Saturday, June 28, 2014

Our summer project - a new deck

This is what the back of our house looked like earlier this summer. This is our before picture.

We decided that we wanted to add a deck this year, but it's a large undertaking. We got 5 bids and they were all quite different. There are so many different products to choose from and choices to make. We knew we wanted a no maintenance deck, but we had no idea there were so many choices in color and product.

We did our homework. We chose the companies to provide bids based on feedback from Angie's List. I love Angie's List because they are reviews from actual customers and can not be influenced by companies (only choosing the good reviews to post). I look at Angie's List before I hire any company. It's a great first stop and provides a lot of valuable information.

Here is a list of 9 things you should know before Hiring a Contractor for Your Outdoor project

1. Is the company knowledgeable in project planning and offering you all of
the best options?
Outdoor spaces, whether simple or complex, need to be planned with aesthetics and structural
understanding in mind in order to create an effective space for use and cost. An expert with design
experience will be able to consider all elements in planning so you want to be sure you find someone
you’re comfortable with and who understands your objectives, putting your needs first.
Product choices are as critical to the decision-making process as design. You want to make sure to work
with someone who has a vast knowledge of products from which to draw suggestions. Certain
companies choose to work with only one or two lines of products and try to “sell” these items to you as
being superior to every other similar option. You want to avoid these situations and recognize the
ulterior motive involved.
Most importantly, try to find a company and individual planner who is a problem solver and consultant
rather than a sales person. There are experienced individuals who will listen to your needs and help you
create a plan that is best for you.
We found a product we liked, but it was a little pricier than we wanted to spend. Our contractor found us another product that looked very similar, that was in our price range and had a GREAT warranty!

2. What is the timeline for starting and completing the project?
Find out the approximate time it will be before you should expect the project to be started, how long it
will take for different aspects to be completed, and finally when you should expect to see the entire
project finalized.
It is best to choose a company that sets the proper expectations, and for most people, that means
showing up to work on their project everyday once it’s underway instead of trying to go back and forth
between several projects at once.
We wanted to complete our project before our vacation, but we weren't sure that it could be done. If it wasn't, we wanted to wait until after we were home. Our contractor worked with us and was able to complete our deck before our vacation!

3. What guarantees will you receive for the work completed?
Warranties and lien waivers are important documents to receive during and after the project has been
completed. You’ll want to discuss these guarantees during initial discussions about the project, but
you’ll need to get them in writing to keep in your records before your experience with the company has
The company you discuss your project with will have knowledge of products and the various warranties
provided by the manufacturers so they should provide documentation of those for your records. What
kind of guarantees does the company provide for their own design and build efforts. Commonly, a
workmanship warranty is provided in writing with a defined amount of time for coverage.
This is important. We are spending a lot of money on these projects and you want a warranty not only for the products, but also for the workmanship. 

4. What are the typical payment arrangements for your project?
First of all, for basic outdoor living additions like a deck, gazebo, sunroom, or pergola, you should really
know the bottom line cost to perform the project. Experienced companies building something new in
their field of expertise should know exactly what the cost to the consumer should be before agreeing to
perform the work. However, there are circumstances in remodeling when working with something old
and of many layers that it is not possible to know exactly what to anticipate. In this case, an
approximation of cost can often be provided based on experience, but the exact cost to the consumer is
often calculated based on a time-and-materials basis with an agreed upon labor rate.
Additionally, it’s important to know who you are paying. Paying a business, not an individual, means
that your project is on the books somewhere and being placed in the hands of a licensed business.
Checks, credit cards, or loan agreements are secure ways to pay and create a paper trail.
Finally, you should have an agreed upon payment schedule in place. For typical projects, a down
payment, a progress payment, and a final payment are reasonable points at which you should expect to
pay. For a simple deck, it’s common to have three equal payments, while a larger project that will take a
greater amount of time may have four or five different points in which payments will be made at smaller
percentages of the overall contract amount. Small repair work is more commonly done with half down,
half due upon completion.
This was HUGE for us. We wanted the extra discount by paying cash and it was a great way to cut some cost that we eventually used to upgrade to a better spindle for our deck.

