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Building Better Decks: Working with professionals

By Lawrence Winterburn

This is part 4 of 4 from our series: Building Better Decks

If you decide to work with a professional, be wary of quotes that appear too good to be true. If a builder’s prices are too cheap, you may want to questions their promises. In many cases, the lowest bid means more trouble than it is worth. Discounting means cutting corners, using lower quality materials or worse still, an unfinished project.

Before signing on, make sure you see a project built by your prospective builder up close. Ask to see a project that is more than a year old; if a builder doesn’t want you to see their work, scratch from your list of prospects.

When checking out the deck, use the following checklist:
1. Checking to make sure the deck is level. Kneel down and look across the deck. Is it flat? Is the decking straight? Bring a small level along and place it in the middle of whatever you are checking for level. If the deck is sloping in any direction there are footing issues
2. Wiggle the posts to ensure they are sturdy and solid.
3. Look at the joints between the decking boards and check for tightness (at least 3.8 mm [0.15 in.]).
4. Check deck skirting and ensure it is as least 38 mm (1.5 in.) off the ground. A deck with proper footings should have space to allow for frost to lift the ground independently from the deck.
5. When the deck is dry, there should be a 4.7-mm (0.1875-in.) space between the deck boards to allow it to dry between rainfalls. These spaces should also be even to one another.
6. Check to ensure the skirting is well spaced. If it is too tight, the deck won’t dry properly, which leads to swelling and mould.
7. Push the deck laterally from the ground. There should be no movement possible.
8. Do the rail cuts meet the post evenly? These should be tight; if they aren’t, the connection is weak.

Working with a professional designer normally typically results in a more polished deck with improved usability. Experienced designers consider architectural clashes, budget, durability and most importantly, functional suitability, all of which might serve to be a bit too much for the average busy homeowner.


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