HOW TO FIND A RELIABLE DECK CONTRACTOR

The best place to begin your search for a deck contractor is online or a referral from a friend. Most established deck contractors now have their own websites presenting an overview in their qualifications and pictures of their work. This will give you a chance to evaluate their skills before you give them a call.

Home Shows can be an amazing one-stop resource for making face-to-face contacts and collecting information from a number of contractors. It is a good idea to interview a minimum of 3 distinct deck contractors for any project you may be considering.

Deck construction has changed quite dramatically from what it was a decade ago when few construction requirements existed for decks. New product technology coupled with an explosion of the outdoor living way of life has moved decks into a spot industry. In looking to hire for your new deck, we strongly encourage a deck-specific tradesman or business. A general contractor or wood worker, that doesn’t specialize in deck construction, is probably behind the times and could not be able to offer you the entire variety of the product market. They also are much more likely to be unpleasantly surprised by new building code requirements unique to deck construction.

A huge advantage to hiring an expert is granting someone else the trust to get the job done timely and correctly. However, there may be certainly some value in doing a little homework as to what you should expect from the professional. Here are the types of questions you should ask your contractor throughout the hiring process.

Learn how to find and hire the right deck builder for your project in our guide below.  

What to Look for in a Deck Contractor

Credentials & Requirements

First and foremost, verify the contractor has all of the legal requirements in your area to perform construction services. If licensing and bonding is required, expect them to have it.

Always confirm they’ve general liability insurance, or don’t be surprised when your home owner’s insurance ends up paying a claim. Make sure that any contractor you consider hiring has a license for the work they’re performing, liability insurance and workman’s compensation insurance. These are critical prerequisites for protecting yourself from any serious liability in the unlucky case of an accident.

A contractor must hold liability insurance and workman’s compensation insurance to make sure you don’t get caught with the bill if your home gets damaged, or end up in court if a person falls off a ladder and gets hurt. These types of insurance are very essential as they’ll protect you from assuming legal responsibility if your house is damaged or a worker is injured during your project.

Your contractor will be required to obtain a constructing permit and pass all necessary inspections to verify compliance with IRC codes and assume the responsibility for having utility lines located before excavating frost footings.

All legitimate contractors will be aware of the local laws and policies and must be more than willing to put your worries to ease. Most contractors advertise using their license number to eliminate any questions. These items must be clearly listed on the contract to provide you with a record of their credentials.

Experience

Most deck contractors are very capable of constructing a strong and attractive deck. However, some are definitely more skilled at designing a deck than others.

Deck layout can be quite complicated. Each person approaches layout from a different background and using his or her personal strategies and techniques. A good layout begins with a trip to the site and an interview with you to establish your needs and wants. Try to keep an open mind to their thoughts and give them your full attention. Nowadays, contractors may also use drone technology or pictures from your mobile device to scope out the area instead of an on-site visit.

Once the contractor presents you with a deck design, it is your job to ask yourself some simple questions. Does the design make sense to you? Will it meet your needs and expectations? How does it compare to your other designs? Having multiple competing designs to compare should help make your choice easier. You will want to be absolutely comfortable with the design before moving forward. Bring up any issues now. Making changes at a later date can imply added expenses, delay to the project’s scheduling and can otherwise complicate matters.

References

Building a deck involves a big economic investment. It can regularly be as expensive as buying a brand new or used car. You never want to buy a lemon. You should approach those major purchases with the same quantity of caution and attention to detail. Don’t be afraid to, if possible, test drive a few decks before making your final choice on a contractor.

Ask for a few references in your area. Take a couple of hours out of your weekend to go to some of their past clients. This will allow you to gain first-hand facts of how things went and see what the final product looks like. Inspect the information of their craftsmanship. Find out when the deck was constructed and see how well it has held up with time. Ask if there have been any troubles coping with the contractor, especially, how easy it was to talk with them and if the project finished on time and on budget.

Range of Offerings

Some deck contractors specialize in designing and constructing with a particular material such as composite. Others are much more flexible and provide a diverse range of choices. Unless you already know precisely what you want, it can be very helpful to have plenty of options.

