Over the course of building a deck you will likely have to work with multiple trades. It might be as simple as having the piles installed or maybe some electrical work done for your new hot tub, outdoor kitchen or you may hire someone to do the entire supply and build, “turn-key” deck for you. I want to give you an outline of how most trades people think and operate, in an attempt to help you while working with them. I don’t want this article to sound like you should “settle” for a trade if you two are not getting along, but instead I want to try to shed a small amount of light on what these people face on a daily basis to help you work with them. I have some insight into this as I was a self employed finishing contractor for almost 10 years that worked with good customers and challenging customers. I know what I wanted and I will use that history to help guide you through a stressful process.
Prepare your yard.
Contractors are used to seeing all kinds of obstacles in their way. They absolutely will move your furniture, BBQ and kids toys, but this will leave them with a negative feeling. You have hired them to provide you a service, try to ensure that is the only service they are providing. If you want them to move your furniture, let them know that in advance and if you don’t want to pay them for moving those items, then provide them some other thank you, buy them pizza, or coffee and donuts. If you have an animal, dog or cat, please please please clean up the animal waste in the yard. They wear these work boots all day everyday. Their boots go to other customers' houses for estimates and to their home with their family. They do not want your animal's feces on their boots. It is a small task for you and it will make a world of difference to them. If the contractor is in a better mode they will build you a better deck. We have all been there, we work better for people we like more, maybe that doesn’t seem fair but it is the reality.
Contractors are likely overbooked.
This is a result of having to be very busy when the weather is good, and if there is a weather delay early in the year it is extremely difficult to get that time back. Some trades will build an extra day into their schedule every couple weeks to help alleviate that stress but not all contractors will do that. They might be slightly delayed because the job they were just on had material delays, or some changes added a half day. I think it is important to know that the contractor you have booked is trying to get to your place. They want to get there so they can start your project, get through it and move on to the next job. The faster they can get through each job the faster they get paid.
They do this every day. To you this is a very big commitment and investment. Your deck is likely going to be nicer than the contractors own deck but that does not mean that they are not desensitized to projects like this. When you are in the vetting process ask them how the review of the build will work and stick to that. If you want to talk to them every single time you see something that isn't “perfect” you will likely be interrupting their process and flow. Not to mention they might still be working on finishing that part that you don’t like. I suggest making a list and having a time set aside at the end of each day or the start of each day to review with them. I also suggest that you are the one that takes time off to meet. Maybe that means while your deck is being built you work through your lunch break to get home earlier so you can review at the end of the day or you make arrangements to go in slightly later. Contractors also have families and want to finish work at a decent time so they can go play ball, or golf, or take their kids to soccer. They often do estimates at night or weekends because that is more convenient for their customers, and they want to accommodate your schedule, but if during the build you reciprocated back they would really appreciate it.
Everyone loves being told that they're doing a good job. If there is something that you like be sure to tell them, because you certainly are not going to hold back if there is something you don’t like. Contractors can absolutely take criticism and suggestions. But when you are about to provide that please keep in mind that they just did the work and they likely believed they were doing a good job. They put an effort into it. I am not saying you have to handle them in a sensitive manner, but be mindful that during the process they thought they were doing a good or right thing. So before tearing an idea or build style apart, ask for an explanation. There is most likely a reason they built it the way they did. If you do not like the aesthetics of it, tell them that and then ask if they can come up with a different solution. But hear them out as to why they built it that way. There will be a reason and once you have the explanation, maybe the way it was done will work for you. This does not mean that you should accept a totally different design to your deck but be open to the idea that a couple things might change during the build. Your deck is not being built in a vacuum, therefore the house, ground, fence, trees, property line, roof lines, windows, gas meters, plugs, all play a factor in how the deck is put together.
Don't hover over their shoulders to watch them build.
You will be in the way and you will make them uncomfortable. Let them work. They will appreciate you giving them some space. We have all had a “boss” lean over your shoulder and this is how you will make them feel. Not every cut will be perfect and not every action they do will be “as seen on tv” but have some confidence in who you hired, they were the contractor that you thought was the best choice so let them know that by giving them the space to work.
It has become very common to tip for a service we appreciate, it would be a nice gesture. I don’t think all contractors on all jobs should receive a tip, but if they did a great job it won't be much to give them a small thank you. Maybe you notice a broken tape measure on site one day or you see that they always have McDonalds coffee and not Tims. Buy them a giftcard to their favorite coffee place or buy them the same tape measure they broke, not any tape measure, the same one. Maybe it is monetary but most likely contractors have not been given a bottle of scotch or even a case of beer at the end of the job. This will go so far in them wanting to provide service work for you in the years to come. I know personally a bottle of scotch “extends” the warranty for another year or 2. If a customer bought me a gift I was more likely to come back to do the repair for free, and for a longer time frame than I had originally agreed to. It's a small token and will go a long way.
Send them pictures of the deck when it is done.
Contractors do not take pictures. They don’t have time and in some cases they don’t want to invade your privacy. It is your deck and they are building it for you. If they want pictures they will likely ask you if they can take pictures to post on social media about the job during the build. There is almost no chance that they will come back to take final pictures. Like we said earlier in this list, they are with their family or they are working on another job that they were a bit late getting to and just trying to get all the decks done before winter. If you can finish the deck, put the furniture on and the plants, send them a final picture of the deck. Keep in mind that the landscaping does not all need to be done. They sell decks. When you were deciding which contractor to use, wouldn't have it been nicer to see a couple more pictures of completed decks? You could help them with this and in turn be helping their future customers.
Finally, leave a review.
It matters. A review will help other people have confidence in their selection, it will help that business populate higher on search engines, and it will be a final thank you from you for building your deck. The process of leaving a review is not long or time consuming and it is something that makes the company very proud of their team.
Of course this is not an extensive list and not all trades are created equally. I just think it is important for us to provide you with some insight into this world of construction. Hopefully this is helpful in providing a better experience for you and your contractor of choice.