Getting Deck Estimates – Strategies

finding a deck builder

I just want a Deck Estimate! Strategies

When a Homeowner calls a Deck Company …

Like it or not, your deck company is interviewing you just like you are interviewing them. In the recent past, you could call 10 deck companies and 8 would race to your door to give you their best price. Since building decks was a simple thing, builders would ask how big, what kind of wood, and, what kind of rail would you like Maam?

These days, the deck business has evolved. There are new builders every year that see estimates as an opportunity to sell themselves. Unfortunately, they burn out quickly and these are the guys that don’t return phone calls. Rather than a couple of guys bouncing around in a pickup truck, doing business is more complicated. They need insurance, compensation and licensing. The decks are becoming much more complex with PVC and Composite decking, that take more expertise and planning to get right. Every company has approved methods that have to be adhered to for the warranty to be in force. Dealing with code and zoning compliance adds another layer of complication these days.

Many deck builders will invest time with you, however, they want to be sure that you are the right customer for them. You may have to pay for designs and plans if you want to work with a professional. Whether you use a designer or architect or work with a builder to create your design, that is the logical first step.

These days, some deck boards are in the $200 range per board. You don’t want to make mistakes. Modern decks need to be planned appropriately. You want to get it right the first time!

The Skilled Trade Shortage — An Overview

Over the last 20 years or so, the trades have become unpopular for a few reasons.

  1. Wages stagnated or even dropped after governments offered free training courses to offset the coming wave of tradesmen set to retire.
  2. With so many other sexy employment opportunities, why work so hard?  Canada is expected to have a shortage of 800,000 skilled workers within 10 years. A survey by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada found that most Canadian youth (42 percent) wouldn’t even consider a career in skilled trades.
  3. The boom-bust cycle limits lifetime earnings and injuries can cut your career short. Without financial incentive, people will not get into the trades.

In the US, plentiful tradesmen seem to be dwindling a bit. Many were undocumented and they seem to be laying low, or, working for others or have just left.  A shortage of skilled trades means having to wait if you do find a good builder to work with. Everything from fuel to materials to insurance has climbed in price recently, which means that prices are high and heading skyward.

The Shortage in the US

The past two decades in the US have seen their shortage build for different reasons.

  1. After their construction boom happened in 2008 many tradesmen were blown out of the trade and often into bankruptcy.
  2. Undocumented workers served to keep prices too low for legitimate businesses to compete– thus, fewer businesses were started. Many of these tradesmen have to lay low, are being deported or have already gone home.
  3. Many tradesmen that might want to start a business, either don’t have the capital or are adverse to the risk.

What does this mean for Homeowners? It means; “It is harder to find a good builder, and, they will come at a premium price“, wherever you live in North America.

I hear from customers that builders are just not calling them back. It might be that your job is too small or simple for them to invest time into it. It might be that the builder is already out of business, or has discovered that they are not profitable.

The True Cost of Code Compliance

The building code relating to decks is changing to avoid future lawsuits.  Let’s face it, when decks, particularly second level decks fall off a house it happens when it is fully loaded with people.

Lawsuits over collapses have caused permits to be more expensive to cover off the settlements. In a reaction to these lawsuits, building codes have become more complicated and onerous across North America. Anything unique requires engineering. Modern decking, guard rails, privacy screens, and patio covers will all require an engineered stamped drawing. A basic wood deck is easy–but anything extraordinary will be more work to get permissions.

Building decks can involve days of planning to create a book up to 60 pages long just to get a permit to build. 15 years ago, you could sketch your deck plan on 2 sheets of graph paper and the building department would let you build. Nowadays, they expect scaled drawings, site plan, layouts, elevations, sections, and engineering for the guard rails, decking, helical footings and if a roof or pergola is involved, it gets worse. We see plans in the $2-5k range fairly often in certain areas when draftsmen and engineers get involved.

Strategies to get a few Good Quotes:

  1.  Design it first–Since many Builders, typically,  are not good designers. You don’t want to be bound to a builder and rely on them to design well.
  2.  Have your designer put specifications on the drawings to minimize guesswork by the builders.
  3.  Tell your designer the budget up front. There is no point in going through the process with a professional designer or builder if your budget says Craigslist.
  4.  Don’t be surprised if a builder asks for a consultation or measure up fee– This practice is a common way of qualifying potential clients.
  5.  Put together a wish list and a rough sketch if you don’t yet have a design– chat with your deck builder for a few minutes on the phone after sending them your wish list and sketch.
  6.  If you plan to get a dozen prices and are just looking for the lowest possible price, don’t call a professional. They will not be the cheapest price– stick with Craigslist or Kijiji.
  7.  Learn a little about decks– why one deck might be different than another. Learn about materials options and best practices. There are plenty of books and resources online. You don’t buy a car without researching–why are decks different