Each material offers a set of particular characteristics to a project. Some are advantageous, others are problematic. A good contractor could be able to give an explanation for the differences and share his knowledge to help you in making an educated decision. Look for contractors that offer a variety of extras like low voltage lights, custom planters and benches which can help set your deck apart from the crowd. Trying something different could make your deck special. Most contractors are always up for a challenge as a way to make a deck interesting. However, going outside a contractor’s comfort zone, such as choosing a material that is unfamiliar to them, will probably increase the price of the project.

Organization

Who exactly are you dealing with and what’s their relationship with the company? Companies are organized in distinct ways. You will want to know if you are speaking to a salesperson, the owner of the company or the men who will sincerely be building the deck. Each position gives a unique perspective on how they deal with clients. It will be essential that you are capable of maintaining responsive communication with this person throughout the different stages of the project. You will want to find out the name and phone number of the lead carpenter assigned in your project. Also, you will want to know if your project will be subcontracted out to any other builder. Subcontracting isn’t always necessarily a bad practice as it is able to accelerate production, however it can result in employing less-trained carpenters and increase the chance of miscommunication. Most deck constructing organizations are relatively small, the more you already know about how the company is organized, the less complicated it’ll be for you to effectively communicate with the right people throughout your project.

Integrity

Most deck contractors are good hardworking people looking to make an honest buck. You can never be 100% sure of the character of a stranger, however a little homework in your component can lessen the threat of setting yourself at risk. Trust your intuition. What is your impression of them? Do you think they’ll be good people to work with? If you feel they’re not being honest with you or are trying to hide something, you should consider searching elsewhere. If a person has a longtime business in your community, it should be easy to test out their references. Examine the contract cautiously for any information that is lacking or that appears strange or out of place. You need to ensure that they’ll honor their promises and stand behind their work. It shouldn’t be a scary experience to hire a contractor, most people are very glad with the results in their projects, however it can never hurt to be careful when working with people that you don’t know.

What to Consider When Hiring a Deck Contractor

Establish the Homeowner’s Responsibilities

Your obligations as the home owner and customer will be laid out straightforwardly in your deck builder’s contract. Examples include:

  • Maintain house owners insurance
  • Attain approval on design from HOA, where appropriate
  • Communicate with neighbors that construction will take place throughout specific dates and times
  • Provide energy for contractors tools (or be charged additionally for the use of generators)
  • Provide storage area for constructing materials
  • Relocate sprinklers and/or cable tv lines, if applicable
  • Pay complete amount on time

Your home owner’s insurance policy is vital to recover any expenses of damage caused to your house or to replace materials that are broken or stolen from the site.

Other obligations will include making appropriate arrangements to deal with the development process. If you need to do anything to prepare the site for construction, like removing a concrete patio, you may need to do that before construction can begin.

In a few cases, you’ll be requested to allow access to bathrooms. Any other requests should be clearly understood and arranged for.

Verify if a Permit is Required

You’ll need to call the local constructing authority and verify if a permit is needed in your project. It’s in your best interest prior to meeting with any contractor to understand if permits are required where you live. We strongly suggest that the contractor finally choose files for the appropriate permits.

Building permits and inspections are certainly a time consuming process and often not favored by contractors. Given opportunity, a lot of them would forego the process. This isn’t always acceptable, and also you should make it your responsibility to know when one is needed and expect your contractor to abide. Work completed without a permit notoriously bites the owner years down the road.

Discuss Start and Completion Dates

It should come as no surprise that deck building is an extremely seasonal industry. In the spring and summer months, there is always a high volume of work to keep deck contractors busy. This creates a situation where homeowners will have to wait in line for their project to start.

Planning your schedule around construction can be inconvenient. How soon can your contractor start? When will they finish? Will there be a discount or a back out clause in the case of a significant delay? A legal contract for a deck requires a stated start and finish date.

Your contractor will agree to complete the project in a professional manner for the agreed upon price and within the stated time frame. Any legal deck contract must set specific dates for the project to start and finish. This date will be given to you by the contractor to fit into the company’s schedule and should represent a realistic time frame for your project. You may want to ask if there is a penalty for delays.

