McClatchy News Service

McClatchy News Service

For more living space without paying for the cost of an addition or just to add some outdoor living, consider a deck.

Before contacting a contractor, do some homework.

Along with cedar and pressure-treated lumber, there are a number of synthetic and composite materials that can look like wood but offer pluses that the natural stuff cannot. These nonwood products do not splinter, warp or rot. They are commonly used and can be seen on some boardwalks at the shore and on park benches. There even are steel products in the mix to choose from.

HIRING

"If (homeowners) plan on meeting with more than one contractor, it is extremely important that they ask for identical scopes of work to compare apples to apples," advises Greg DiBernardo of Bergen Decks in Waldwick, N.J. "Otherwise there is no standard for comparing the estimates they receive."

DiBernardo says consumers should make sure the contractor professional in every regard, returns calls promptly and is a deck specialist with thorough knowledge of products, techniques, codes and best practices. Also, ask for recent references from deck customers and be wary of a contractor whose last three projects are not related to deck building.

Always keep in mind the three R's of hiring: references, reputation and reliability. Also, make sure to get proof of insurance.

COSTS

For a 12-by-16-foot basic deck, the following are minimum costs:

Pressure-treated lumber: $4,000. Cedar: $5,500. Composite: $7,500. Synthetic (premium PVC decking and premium railings): $15,000.

For demolition of an existing deck, expect to pay $750 to $1,000, including removal.

Some existing decks may get by with a repair instead of replacement.

"The homeowner should always look at the frame and supports to see if they are in good condition," says DiBernardo. "If the frame and/or supports are rotting, then it is time to replace." the deck. It the problem is a question of a few bad boards, broken rails or steps, then a deck could be repaired."

DIY

Anyone who wants to build a deck themselves will need a permit — along with strong carpentry and masonry skills.

This is not one for the weekend warrior who happened to see a show on TV and thinks that it will be easy.

"A homeowner would need to be extremely skilled, knowledgeable and be fully equipped with specialty tools to construct a safe deck from the ground up," advises DiBernardo.

Having a helper is important, as two people are needed at key times to place and fasten boards. Among the tools needed are: a circular saw, a 4-foot level, work table, drill, shovel to dig for footings, mixing tub for cement and mason's tools. A 12-inch radial-arm saw instead of the circular saw makes things a lot easier.

For more information on design, construction and materials, do a Web search on "build your own deck".

Homeowners who demolish an existing deck before a contractor builds a new one can save $750 to $1,000.

REPAIRS

What's in the reach of less skilled homeowners are repairs.

Time and weather can damage wood, and it often shows most on the floor planks, top rails and where steps meet the ground.

The easiest fix is if the wood is screwed in — not nailed — and the boards are straight runs (no angles). Use a drill with appropriate bit to take out screws and remove boards.

To remove nails, use a hammer to drive the blunt end of a pry tool (claw bar) under nail heads. This will expose the heads, allowing for a claw hammer to pull them out. For top rails that are nailed, strike from below with a hammer to loosen.

For boards with no angle cuts, measure length needed, cut new wood and install with 21/2;-inch deck screws.

For angle cuts — almost always at 45 degrees — cut one end of new wood at a 45, put into open space on deck and mark the other end to fit. Cut another 45 at the marking, then install board.

The same steps apply for top rails.

For stringboard — the angled, vertical pieces that hold up the steps (treads) — carefully remove the damaged wood. New stringboard can be bought pre-cut; buy a piece that can accommodate the same number of steps.

Before fastening stringer to the side board in the same fashion the previous one was, place patio block or similar underneath it so that the wood does not come into contact with the ground. Lay a level from one stringboard to the other to check for levelness. Cut new treads to length and fasten with screws.

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