Homeowner: "We're going to build a new deck!"
Friend: "Nice! Building it yourself, or hiring a contractor?"
Homeowner: "I get slivers from toothpicks. We'll be hiring a contractor."
This is a pretty common conversation that many people have every spring. But it's not quite that simple. "Contractor" is a very generic word - basically a catch-all word for anyone you hire to do anything.
But when it comes to decks, there are a wide range of contractors that take on this type of work. And for many people, they think "a contractor is a contractor is a contractor - how could one be any different from another?" And then you get three quotes: $78,000, $52,000, $24,000.
Things just got really confusing. So we've decided to come up with a list of 7 types of contractors/people that exist out there, that you may consider to build your deck. As you read through, you might think "this one is not for me." And that's great! There's certainly no need to waste your own time, or the contractors time, if you know it won't be a good fit.
So here we go, from best to less, from pricey to cheaper, however you want to look at it:
1. HIGH END PREMIUM CUSTOM DECK BUILDERS
These companies are the top dogs in the industry. They have been around for many years honing their skills, building their business, and they're very successful at what they do. They have carved out a niche to focus on high end projects, with big budgets, and using only the best materials. They take this project more seriously than you probably even do. They likely have a showroom, with awards plastered all over them. They may have been published in trade magazines. Everything they do screams professionalism. Not every market will have these companies. Often they will have a minimum budget or project size - that may be in the 6 figures and up.
HIRE THEM IF: You want the best of the best. Your budget is very healthy, and your project is complex. You want everything done right and proper, and have complete confidence in your project. You want a strong warranty and a company who will be around long after the project is complete.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You can't afford them. You'll need a strong budget if you want to work with a premium builder.
2. SPECIALIZED DECK BUILDERS
These companies specialize in building only decks. They're chosen their craft, and they live in it day in and day out. They won't build your garage, or renovate your basement. They have chosen to get really, really great at one thing. They know how to give you the best materials for what you need, and they have great relationships with their suppliers. They will be more accurate and pay more attention to detail than the other below on this list.
HIRE THEM IF: You want to know the deck will be built right, and with an eye for detail. You want someone who takes pride in their craft and will guarantee their work. Your project may or may not warrant a high end premium custom deck builder due to it's size/budget, but you still want that same level of care.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You're looking for the cheapest way to get it done. These companies will charge accordingly for the extra time and effort they put in versus a non-specialized builder.
3. EXTERIOR CONTRACTORS
These companies generally will tackle any outdoor project: decks, fences, garages, house siding, etc. They understand their projects must withstand the elements. They likely only do 5, 10, 20 decks a year as they also take on other projects. But they have some experience and know how to build a good deck - they just don't live and breath it.
HIRE THEM IF: You're not super particular about the super fine details, but you want someone who will do a good job that will last. You have other projects on the go as well, and you'd like one company to just handle it all.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You're looking for a magazine quality deck. You want the highest level of craftsmanship.
4. GENERAL RENOVATORS
These companies do all sorts of renovations, inside and out: bathrooms, basements, shingling, decks, fences, you name it, they'll do it. They likely only do a couple decks a year, and only when they get asked. They have a general understanding of building techniques, but are likely not well versed in deck building codes, processes, or products.
HIRE THEM IF: You're on a budget, and the price is right. You're looking for someone to handle all sorts of renos on your home.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You want the deck to be build to code, warrantied, and a high level of detail.
These folks are task masters. Need a lightbulb changes? On it. Toilet not flushing? We got ya. Need a deck? Why not.
HIRE THEM IF: You can't afford the other options, but be aware that you are hiring a handy person who can use the tools, but may have little to no experience building a deck safe, strong, and secure. It's risky, do you research.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You want everything done by the book with little headaches.
6. PART TIME CONTRACTORS
Typically, these people will have other careers, often firefighters or teachers, that allow them time to commit to side jobs. Sometimes they may actually have a decent amount of experience, and other times not. It's tough to say. Do your homework.
HIRE THEM IF: They have a good track record, you're on a tight budget, you don't care for the warranty, you just want it done and it's a more basic project.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: It's a complex or large project that will take lots of time or lots of hands. You want long term assurance they will be around. You want an actual formal business.
7. FRIENDS AND FAMILY
I had to throw this in there, because it's how many decks get built. You likely know someone who may offer to lend a hand to help build your deck. The level of experience this person may have could vary greatly from "handy person" to former contractor for 40 years. It's tough to say. But it's also tough to say no to free or discounted help. Just be careful.
HIRE THEM IF: You know they have lots of experience with this type of project, it won't ruin the friendship, and you can't afford to hire a pro.
DON'T HIRE THEM IF: You can afford a professional to do the work.
NOW LET ME BE VERY CLEAR. All of the above are very wide generalizations. We can't promise every type of contractor above will exhibit the exact characteristics we describe above. You might have a bad experience a specialized deck builder, or you might hire a family friend who is fantastic. But if you use the above guidance, you'll help to avoid a scenario where you're aligned with the wrong person. A customer looking for a high end finish should never hire a handy person. And a person looking for the cheapest possibly labour should never called the high end premium custom deck builder.
With a little homework, you can greatly increase your odds of a pleasant experience during the construction of your project.