How to Start the Deck Building and Contractor Selection Process

You have just purchased your brand new home and realize that you now need a deck. Wow, between moving in and settlement and the first month of bills, the last thing you want to do is deal with a hundred contractors telling you different things. This is where this article can help.

Building a deck, or whole outdoor living space, can be a very time consuming. That’s why you have decided to hire a contractor, and, in most cases this is a wise thing to do. Although you may have the ability and skills to do the work yourself, there are many more things you need to know when building a load bearing structure. Here are things to consider:

  • National, State and County Building Codes
  • Contractor Selection
  • Design and Material Types
  • Permitting and Inspections
  • Homeowner Associations

As you can imagine, some of the bullet points above can be daunting task for even some of the most experienced individuals in the industry. National, state and local building codes change regularly, so if you are not an industry professional that keeps up on them you run the risk of wasting a lot of time and money by trying to build it yourself or by using a contractor that is NOT licensed, we will discuss that a little further down. National Building codes are intended to keep us all safe and typically do a pretty good job, but they are not always relevant depending on where you live, think about it, would you build a house the same way in Alaska as you would in Florida or Arizona, the answer is no. National building codes serve as a building block for many of the fundamental processes, that’s where the state and local building codes come into play. These local building codes tell us how to build structures in our specific climate, location, etc… So, in conclusion, make sure you hire someone with knowledge of the local building codes, as an extra layer of insurance, pick up a copy of the local building codes at your county permit office and read them yourself.

Now you have came to the point where you are looking into contractors, where is one to start? Everyone hears horrible stories about contractors that start the job and never comeback, or never answer their phone, or take a deposit and never show up to start. It is not that bad in today’s world of information and social media. If you ask around, I’m sure you will have 5 friends on Facebook tell you who they used for their deck. And, a simple Google search will turn up an endless list of contractors that service your area and a hundred reviews for each one. This is not to say that you cannot get a bad contractor, but, in today’s world, if a contractor does you wrong, or did the last guy wrong, he is not going to be in business long. One can also use sites like Angie’s List and Home Advisor to find pre-screened contractors, these sites also provide some guarantees about who they promote but it varies by each site. With a little due diligence the contractor selection process can be very relaxing and enjoyable. Just remember the old saying, “You get what you pay for”, so if a contractor is telling you he can do your deck for $5,000 less than 3 other contractors that should raise a red flag in your mind. Last and not lease, make sure they are properly licensed in your state, county or township.

You now have the contractor you were looking for and he starts talking to you about different materials and colors and styles. The amount of information you can find on materials can make your head spin, so the best advice you can get is from someone who does not have a hand in the selection process. Go to your local home improvement store, the big brick and mortar places that are everywhere, you know who I am talking about. They have tons of informational packets on deck boards and railings and everything else that goes along with decks. There are also smaller materials houses that deal with decks and home building only, these are where you can get some really useful information, as the people working at these places usually have more experience with the products they sell. Some of the major players in the field are Trex, Fiberon and Azek to name a few, but MANY more smaller companies exist that can provide exceptional value. Your contractor should be able to provide some additional information if you need it.

Now you have the hard stuff figured out, you have a signed contract with your contractor, and he files for the permit. Permits should always be filed, no matter what, they are for your protection. The permit process can be tough, but a good contractor should be familiar with the process and handle it with no problems. In the meantime, you should be inquiring about Homeowner Association Approvals. HOA’s, as they are referred to, can be very powerful and can technically make you tear your deck down if you did not get prior approval (this is very rare but possible). Once, you have received HOA approval and the permit, your contractor can then start construction. The construction process can move very fast at first, but it typically slows down when it gets closer to the end because of a ton of little things that contractors have to do to make the deck safe and that are required to pass county inspection. Speaking of county inspections, decks usually require 3 inspections. After each inspection, your contractor will receive a pass or fail sticker, he should provide these to you upon completion of the deck, along with the permit, for you to keep with your records. If you have made it through this article, you will see that building a deck and picking a contractor can be tough but it does not have to be stressful. If you do your homework and follow the advice of others who have been through the process recently it really is not that bad.