Monday, December 24, 2007

Best Wishes from

We would like to thank our Builders and Our Clients for their support and continued encouragement.

Thank you to our Fans as well as our Critics—You all help us improve and enabled us to grow into this fine Company.

Merry Christmas to Some—Seasons Greetings to all the others!

May this find you and your Families Healthy, Happy and Fulfilled at this special time of the year.

Warm Regards from Lawrence, Amanda and Everyone at

See you Next Year!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Platinum Broadcasting

Roxanne Phoenix called yesterday from Platinum Broadcasting's "Focus on America", expressing interest in our Builder Group Business Opportunity. Immediately I thought... Scam. So I asked her, are you looking for a cash payment for this opportunity to be seen on TV? How much does it cost?

Ohhh no, it's nothing like that she assured me, we are seen on cable networks all over the US--then she shut up.

I asked if they have a website...
Here's what the website header looks like. They have put a lot of work into it!

I still had my hackles up--since I had time wasted twice before by similar sounding scams.
Anyhow... she scheduled a phone interview with me for 11 am the next day. After a 15 minutes with a well-spoken guy named Mike Irving who is the producer apparent of a show called "Focus on America".

This is not the first time I have had time wasted by a scam like this one... Thank God it was only 15 minutes of my day before he asked for the $19,000 scheduling fee to cover media production, financials and scheduling.

A legitimate producer or TV production company will not ask for money up front for an appearance.

We've been featured on HomeSense, One Yard Two Looks, One Garden Two Looks. It makes for great marketing--but when you pay the production costs and there is no guarantee anyone will ever see the program... it is not such a deal.

Be cautious of these phishing scams relating to TV Production Companies.
Other names of shows they use to lure unsuspecting companies into cash donations...

Great Taste
Todays Family
Focus on America
Sustainable Planet
New Home Journal
Business & Beyond
Health Forum
Competetive Edge
Mundo Latino

If they were a legitimate production company they wouldn't be using deceptive techniques to get clients. is their other website

Friday, November 30, 2007 leads all Deck Companies for Traffic. seems to be the king of all deck companies on line.
Archadeck with multi-million dollar advertising budget gets less than 1/2 of the traffic to our main site. That doesn't include blog or portfolio site.
Below is an estimation by a company that specializes in traffic ranking. They take search engine stats, toolbar information and other sources to estimate traffic. They are about 75% off in our case, so lets just assume they are 75% conservative in their numbers for everyone else too. *
To see all the estimated stats from site analytics.

And... Hickory Dickory Decks--advertised as the #2 deck company in the world... 1/10 our traffic.

80% of our locations have not had time to do a home show in the past 2 years. We are better off servicing the leads we have rather than chasing more. We just don't need the extra marketing with traffic like this.

For more information click Deck Builder Group or call Lawrence Winterburn 888 293 8938

*Our actual server based stats tell us that the main site peaks at over 100,000 unique visits per month.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Winter Work for Deck Builders

Our Ontario Deck Builders are being frozen out early this year. Maybe we are spoiled from last year… I think we stopped outdoor work in January around Toronto last year.

It is Tampa’s Busy season, their seasonal snowbird residents are settling in and this year their money goes about 25% further due to the stronger Canadian Loonie. (That’s dollar in American).

The new guys on the East Coast, Virginia Beach, Charleston and Greenville will should be able to work right through the winter.

Some of the seasonal area guys do interior trim and cabinetry in the winter… though we will likely be building out of doors again mid March. Rod—Our posthole guy in Mississauga-Burlington says he was digging again in mid February last year.

When it comes to the folks that made enough money to rest up over the winter… if they are smart they are working on marketing. People are shopping on line while they are cooped up for the winter—just after Christmas the traffic to our websites doubles… and by May we see many more than 100,000 unique visitors a month.

Over the winter people are printing out web pages and collecting contacts to enact their lofty spring projects. They all start calling about February or early March…first sunny day above zero. Most of our guys have a couple of projects in the bag for spring already—and they will sell more over the winter.

When builders ask when the best time to set up is—Before January is the answer. We need your pages found by the search engines in time for the winter shoppers that will be starting in January and February. Normally it takes 2-8 weeks for google to do it's thing. The more fridge doors your contacts end up on the better your spring building season will be.
The other part of it is that we have more spare manpower this time of year as well--so we can spend more time with you.

Greenville SC and Markham Ontario are being set up presently.

If you want to learn more about our deck and fence builder group—click here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Word of Mouth Marketing

Salesmanship is something you can put into every word. From the initial contact to the final stroke on an agreement.

The old adage of shoot while the birds are in the air has plenty of sense in it—but what to do when the economy suffers and there are fewer birds seen?

