The Do's and Don'ts of Choosing A Deck Builder
The latest survey shows that 98% of most homeowners have never purchased a deck. Sudden deck collapse injures and kills people every year. It is usually caused by contractors with insufficient experience in proper deck construction and building safety codes.
When selecting a builder, one of the first big mistakes homeowners make, is to select a builder based on price. Homeowners will typically look to see who could build their deck at the cheapest price, without much other consideration. This is by and large because, the average person do not know or understand the special skills required to build a safe quality deck. There are a number of ways to build a deck, from very poor to excellent, all of which can determine price. Just because a guy is good with a saw and hammer, does not mean that he is a good quality deck builder. Specialized skills are required.
If there were 3 people selling you a car and you did not know the year, make or model, would you make a decision to buy based on price. How would you choose? What would you do? Again, when it comes to decks, too often, the lowest price is chosen without much other consideration. This is one of the main reasons for unsatisfactory results or worst, injury or even death due to deck collapse. Sure you want the best price possible. However, selecting your builder by price only, is not a prudent way to choose a contractor. Educate yourself as much as possible. Also, materials and labor is not the only cost associated with your deck, there are other cost i.e. scheduling, delivery, project management, insurance, permits, drawings, clean up etc.
Homeowners sometime select the cheapest price or negotiate the deal to the point that it is non-profitable. A reputable company will refuse the job and not compromise its integrity. However, another builder, less ethical, may agree to build your deck and then look for ways to make your project profitable. Usually this will take place by cutting quality to such a degree that your deck is rated improperly built and rendered unsafe. In some cases your project may never be completed.
What should you do when selecting a builder if you have no experience and limited knowledge? DO NOT hire inexperienced people, your cousins bother, because he built a deck that looks good to you. If inspected, it will probably have a number of building code violations. DO NOT hire the fireman who decided that deck building, is a good way to use his 3 days off each week. DO NOT hire the handyman or the man in the truck. These people often provide good service to customers but when it comes to decks there are too many safety issues and building codes to leave to a novice.
Some things to do and ask:
- Be sure that your builder is licensed and insured. Ask for proof. You can verify online at the office of the Secretary of State Licensing Board
- Can the builder supply drawings and pull a building permit if required.
- Ask for references.
- What warranties and guarantees are there?
- How long in business?
- Specifically, how much deck building experience? Should have at least 5 years of dedicated experience.
- Visit Showroom or previous customers and examine the quality of the work.
- Check website and photos of work.
- Check affiliations. Most recommended is the North American Deck and Rail Association (NADRA), www.nadra.org. You can check the website for members. Besides education and training, there is a code of ethics that is required for members to maintain membership.
- Your best choice in a builder may or may not be the lowest price. You usually get what you pay for. If you follow the advice taken from the deck building industry, which includes the steps above, you should fare well and get the best deck at the best price.
- Some qualifying questions to ask your builder:
What is the minimum height of the safety handrail? Answer: 36 inches
What is the critical connection between your home and the deck, comprised of? Answer: Flashing and properly spaced bolts (galvanized).
What is the maximum distance between handrail post? Answer: 8 feet.
When a support post is placed on top of a footing, how is it secured? Answer: a galvanized standoff.
What is the minimum width of a set of steps? Answer: 36 inches.
What is the maximum space between joist (boards that supports the deck boards), when deck boards are placed diagonally? Answer: 12 inches on center.
There are a number of other things to know about the proper construction of your deck. The above questions will at least give you some feedback about the knowledge of your builder. If there is difficulty answering these basic questions, you should consider another builder. Do not deviate in your approach to do due diligence, after all, there is a lots at stake, your safety, your money and the enjoyment of your deck. Remember that price alone tells you very little when it comes to finding a qualified builder for your deck.