How to Hire a Contractor to Install a Deck

A New Deck Means Good Times With Friends
A New Deck Means Good Times With Friends. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Adding a deck to your home can provide you with a space to socialize, relax and eat with friends and family. But before you can enjoy your dream deck, you'll need to hire a contractor to build it. This article provides the basics of hiring a contractor.

Before You Hire

Unless you want to hire a designer, you'll need to come up with a reasonable idea of what you want included in your project. Above all, you'll want to set a budget so you know precisely how much you can afford.

Some things you'll want to consider when planning a deck include:

  • Size: Rough dimensions will clue you in to what's possible and impossible to include in your deck. It will also give the contractor a clear idea of the scope of the project from the start.
  • Levels: Do you want a single expanse or multiple levels? Are you considering two deck areas connected by a passageway deck or stairs? Will the deck lead down to a pool or garden?
  • Materials: Pressure-treated wood used to be the only choice for an outdoor deck.  But the wide variety of materials available today gives you enormous latitude in composition as well as appearance. Pressure-treated wood is still a very popular choice, but wood-composite decking is becoming increasingly popular. Some are made completely of plastic, while others blend wood fibers with polymer bonding agents.
  • Features: Would you like a fire pit? A water feature? Built-in seating or planting areas? Metal, wood or composite railings? Make a list of what you can and cannot live without in a deck, and work it out with your contractor.

    How to Find a Contractor

    With the budget and your ideas in place, it's time to find a contractor.  Two good sources:

    1. Clients/Friends:  The best way to find a decking contractor--in fact, any contractor--is to ask friends, neighbors and colleagues for recommendations, because a contractor's reputation among former clients is the best gauge of his work.
    1. Angie's List:  Angie's List is a good source for decking contractors, along with ratings from former clients on an A-F grading system.  Angie's List Offers is a section that gives you offers of one-price projects that you pay for in advance.

    It's also a good idea to look at the work a contractor has done for previous clients.

    Questions to ask former clients include:

    • Did your contractor finish the job within the budget? If not, what caused the overage?
    • Were you informed of the costs as they came up?
    • How did the contractor handle setbacks or glitches?
    • Was he or she easy to work with?
    • What was the contractor's crew like? Were they respectful? Did they clean up after themselves each day?
    • If plans changed while the work was in progress, were the changes accommodated, or was the contractor inflexible?
    • Would you hire that contractor again?

    Another good way to find a contractor is by using the website of a reputable professional organization, such as the National Association of Homebuilders.

    What to Ask a Contractor

    • How many deck projects have you built?
    • Who will handle any required permits?
    • Who will contact the public utilities and have underground lines marked?
    • May I visit a site you're currently working on?
    • How early and late in the day will workers be here?
    • What would the payment schedule be like?
    • What type of insurance do you carry?

    Getting an Estimate from a Contractor 

    Estimates should be given to you in writing and include these essentials:

    • The work to be done in detail, including a rendering of the project
    • The specific materials to be used and quantities of each
    • A time frame for the work to be completed
    • A firm price

    Give the same information to each contractor so the comparisons are fair, and when you've narrowed it down to one or two, check references thoroughly. Ask homeowners on the reference list if you could visit and see the work that was done.

    Things to Watch Out For

    Don't hire the contractor if he/she:

    • Requires cash only or pressures you for an immediate commitment
    • Doesn't have or can't provide proof of insurance and applicable licensing
    • Requires you to get the necessary permits