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How to Hire the Right Deck Builder for Your Decking or Railing Project

Posted 13 August 2010 7:14 PM by cfox@ufpi.com

Adding or updating a deck to your home's outdoor living area can be a significant investment, so you’ll want to make sure you have a top notch deck builder working on your wood or composite decking project. It’s critical to make sure you hire a experienced, reputable contractor with a history of quality deck building and satisfied customers.

Doing your homework will help make a good choice
Get recommendations from your friends, family and local lumberyard and then check in with the Better Business Bureau for a list of members in your area. Look for yard signs and see what work is underway in your neighborhood. Talk to both the contractor and homeowner at the site to get a feel of how the job is going.

Do phone interviews
Once you've assembled a list, I recommend that you make a call to each of your prospective deck builders / contractors and ask a series of important qualifying questions:

  • Are all deck builders on site bonded/insured?
  • Will they provide a list of past projects and customers?
  • Do they have a portfolio to show examples?
  • How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
  • Does the contractor have liability insurance?
  • Are background checks run on the builders?
  • Will they offer a warranty on their workmanship?

Answers to these questions will reveal a lot about the builder's availability, reliability and how much attention your deck project will get. And if your phone call is not returned within a few days, cross that builder off your list.

Always meet face to face
Based on the phone interviews, pick the top three deck contractors for further discussion. Make sure you take notes for reference.

Investigate the facts
Call up former customers of the deck builders to find how their deck project went and ask to see the completed deck project. And just as important, visit a current job site to see how the builder works. Is the job site in order? Are the deck builders considerate and careful with the homeowner's property?

Communicate plans, get bids
When you’ve narrowed your search to a short list of deck builders whose track records appear clean and work ethic looks responsible, it's time to move forward with your project. A reliable contractor will get a sense of what the homeowner wants out of a project and what they plan to spend. Be sure to communicate the type of deck structure you want. Provide all builders with a sketch or deck design that you desire as this will help manage expectations. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of deck materials and labor.

Set a payment schedule
NEVER pay 100% up front! No deck builder / contractor should ask for more than half the quoted amount of the project up front before starting the job. Most ask for a deposit when the work is first started. You should pay your contractor within 24-48 hours of the contract completion. 

For larger deck projects, a schedule often starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel your project is 100% complete based on the agreement.

Here are my top keys to consider when choosing a deck builder:

  • Don't let price make or break the deal
  • Get it in writing
  • Go with your gut feeling

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