We are seeing it where the most new migrants are, and where housing prices have tumbled and where the economy are overly reliant on the Automotive Business. There is simply less work to be done—and more people bidding on it for less.

This is the most important line in this article… “In Every Economy – Someone is making money”.

You need to connect with those people and show them the right things to ride through the economic downturn in style. “You can be one of those Someones”.

There are a few simple truths in the Deck and Fence Business.

  • Selling it as a commodity is a losers game.
  • Selling based on pricing decided by the competition is lunacy.
  • And finally, marketing must be done consistently for financial security.

    Our Builder Group is growing because about a Million people see our web presence every year… It makes our builders busier and gives them many exclusive designs to show to clients that are interested in our products.

    Good luck in whatever economy you may be in!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to Build Gates - and how not to Build Gates.

Where on earth do you learn how to build wood gates properly?

I don't even recall reading decent instructions in a book, however our DIY plans include good step by step information.

Of all the tasks that a fence builder needs to know this is the Achilles heel of the trade. I see more sagging gates with the hardware inoperable in my travels than any other flaw in wood fences.

Wooden gates require a brace and braces work in compression (see photo above). I see a million braces (right idea), with the braces backwards. The braces must run from the swing side of the gate down to the hinge. This builder got the braces right--however he built the gates too large and the gates are inoperable.

There are brackets--that don't work particularly well and many react with the chemicals in ACQ Rated pressure treated materials.

When a wood gate is not hung off a wall you will need a headpiece to prevent the weight of the gate from bending the post and causing the hardware not to work--and the gate rubbing on the other post.

There is a maximum size for gates that don't have steel reinforcement--that is advanced information that we share with our Builder Group.

These gates are all on the same block (cheap copies of a fence I designed this summer).

This one has no headpiece--no brace--and it is built too large for the opening that doesn't seem to be the same size top and bottom. This gate incorporates nearly every mistake in the book.

The garbage beside it is a nice touch.

There should also be a good space beneath the gate so that it doesn't get obstructed. There are many rules for yards with pools to do with gate operation direction, self closing hardware and climb ability so consult with your local building department before deciding on a fence style.

Here's a nice looking gate --However it won't last due to;

No head piece.

Diagonal bracing is insufficient--little blocks in the corners won't do it.

The frame seems to be hanging on screws. Screwing through the long face of a 2x4 doesn't work very well--the wood shrinks, play develops and the gate begins to come apart.

I don't think there is an inch of space to allow this gate to swing.

If I were the client I would complain about the concrete all over the posts.

The gate is also too close to the ground... and will pinch when frost or clay heave lifts the ground.

The above examples illustrate why wood fencing is a commodity. Poorly trained contractors running around cobbling things together the best they can, not knowing what crown is, not having the know-how or skill to build something properly can not ask for proper pay.

If you wonder why licensed contractors charge a little more--it's because they simply do better work, that lasts longer and ages more gracefully... oh, and our gates work properly.

Below is a set of wood gates built by Tony Fredericks - WoodCrafters in Toronto, Ontario.

The braces are on the interior for a clean look, there is clearance for swing and they work well. The headpiece carries the weight of the gates. 10/10


Friday, November 16, 2007

New Fence Design for Suburbia

A new Wood Fence for suburbia. Roughly the same price per foot as a good neighbour 5+1 lattice topped fence, just a little better looking. Our contractors have hundreds of details to work designs from--and new ones are always being released. 30 pages will be added to the Design Elements Package for our Builder Group this winter.
Notice the space beneath the fence so that frost does not lift the panels out of the ground.
Simple understated gates with a tasteful headpiece that maintaines posts vertically under the weight of the gates. There's a clear 1" of space between the gates and the braces are on the interior--transferring the hinge from the swing side down to the hinges. This prototype was Built by our Top Crew in Toronto "Tony Fredericks- Woodcrafters Inc." Nice work Tony.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Free Pergola Plans

Dear Lowes ;
Thanks for the free pergola plan pictured.

I tried to use your on line form--however it was inoperable. It apparently didn't like my name, postal code or email address. I have instead posted my feedback form here. Hopefully someone with Lowes will find it.

Regarding your free on-line pergola plan.
#1 problem, no lateral strength
#2 floating footings and attached to the dwelling--one or the other. Attach it to the dwelling and you may damage that dwelling and be libel for the damage when they follow the "free" plan...waiver or not.
#3 What is the point in supplying a plan that no one will ever build? It is too ugly.

I own

Have a look at our pergola plans, they are not free--but lots of people actually build them and send us photos. Our best designs are for our builder group only...after a few years when they have new designs we retire them and offer them as DIY and Professional Level Plans.

