Are decks commodity or art

Decks- Commodity or Art?


What is your best price for a Deck?

How much are your decks per square foot?

I am collecting quotes for building a deck–How much is a 20 x 20?

These statements seem inocuous but every time I hear it I cringe. 

What I hear is, “What you do is a commodity, and I can shop for it down the street from 3 other guys that do the same thing”.

They don’t mean to be insulting, it’s just a lack of knowledge about decks and building in general.

People are generally lazy and super stressed just trying to make a living. They don’t have time to research things or to try to understand how one builder may do things very differently than another. They haven’t seen the 2 or 3 large decks that we remove and haul to the dump each year. They don’t see the disasters in waiting at every design consultation.

A Different Perspective on Decks

I didn’t start my career building decks. I started as a framer, then moved on to Renovations, Trim, Cabinetry and Tile. I did quite a bit of project management on larger projects, (upto 150,000 sq’).

It was actually about 7 years in that I started getting serious about decks and outdoor woodwork. When I started building decks it was through a builder’s eye that we designed and created specifications. The basics of building were assumed.  We learned quite a bit as we perfected our methods and techniques over the next decade. This uncommon knowledge is what we built our foundations on. For the next 25 years I was teaching other deck builders to build better.

That said… When we look at the typical deck in suburbia we are often astonished. Not just by home builds–but decks built by homebuilders and so called professional deck builders as well.

Pride in building decks without knowledge means nothing.

Most Deck Builders are not Carpenters

Yes, you heard me right.

I am not trying to be mean. It is just a sad fact. A carpenter studies under another carpenter or 5 for a few years. They read books about carpentry. They take it seriously.

Most deck builders are at best, a semi skilled handyman. If a builder does not know what crown is they are not a carpenter. There is so much more to know about than crown. Did you know that framing should never be done with deck screws? Screws shear off under load…nails have sheer strength.

1200 New Deck Companies Every Year in Southern Ontario

A rookie deck builder is often an apprentice or carpenter’s helper that decided to start his own company. They are drawn to decks and fences, because…  “Anybody can build a deck or fence”.  It comes full circle. Since any homeowner can build a deck– the perceived value is lower.

No cost advertising like Craigslist and Kijiji or flyers or even door knocking make it easy to start building. Homeowners can’t tell the difference between quality builders or fly by night, so most can get a few jobs selling entirely on the lowest price.

Every year by July there is only about 100 out of these new builders still operating. That’s when the phone calls start. “My Deck Builders Disappeared–Yes I gave Him a Deposit!”. By Christmas there may be 10 or 20 left in business.

Your Dream Deck – Somebody’s Free College!

Working for cheap or for free is seen by new builders as a ryte of passage. Rather than college tuition, they are getting paid to learn. It might only be a few dollars per hour but that is better than paying to get educated.

The equation goes like this. You get your dream deck for 1/3 – 1/2 the price of having a professional build it, and your builder learns how to build decks using your materials. In a perfect world, the new builder gets a beautiful deck in his portfolio. The deck he builds will be perfect in every way, and everybody is happy!

This, however, is not how it goes in reality.  If the guys show up to actually build, they usually don’t get permits. Any number of flaws will show up during and after the build in the first few years. Stairs are a big one–and connection to the house is where rookies often fail. Sometimes the deck is servicable, but in other cases what they build is dangerous. We all hear about the deck collapses that have happened in most cities around the globe. This, obviously is the worst case.

If somebody is offering to build a cheaper deck-– you have to expect issues.


How to Spot a Pro Deck Builder:

  • Check References
  • Look at their Website (Everybody has a website that is actually in business)
  • Check them out on Social Media
  • Ask to go to a site while they are building
  • Call their references–invest an hour to see a 3 year old project. Are the stairs solid, get down low and look across the deck– Is it Straight?
  • Learn a little about Woodwork and ask a few good questions like; What is crown and why is it important?  Are all 2×8 joists the same height? (no…they are not).

You could just look at the shiny new truck and fancy business cards and assume that they know what they are doing.

Building your dream deck is a complex task. Trusting such a big investment to an amateur is usually an expensive life lesson.

Go with a PRO!

Lawrence Winterburn

Learn more about building decks!


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