5. Will the company sign an agreement indicating all choices or future
You’ve probably discussed a variety of details and ideas, possibly even with different companies, so you
want to be sure that the contract you sign includes the choices you’ve settled on and clearly spells out
what you will be getting in return for the agreed upon amount. Future change orders should be written
or documented in some way to avoid any misunderstandings or confusion on either party’s behalf.

6. Have you checked with a consumer-affairs agency for feedback on the
company you are considering?
It’s easier than ever to do background checking on a company. Angie’s List is a very popular online
consumer driven review agency where you can find detailed reviews from members who are willing to
share their experiences with the company you are considering. A large number of reviews, high grades,
and positive experiences are an encouraging sign that you are considering a company that will provide
exceptional service and an experience to match.
The Better Business Bureau is another consumer advocacy group that keeps a history of consumer
complaints on a company. It takes a pretty poor experience for most people to consider contacting the
Better Business Bureau so it’s a good idea to question a company about a checkered past and ask for
explanation of past issues and resolutions.
ANGIE'S LIST!!!! I never hire a contractor without checking Angie's List first.

7. Have you asked for references and to visit a completed project?
If you have the opportunity to speak with a previous customer of the company you are considering, be
sure to ask some basic questions that will help to understand that person’s experience: Was the project
started and completed in the time frame discussed? Were you satisfied with the quality of work? How
was on-going communication with everyone involved? Did you feel comfortable with the workers and
how they maintained the jobsite? Would you hire the company again?
If you get a chance to visit a project, you will have an opportunity to inspect the quality of work and the
finer details of the project that you may not understand from photos or conversation. It’s also a good
idea to ask to see something that may look similar to the project you are considering for yourself, maybe
something of the same size or appearance so you can better understand what you are choosing to do
and whether it is the right fit for you.

8. What do you know about the company’s history and overall operation?
Try to learn as much as you can about the company and the people employed there. How long has the
company been in business? How many projects do they do in a year or at one time? How many
employees and crews do they have? What are some notable projects they’ve completed? Has the
company performed any work near your home? Ask them to tell you about a typical project design and
how the typical experience goes. Even learning a little more about the individual you are working with
can go a long way to making you feel more comfortable and help them to feel more personally invested
in you and your project. It’s great to find a company whom you feel you’re teaming up with to complete
an important task, not just hiring.

9. Do you know who will be working at your home?
It’s a good idea to know who will be showing up to work at your home, what times they are typically
there, and what (if anything) they will need from you while there. Sometimes access to the inside of the
house is needed, even for an outside addition.
While choosing a company to work with, you should ask about the individual workers who will be
applying their craft. How long have they been with the company and working in the trade? Ideally,
you’d like to know that the installers have a great deal of experience and have been steadily employed with the company so that you can feel comfortable knowing that they are performing a routine task that
is well within their abilities. It’s also important to know that they’re good communicators who you feel
comfortable having at your home.
You should also verify who you should ultimately be discussing any changes or important concerns with
during the project. The advantage of working with a small company is that you get to work with the
same person throughout the process, and you should be confident in discussing anything from small
design adjustments to color choices with him or her.
We are pretty laid back about who we have work on our projects. We don't have a lot of crazy rules. (I have heard some horror stories of people expecting lots of strange things from their contractors.) We did go over not starting too early because our neighbor works a weird shift and we didn't want to wake him up too early. Our guys played their music and worked VERY HARD every day. They would work thru rain and made a lot of progress each day. We were very happy with them. They did a wonderful job and our deck turned out beautiful.

Do you want to see the final product??? I know you do!
 (ignore the muddy doggy prints)

We have some landscaping to do now to make it pretty, but we absolutely LOVE our new deck!

Thank you to Mike Brueggenjohann at California Custom Decks! He and his guys were excellent to work with did great work.

If you want to see more of their projects, visit them at Cal Decks or give Mike a call at 314-968-3325 or visit them at their showroom:

9227 Manchester Road
St. Louis, MO 63144

Visiting the showroom is a great way to get a look at a ton of their products, but I am warning you, it's a lot to look at!!!!

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