How to Choose a Deck Builder
Throughout the year, many of us naturally turn to the outdoors for entertaining, and this inevitably creates a very high demand for decks, arbors, patio covers, and other outdoor living spaces. Unfortunately, not all deck builders are equal and choosing one can sometimes be a stressful experience. Here are a few tips to help you choose a builder that will not leave you hanging after you’ve invested time and money in a project.
First, look for a builder who requires little or no down payment. Too many times we have heard the stories about a friend or family member who gave a contractor hundreds or thousands of dollars, only to end up being left with a project that was poorly built, or even worse never completed. A reputable company should be able to cover its operating expenses without needing your money, and most good companies today will rarely ask for a down payment of any size.
Second, look for a company who is licensed in your city. Oftentimes a company will procure a license in a small city and use it to piggyback into larger areas. The problem with this is that small cities rarely have the stringent requirements and oversight for licensing procedures that are common in larger cities. Another issue at hand is that different municipalities have different rules which can result in confusion during and after the building process. Being fined or asked to take down a deck or other structure can and sometimes does happen. A properly licensed contractor should have no problems pulling the required permits for your project.
Third, ask your potential builders if they provide any third party inspections. Companies who are doing the work properly won’t balk at being asked to subject the project to a third party inspection. Some companies may pass the cost of this along to you, but the best companies will have this procedure performed by a licensed engineer who will then provide you with a report that you can keep for your records. Whether or not this service is offered up front can be a great indicator of a company’s building practices.
Fourth, look for a company that controls its own supply chain. This can be complicated, but don’t hesitate to ask questions about where the company gets its material from. Building material costs swing wildly, so from a value standpoint, you can usually get more bang for your buck by choosing a company that owns and controls its own supply company. Also, particularly with decks, try not to get caught up in the rhetoric about different species of cedar. The only real cedar comes from Lebanon, everything else is a subspecies of the cypress family. There are plenty of great resources online that can help you decipher this little trick of the industry. Some of the best info is available is from the University of Oregon website where you can find comparisons of western red cedar, inland cedar, northern white cedar and Chinese and Japanese cedar. Terms like “real cedar” or “certified by” are created by trade associations of lumber manufacturers who are trying to protect their market share in an increasingly competitive market. These terms rarely tell you anything about the quality of the lumber you are getting.
Fifth, find out what additional services are being included with your project. Some companies are there simply to build the deck or other project. Most will help with design, but only some will help with things like homeowner’s association submissions or finding qualified contractors to help with plumbing or electrical work involved in the project. Some companies do perform all of these services, but generally they are simply contracting the work to another company and adding their markup to the actual cost. The best companies will usually help you find the right contractor for the job, and help with coordination of scheduling, but will allow you to hire the contractor directly. Try to remember this; carpenters are not electricians or plumbers. Don’t take an unnecessary risk on the word of a contractor. As a side note, ask about your contractor’s insurance coverage. A contractor who maintains insurance should be able to provide you with an up to date insurance certificate if asked to do so.
Sixth and finally, read the fine print about the warranty being offered on the project. Many companies will say that they offer anywhere from a five year to even a lifetime warranty on their products, but unfortunately these extravagant claims are usually contingent upon so many pre-requisites being met that they are virtually worthless. Most companies will require a sealer on any outdoor project in order to honor their warranty, and this makes sense, but any further conditions should be looked at closely. A “lifetime warranty” that becomes invalid for any reason really isn’t a lifetime warranty; it is just a sales tactic. Also be wary of warranties that require service charges. Even good companies may require a small trip charge, but be careful of hourly service charges for warranty work. If warranty service costs are able to accrue without your direct control, then what you will get is a service contract and not a warranty and it should be represented as such.
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