I can only imagine how much you paid a graphic artist to develop this free plan for you... I am sure it was expensive. As a woodwork designer and a master carpenter I am going to speak very plainly and I apologise in advance if my words seem hurtful or coarse. Your outdoor woodwork plans are about the worst I have ever laid eyes on.

Building something from them would surely end up in disaster-and with the way they look they just shouldn't be built. Ever. I could shoot holes in your plans for an hour or two if you want--but I believe that to be unproductive. I see no potential for success working from what you have.

The trouble is that inspired details are an absolute nightmare even for seasoned tradesmen to develop, (I guess that is why our Builder Group is growing so quickly--they get great details that have taken over 20 years to create).

In my not so humble opinion, Lowes owes it to their shareholders to explore the possibility of developing their woodwork plans in the future.

Kindest Possible Regards,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trex - Defective?

I wouldn't want to be in the composite decking business this year. Costs have about doubled for raw material, trucking is higher and the Canadian manufacturers have seen their currency jump about 40% in the last year. They are calling our dollar a commodity indicator because it just doesn't make sense.

We are going to take a look at the Trex warranty soon, I just want to try to keep the majority of posts positive--so sorry, there is less space for composite info at the moment. I'd love to see some positive info about composites, but there seems to be a shortage of late.

What I know about Trex is that they tell us that Mold is not covered by their warranty because it is environmental in source. What I know for certain is that pulp lumber (like what is ground up into trex), gets slimy and mold covered when left for a few weeks in a pile outside your back door. Just a coinkidink.

Here's the headline--

Nov. 6, 2007, 7:48AM

3Q Loss for Deck and Fence Maker Trex

© 2007 The Associated Press

WINCHESTER, Va. — Trex Co. Inc., which makes decking, railing and fencing products, said Tuesday it swung to a loss in its third quarter due mainly to a large reserve for replacing defective decking material manufactured at one of its plants.

...Trex said its profit was hurt by a $45 million increase to a product defect reserve for the replacement of decking material manufactured at its Nevada plant between 2003 and 2006 and a $9.4 million inventory adjustment...

To read the whole story please click this link

Now, what was wrong with the materials leaving that plant if they don't see mold as a problem?

Yikes. L

ps. To read more about Composite Decking issues (click)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Deck Inspections - Another Failing Grade

More often than you expect we get calls from pensive clients asking strange questions about what they should reasonably expect when it comes to decks and fences.

Yes, your gates should operate without jamming--there should be an inch of clearance, yes, it should have a brace. No, your deck should not have black spots all over it, no, it shouldn't sag between the joists.

I've received enough of these calls in the past that a few times a year I am inspecting the competition's work and preparing a report to arm the client with a definitive list of deficiencies to negotiate with the contractor.

Now, I will preface this by saying, I know what these people paid for this deck, and it was a low-ball or "Cheap" price.

In the above shot you will see the most common design flaw in decks. An 11 inch step outside a door and marks on the wall where the previous deck was. It is dangerous and certainly a tragic flaw since it makes the deck feel uncomfortable as you enter.

Taking a peek at the substructure the skirting touches the ground which means that it will lift the deck off the footings as the frost sets in.

Second issue is the strange footing... two footings to support one post. Since I viewed this I have been trying to imagine a situation where I would do this. I am still trying.

At least they put gravel and a drop sheet down.

The post to footing connection and beam to post connection are a long way from secure.

Now, Hand rails are a pretty important part of any deck.

These guys used "A cedar 2x4, top and bottom" and called it a hand rail. Zoom forward a few years. When you toenail a 2x4 into a 4x4 post and it starts to rot... it eventually falls off.

As well when you lay a 2x4 on the flat and span 42" it will sag in short order. The bottom member of this rail will not support the glass. A hand rail is not a picture frame. It could also be called a safety rail...certainly when it is 8' off the ground.

The trims are simply 3/4" x 3/4" cedar fastened with brad nails.

I wouldn't want to be the one to trip towards this rail and have to rely on it. This deck rail would never pass an inspection by the building department. It would never receive a stamp from an engineer. Any contractor that would knowingly install this hand rail and charge the client for it is simply a negligent greedy pig . If you don't know how to build a hand rail...research and find out. Laziness is no excuse for putting people in danger.

Now, this is my pet peeve of 2007. They changed the formulation for pressure treated materials a couple of years back. ACQ is now the standard and it eats steel fasteners within a couple of years.

ACQ fasteners are "Double Galvanized" to withstand the corrosion caused by ACQ pressure treated materials which this deck frame is made from. "ACQ FASTENERS DO NOT RUST IN THE ELEMENTS". This means that within a couple of years these fasteners will not be holding themselves into the pressure treated frame. The deck will fall to pieces.

Metal reacts with the tannins in Red Cedar to cause black staining throughout the entire thickness of the wood, causing a stain that can NEVER be removed.