In construction, the weather and other unforeseen conditions can often slow down a contractor’s schedule. You will want to find out what will happen if the project is significantly delayed. Will you be given a discount or be able to back out of the contract without a penalty? If you need your deck by a specific date, like a graduation party, this may be a crucial detail for your agreement.

Construction is an imperfect science. You must try to be patient and cooperate with your deck contractor, but it is ultimately their professional responsibility to provide you with a realistic time frame for your project. You will want to try to be understanding and patient, but the stated dates are listed on the contract for good reason. It is ultimately the contractor’s responsibility to ensure your deck finishes on time. Your contract will offer you some assurance that your deck will be built in a timely manner.

Determine Payment Methods & Schedules

Homeowners should establish the total amount, including sales tax, that is being agreed upon to pay for the work to be completed. Some contracts break the total amount into smaller progressive payments to be made at specific times during the project. This system usually works well in translating the proportion of work completed to payments applied. You can ask your contractor about they’re preferred payment schedule.

The balance of the payments you are holding will provide the incentive for the contractor to fulfill their contractual obligations. In some cases, a third party may be introduced to hold the money in escrow pending the fulfillment of the contract.

Define the Scope of Work & Project Specifications

This section will clearly outline the exact nature of the work your contractor is going to do for you. The more specific you make the details, the better. You will want it to include a scale drawing complete with dimensions to define the size and shape of the deck being built. This must be very accurate. Include the number of total square feet, the elevation, the direction of decking and any other essential information.

You will also need to establish the specific materials that are going to be used. Leave nothing to interpretation. Make sure the type, size, color, style, grade, name brand, etc. are listed to guarantee you get exactly what you are expecting and paying for. Your contractor will also need this document to refresh their memory when it comes time to ordering materials. This written information vastly outweighs any verbal agreement of what is going to be done. Make sure it is accurate, clearly written and leaves nothing out.

Agree on Terms and Conditions

This section will represent a collection of resolutions to common disputes that the contractor feels the need to be mutually established. Many of these conditions come from the contractor’s experience in dealing with past customers and could be considered common sense. In this way, contracts are designed to spell out as many potential issues as possible. It will probably be stated that the contractor is not responsible for any yard damage that may occur during construction. There may be a line that discourages change orders, requiring an added cost and requiring that they be expressed in writing. Every contractor will want to cover their bases and protect themselves from unrealistic expectations. You should review each item, but do not be intimidated by them. These terms and conditions usually cover worst case scenarios and help contractors deal with difficult customers. In practice, a detailed terms and conditions section usually suggests that a lot of thought has been dedicated to details and making sure your project goes smoothly.

Finalize the Contract

When you hire a deck builder, what will guarantee that all goes according to plan? The answer is that you will possess a legal contract that can be used as proof of the agreement. If drafted properly, this piece of paper will validate your agreement as legitimate and binding under the laws of the land.

In most cases, this is as simple as evidence that one party makes an offer and the other accepts it. The contract will further act as a written explanation of the detailed responsibilities of both parties participating in the project. This leaves little to interpretation and should prevent most disputes from ever occurring. Both sides must understand and sign the document to execute the contract.

You will want to make sure that all the necessary information is included in one completed document. Using a collection of sketches and notes in place of a formal contract is disorganized and unprofessional. It can also be confusing, contradictory and ineffective.

What to Do When Something Goes Wrong

If something goes wrong during your project, we recommend staying calm and following the established chain of command. For instance, if the wrong color decking shows up at the job site, first talk to the construction crew to get it straightened out. Usually, this kind of problem is just a matter of miscommunication that can be easily resolved.

If a problem persists, you may need to talk to whoever drafted the contract or the owner of the company. Your contract should clearly specify what the exact terms of the project are. In rare circumstances, if the company refuses to offer a solution, you may need to pursue the matter with an outside party. Do not make idle threats. Use extreme caution and only use this action as a last resort, as you will likely stir up some bad feelings and things can turn ugly fast.