Finalizing Deck Costs
Once your design has been approved by everyone who needs to review it, you’re ready to start gathering bids. Get bids from at least two or three major suppliers, and ask friends and relatives for recommendations. You can divide your costs into several parts: Here are a few suggestions:
- Your time: How much do you want to do yourself, and can you afford that much time? Of course, you can put a value on your time, based on what you earn, but you won’t simply be “spending” your time. You will get some exercise, learn new skills, stay in control of the project, and benefit from the results of your work and the sense of accomplishment.
- Contractor costs: You can get a rough estimate of contractor costs without seeking bids. Double your material costs for any section of the project (or the whole thing). The result will be in the ballpark.
- site prep: Include building permits, excavation, drainage, and landscaping. Site preparation costs may not apply to your project, but if your lot needs considerable grading, that expense should be included as part of the cost of your deck.
- material: Concrete, lumbet, hardware, equipment rentals, other building supplies.
You may not have thought much about preparing the site, but that little pond that forms in your yard after a rain can be real trouble if it’s located right where you plan to put a deck post. You may have to grade your site to improve drainage.
If grading is necessary, get estimates from landscape contractors. Their equipment can make short work of jobs that would wear you out. Also, their speed means you can schedule site preparation to take place just before you start building.
Save Yourself a Trip
When you get bids for materials, ask each lumberyard or building supply center about its return policy. Look for a business that will exchange defective goods and accept returns. Then buy more of each bulk item— such as fasteners and decking boards—than your plan requires. It’s easier to return the extras after the project is finished than to make a separate trip each time you run short of materials.
Should You Hire a Deck Contractor?
The explosive growth of the do-it-yourself industry shows that many homeowners can handle all but the most extensive landscape projects. When you’re deciding whether to do the work yourself or hire it out, consider these points:
- DON’T KID YOURSELF ABOUT SKILLS: Weigh your skill level and experience against the scope of the project. You can do minor excavating with a posthole digger or shovel. Slabs require heavy equipment. If your carpentry skills are weak, buy precut kits for fences and overheads.
- WILL FRIENDS HELP? Many construction projects require at least two pairs of hands—lifting framing lumber into position on an overhead or pouring and leveling concrete slabs, for example
- POWER TOOLS: Power tools save time. So does proper planning. Buy a power drill/driver if you don’t have one. It will be a valuable addition to your tool kit. Rent a reciprocating saw for cutting posts or timbers.
- LOGICAL ORDER: Don’t build fences until the major projects are completed, and have materials dropped next to the project. Anything you can do to reduce your labor will make the job more enjoyable.
- ADD IT UP: What will your total cost be? Make sure your materials list is complete and get prices for everything. Add subcontractor bids for any work you will definitely contract, such as excavation or electrical wiring. Include the cost of tools you’ll have to buy or rent, as well as waste removal, permits, and inspections. Add these costs together and compare them with a general contractor’s bid.
Are the savings large enough to warrant taking the project on? Even if the savings are small, remember that doing it yourself can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
If you’ve decided to contract all or some of the job, how do you find a contractor? Friends and neighbors are good for references. So are local garden shops. But don’t work with any contractor whose references you have not checked.
You may also need to enlist the services of landscape professionals such as: Landscape architects: They completely design and plan your landscape, producing detailed drawings, plans, and written work descriptions. They will also supervise the construction. Landscape designers: They will assist you with the design of your project and will provide drawings for your deck’s general look. These drawings do not include construction details. Landscape contractors: These builders have particular expertise in landscape construction. Some firms describe themselves as “Designers and Builders” and have professional architects, designers, and builders on staff.
The best way to find a reputable design professional is through the satisfied references of friends and family. Ask at work or parties: Anyone who has a new landscape will be happy to talk about it and the professionals who made it happen.
- NARROWING THE FIELD: Once you’ve selected your prospective contractors, ask each one for job refereces; then check them. Visit job sites and inspect the quality of work.
Get several bids, and be wary of any that are significantly higher or lower than average. The bids of reputable contractors bidding for the same work with the same materials should be close.
- CONTRACTS: Get everything in writing— everything. Read the contract carefully, and insert any information that you feel is needed. If you have any uncertainty, have a lawyer review the documents before you sign. The contract should specify the following:
- The work to be done.
- Materials to be used.
- A start date and a completion schedule.
- Procedures for making changes.
- Stipulations that the contractor will obtain building permits and lien waivers.
- Methods for resolving disputes.
- OTHER DOCUMENTS: Often required by local laws, your contractor should provide evidence of the following:
- Licensing: showing government standards to do the work have been met.
- Bonding: evidence that if the contractor fails to perform the work, a bonding company will pay another contractor to finish the job.
- Insurance: liability for nonworkers and compensation for workers injured on the job.
- FINAL PAYMENT: Before you make final payment, obtain signed lien waivers from the contractor for every subcontractor and supplier. You’ll avoid liability in case the contractor fails to pay them. When the job is completed, inspect it carefully. If anything looks questionable, make a note of it. Ask the contractor to do a walk-through with you so you can point out problems; then both of you can see firsthand what needs to be corrected. The contractor should either correct any defects or explain why they really aren’t problems.
Many cities provide recourse for resolution of future problems—usually within a year. Check with your local building department. If problems arise, appeal first to the contractors involved; then allow a reasonable time for repairs. If the problem is still not resolved, appeal to the professional associations to which the contractor belongs or consult a lawyer.