When looking for a deck estimate, you’ll need to determine two main things: how you plan to use it and what material you want to use.
Start by thinking about what you want to do on the deck:
How many people do you want to fit comfortably on the deck?
Will you use it for big parties on holidays like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving?
Do you want a sitting area?
Do you want to fit a table and chairs? What about a big grill?
Once you can answer these questions, a contractor can tell you what size will best accommodate your needs. This method is typically better than just throwing out generic measurements to match the house, because you’ll end up with a space that fits your needs. For example, if you wanted to fit a 6-person table as well as a sitting area with an end table and a loveseat, you’d need 16’ x 20’.
You’ll find that most contractors stick to a combination of 12’, 16’, or 20’ measurements (such as 12’ x 12’, 12’ x 16’, 16’ x 16’, 16’ x 20’, 20’ x 20’, 20’ x 12’). Why? Because those are the lengths that the material comes in.
Once you know the size, the next major driver of cost is material since some materials are twice as expensive as others. When you’ve settled on the material that you want, most contractors can provide you with square foot or linear foot pricing.
What Goes Into Deck Pricing: Materials, Labor, and Overhead
Even with the exact same square footage and material, you’ll find significant variation in pricing from different contractors. This is because the pricing also factors in labor, which can be a single individual or a team (or multiple teams) of workers, as well as overhead, such as the costs for job site preparation, job site clean-up, trash removal, demolition, and other general construction preparation costs.
Every company is different, so you need to find the one that best meets your needs. Let’s look at two main types of contractors.
“Chuck in a Truck”
Chuck relies on word-of-mouth, banging nails during the day, and selling in the evening. Since he’s just a single person as the whole operation – the labor, manager, and salesperson – you’ll likely get a good deal. But when your project needs attention (maybe you have a design question, a construction concern, or a change to your order), he’s going to be hard to get in touch with. You may also experience delays since construction will halt if he has a personal concern come up or needs to take a sick day.
A Deck Construction Team
If your project needs more attention, then ideally you want a team that includes at least: a designer, a lead carpenter, and a manager. The designer can get samples, visit showrooms and similar project sites with you, and guide the entire design process based on your needs and tastes. Then when it comes time for construction, the manager will coordinate construction, and he or she will be on hand to promptly answer any questions or concerns you may have.
So What Makes Sense for Your Deck Project?
Let’s say you’re planning a 20’ x 12’ deck built with pressure-treated wood on the back of a townhouse with no stairs. It’s a simple, straightforward project, so the low-priced “Chuck in a truck” is probably good for you.
But if you’re building a 600 sq. ft. deck with round features, custom handrails, outdoor lighting, a patio, water features, and planting, then you’ll likely want a team at the ready, including a team of landscapers, hardscapers, electricians and carpenters all coordinated by a single and easy-to-access person (the construction manager).
Armed with this information, you should be ready to get a good deck estimate quickly from qualified contractors, and you’ll be better prepared to compare their offers to your needs.