So we wanted to help you out. Here's a step-by-step guide to getting the deck of your dreams.
This is a pretty logical first step and a very important one. How much you want to spend will impact the next five steps in various ways. It can be helpful for your deck builder to know what your budget is during the design process. This will give him some parameters to work within. However, given the private nature of this decision, it is not necessary to share it with anyone.
We think it is important to get quotes from several deck builders. They will all approach the project from a different perspective, and that can be very helpful in gathering ideas for the shape and design. Be careful when comparing the quotes though, make sure that you are comparing similar deck ideas. Some deck builders include things like deck screws with hidden fasteners, covering the wood framing with fascia trim, getting the necessary permits and picture framing the deck floor in all their quotes. But some deck builders will charge extra for all those things.
Also, make sure that all of them are using quality materials for the structure of the deck. For example, we always use 6X6 posts that are treated specially to be buried in the ground, 2X12s for our beams, and # 1-grade Pressure Treated lumber for all of the framing. Some deck builders may try to save money by using 4X4 posts, 2X10s for the beams, and lower quality lumber for the framing. The bottom line is this, do some research, and ask questions. Inquisitive customers become well-informed customers, and well-informed customers are less likely to have regrets after the project is complete.
This is definitely the trickiest of all the steps. You can pick the one with the cheapest price, the one with the best design, or the one who offers the best incentives. My advice is simple, go with your gut and choose the one that makes you comfortable. But at the same time, do some research to make sure your bases are covered. A good deck builder should be able to provide you with names of some past customers for you to talk to, as well as see the decks he has built for them. Make sure that the one you choose is licensed in your area and has the proper insurance.
Most deck builders will ask you for an upfront deposit, usually around 30% of the total construction costs. Depending on the size of your project, they may ask for another 30% when they begin the work. Be careful of anyone who asks for a larger deposit up front, or wants to be paid in full before completing the work and having it approved by the inspector.
This decision always comes down to some combination of three things: practicality, looks, and cost. So the design you pick will be decided by which of those is more important to you. Your deck builder should be willing to work with you to tweak his design until it is perfect. I would wait until you have a final design that you love, before committing to a deck builder and giving them a deposit.
The overwhelming amount of different types and brands of decking and railing can make this step a daunting task. And if you start researching them on the Internet, you will find that all the different types have some issues. Wood decking requires a lot of pressure washing and staining. Composite decking at best requires a lot of maintenance, and at worst can fail completely. Capped composite decking is fairly new and questions remain about long-term durability and moisture absorption. Vinyl decking tends to expand and contract with the changing temperatures and has some issues with oxidization or chalking from exposure to UV rays.
If you don’t mind the extra work, pressure treated decking in Southern Pine can save you some money. And it is a proven, natural option that has been used to build decks for decades. With any man-made decking there is the possibility of a bad batch here and there, but with wood, you get a more consistent performance. However, wood will still have a shorter lifespan, than a well made composite or vinyl decking. We create many decks with pressure treated wood, as well as Ipe, (Brazilian Walnut), Cumuru (Brazilian Teak), Cedar and Mahogony.
In my opinion, the best decking material is vinyl decking or railing. We have been using both for over 10 years, with very good results. Wood will obviously rot and decay over time. And all the composite decking, like Trex and capped composite included, have some wood in it. So over time as moisture absorbs into the decking, that wood will rot away, compromising the integrity of the decking or railing. We have had some cosmetic issues with vinyl decking and railing over the years, almost all of which we have been able to fix without replacing the materials. But I have never seen the vinyl of any kind lose structural integrity, and need to be replaced for safety reasons. In contrast, I have seen wood and composite decks fail completely, to the point that they were no longer safe to use.
Again, ask your deck builder lots of questions as you make these decisions. Hopefully, you have chosen a deck builder that you trust, and his expert advice will help make this process easier.