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Six Steps to Obtaining an Accurate Deck Estimate

Building a new deck or planning a deck renovation can be an exciting project that culminates in an outdoor living area for the whole family. But the process involves several steps that help to ensure your deck estimate and deck design are complete and accurate.

Step One - Locate Your Survey or Site Plan

Usually part of the documents passed on during the purchase of your property, the survey or site plan outlines the exact dimensions of your property. Details include your property lines, grading, house dimensions and set backs.

Although your deck builder will take measurements of the actual yard, the site plan is required for building permit drawings and is invaluable as a reference during both the design and construction phases.

It helps to make several photocopies of this document. Your deck contractor will want a copy, and the municipality may want the deck design actually drawn onto a copy. Always keep the original in a safe place; the replacement cost is significant.

Step Two - Inquire About Local Building Codes

Once you have the details on your property, it's important to discover any building code limitations that apply. Be aware that the local building authority dictates the location and size of your deck, in conjunction with national codes.

Railing height and design must follow acceptable standards. Building materials matter as well, since some materials are not rated for structural use and others must be used with durable fasteners or hardware to provide adequate strength. Deck framing is vital and must comply with the limitations set in place. Stairs, landings and tiny details like deck boards spacing also come into play. Corner lots and walkout lots often fall under specific rules for deck and fence construction.

While you don't need to know all of these details at this early stage, it helps to understand any limitations and set realistic expectations. Why dream about a massive deck that reaches right to your property lines when the building code will not allow it? And why not opt for railings and stair designs that comply with the code, rather than set your heart on styles that must be altered later?

Step Three - Draw Out the Existing Details of Your Yard

Your new deck needs to fit in with the balance of your landscape. Starting with a copy of your site plan, sketch out the existing details, such as:

• trees

• gardens

• patios

• fences

• sheds

• play centers

• swimming pools

• ponds or other water features

• clothes lines

Some of these things can be moved during the construction phase or adapted to better suit the entire landscape. More permanent features may limit the size or shape of your new deck.

Make note of the architectural features on your house as well, including vents, chimneys, windows and doors. Your deck design should not block, cover or obstruct these features. Trap doors, removable railing sections and other unique deck features can be used to overcome architectural challenges, but it makes the most sense to work around the details of your home, for the most part.

Once your deck design has been finalized, a complete landscape plan can be drawn out. Stick with the basics at this early stage. If you're looking to add a landscaping feature with your deck, such as a swimming pool or hot tub, leave that off for now and incorporate into later steps.

Step Four - Consider Your Lifestyle

A well-designed deck becomes the center of your exterior living. Used as a spot for relaxation, cooking, entertaining, dining, napping and working, a deck must be designed to accommodate your lifestyle. A young family with kids will need a different deck than a retired couple.

Think about your lifestyle, including hours worked, hobbies and maintenance preferences. Discuss potential designs with your contractor and be prepared to answer several questions about your lifestyle and preferences. Always be honest; the ideal deck design reflects and fits into your daily life.

Step Five - Compare Building Materials

Your basic options include:

• treated wood

• cedar

• composite

• vinyl

Exotic woods are popular in some areas of the country, such as Ipe and mahogany. These species tend to cost significantly more than standard treated or cedar wood. You may also need to hire a specialized deck contractor to handle the unique qualities of these wood species.

Think about how much you want to spend on this backyard feature. A treated wood deck costs the least, while a deck built from cedar wood tends to cost about 30 to 40 percent more. Composite and vinyl decks come in around twice the price of a treated wood deck, depending on design.

Deck railings can also be made from tempered glass or aluminum. Both materials provide a maintenance-free solution that lasts for a lifetime. Deck fasteners come in hot dipped galvanized steel and stainless steel, with stainless costing at least twice the price.

Consider your maintenance preferences and the design of your home. Maintain the resale value of your home by using high quality building materials that are faithful to the architectural style or period. Installing contemporary composite decking onto a colonial-style house will not work, and old-fashioned turned wood spindles look out of place on a modern bungalow.

Step Six - Make Firm Decisions

The design process is fluid and changes are inevitable. But at some point, in order to obtain an accurate deck estimate, homeowners must make firm decisions. Wavering between styles, materials and features makes it more difficult to deliver a firm project cost.

Extras and mid-project changes cost the contractor a fair amount of money. They may need to alter the existing design, change purchase orders for materials, push their laborers to work longer or handle more complicated work or waste materials. Experienced contractors redirect these costs to the homeowner, often at a markup to make up for lost time and additional administrative expenses.

Make up your mind as much as possible before asking for your deck estimate. And communicate changes as early as possible.

Your decking contractor wants to deliver an accurate estimate on your new deck project. But the homeowner must follow several steps to make this process smoother and more efficient. From obtaining a site survey, to learning applicable building code limitations and sketching out the existing landscape, these simple decisions and stages help to ensure the quotation process moves along. Ask your contractor for an accurate deck estimate, and then help them by doing your part.

Posted by: diana
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