I find a deck builder?”
I’m a big advocate of DIY home improvement. It can save you a lot of money and there’s nothing more rewarding than relaxing on a custom deck that you’ve designed and built yourself. But mistakes can be costly. Professional, local deck builders know the ins and outs of deck building in your area, and they usually have the expertise in design and building to prevent small mistakes that can lead to bigger problems down the road. If you’ve made the decision to hire a deck contractor, here are some tips to find the right one to help you make the most out of your outdoor space.
All Deck Contractors are Not the Same
We’ve all heard horror stories from friends or relatives about bad experiences working with general contractors - “I signed a contract and paid the deposit six months ago and the work hasn't even started yet!” or “Our total bill was DOUBLE the cost estimates!” Ultimately, you're looking for a partner who can skillfully make your outdoor living space come to life. So what can you do to ensure that you find the right local deck contractor for the job? Here are some things that I have learned in my many years of deck building.
- Ask Around to Hire With Confidence - Start with friends and family. Find out if anyone you know had a deck built recently, and ask about their experiences. Are they happy with the process and the way things turned out? People are generally eager to share their personal general contractor stories, both good and bad.
- Conduct Online Research to Find a Deck Contractor Near You - A basic web search for “Deck Builders Near Me” will get you a list of local deck contractors, but it will tell you nothing about what it’s actually like to work with them. The Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List are great resources to find customer reviews and complaints for custom deck builders. Consult online forums and check out company websites. How many years have they been in business? Are they certified? Do they have liability insurance? These are basic but important questions that you should be able to find on a company website.
- Give a Deck Builder in Your Area a Call - Once you’ve narrowed down your list to the top prospects, it’s time to pick up the phone. First, confirm that the deck contractor is licensed. Then, explain a little about your project and your vision for building your custom deck. Find out if they take on projects of your scope and size. Ask for a list of previous clients and, if possible, the address of a current job site so you can drive by and witness a little of the general design and construction process for yourself.
- Meet in Person - Schedule a time to meet at your home, so they can get a feel for the project site firsthand. Share what you have in mind (size, layout, budget, decking materials and options). The general contractor you choose should be able to answer all of your questions in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident moving forward. Deck contractors will likely spend several weeks at your home, so it’s important that you feel at ease with the contractor you choose. Make sure he or she understands your vision and is going to incorporate everything you want. If not, chances are you won’t get you are looking for.
What are Some Common Questions to Ask When Hiring a Local Deck Builder?
- Will the contractor secure all the necessary permits? It will be a much easier process if they do.
- Do they use their own in-house labor force or subcontractors? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to use subcontractors, but it’s important that the lead person in the field is able to represent the deck contractor completely.
- Do they have experience working with your chosen decking material?
- What is the cost of their services and what does that include? What are their installment terms? When are payments due? What are their business hours? When will the team start and end each day, and who will be on the job site every day as a point of contact for you?
The Basics of Working with a Deck Contractor
Once you’ve found a contractor who shares your vision and has the expertise to handle your custom deck project, I strongly urge you to demand the following very specific design and construction documents:
- A custom deck proposal that clearly defines the scope of the project and deck costs. This should list all the decking materials that will be used and every detail that will be included in the design and construction process.
- A detailed deck construction plan showing the dimensions, railing locations, stairs, and layout.
- Clearly defined terms, signed and dated. What construction details will be used to build my deck? This should all be spelled out clearly. If you have any questions about anything, ask before you sign. There are some details that might cost a little more because the process is more involved and it will take longer to perform, but this investment often pays off later down the road in having something perform well throughout its lifetime. I can’t stress this enough - too many times these fundamental details get ignored to save a few bucks today, only to end up costing the homeowner much more in the long run.
Working with a deck contractor can be a gratifying process if you start off on the right foot by asking around, doing some basic research, asking a lot of questions, and getting all of the important things in writing. These tips should take you a long way toward finding the right company to work with you to design and build the deck of your dreams. And if you live in Northeast Ohio, be sure to include Woodland Deck in your research! We wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t earned the trust and confidence of so many homeowners since we started building decks back in 2000. Learn more about our deck design process or contact us to get more information or a free estimate.