These guys cleaned up all the materials from the deck, (which left a perfect outline on the lawn of dead grass), and left the box of what they fastened the decking to the ACQ rated under structure. Ouch...

"Ummm, I used fasteners that will turn to dust in 2 years...but can I have my check now?"

This is one of the largest deck companies in the Toronto Area. They have a website and I know one of their managers personally. I don't want to provoke a law suit so I am not going to name them but what I will tell you is that this deck is just off Avenue Road, south of the 401 and they do a lot of work in the area.

The lowest price is rarely the best deal.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Levers and Structural Engineering

Here's a nice demonstration as to how to push two little 8" footings into the ground. Add some more people and some rain--and it should successfully push the whole post into the ground too.

These folks must be part time engineering students!

My theory is that it will take more than that diagonal board to keep this deck on this house. They cantilevered the beam about 3' as well. If they don't put up a fence right away maybe I can get some after shots too.

In general, you can cantilever about 12" on 2x8 joists, and about 16" on 2x10 joists. When you get around the 4' mark on 2x8 joists you are going to see some interesting things happen... like wavy big decks, jiggly little decks. Could be entertaining--but mostly dangerous.

Did you notice the cleat type stairs?


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Red Cedar vs White Cedar

Is it a White Cedar fence? Or is it Red Cedar?

Northeastern United States and Central and Eastern Canada has locally grown Cedar, Eastern White Cedar or Northern White Cedar—but the real “Western Red Cedar” is a very different material for a couple of different reasons.

Long lasting outdoor materials grow in a rainforest climate. When a species adapts to deal with excess moisture in the environment it makes it longer lasting in dry climates. Take red cedar or Douglas fir to Ontario or Michigan and it will last 20-30 years depending on the detailing.

The “White Cedar” that grows locally here has a very similar appearance however it is a much smaller tree. The larger the tree, the more stable the grain and the more high quality material is hewn from it. “Old Growth Red Cedar” is often a few feet in diameter. “White Cedar” can get up to about 15” in diameter. “Second Growth Red Cedar” is normally harvested at 15-25” which means that even farmed red cedar will be superior material. It will crack less and twist less if the material is straight grained.

Many builders are selling cedar fences for $25-40 per running foot all over the northwest. This is “Eastern White Cedar”. An eastern white cedar can be expected to last 5-10 years.

When materials have to be trucked 1500+ miles and go through a Distributor, Broker and Lumber Retailer before your contractor sees it you are looking at about $30+ for materials to build a basic red cedar fence which means that depending on design you are looking at considerably more than $25.00 per running foot.
Photos: Top is Juvenile Eastern White Cedar Bottom is Western Red Cedar
White cedar is a yellowy beige in colour, Red Cedar is more of a red colour. Aside from that, the face grain is very similar so looking at the end grains is the best way to identify--the white cedar will normally have the core of the tree in nearly every piece of lumber. Red Cedar may have the core of the tree in about 10% unless it is of an extremely low grade.

Sometimes a Cedar Fence is not a cedar fence. Sometimes folks that believe they are getting a steal—are not getting exactly what they expect.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Incredible Growing Fences

Why do fence posts lift? Here’s an illustration.

Too much concrete… if the concrete is at the top of the hole, it is shaped in a perfect way for frost to lift it out of the ground at a rate of nearly an inch per year in some cases.

Realistically it doesn’t matter whether the concrete is in the ground 32” or 42”, when you dig a hole the top of the hole is normally larger. Frost sets in from ground level downwards and moisture expands as it freezes—therefore the ground rises.

Are you ready for the irony? Yes... this fence is surrounding a Municipal Services Yard -- in a township north of Toronto. Municipal services take care of things like fence repairs etc.
If anyone should know better--It is them.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Questions about Starting a Fence Business.

I received an email this morning...
Hello, my name is Samantha and I live in Oklahoma City. I found your
website on google under starting a fence business. I was hoping you could give
me some advise on starting a fence business? My husband is Michael and
has been in the fence business for over 10years, and wants to get started on his
own. He does amazing work and I am trying to find out all I can to help him.

Thanks So Much
Samantha (last name filtered)

"The above photo is of a recent creation designed by David Boyle--Our Toronto Small Job Specialist."
Like any business, feasibility is king, so this advice would fit for nearly any business.

Hi Samantha,

Advice for new fence business...

Put away some cushion money to hedge against unforseen factors.

Having 2 people working takes the stress away during the first few months...

Take basic sales training course, (most of it is hype--but there are a few basic sales principles that will serve you well to learn).

Create a business plan and have it critiqued by your banker and or friends in business. Listen to what they say.

Don't fall in love with an objective.

Go and work for your top 3 competitors...even if you work for a low wage in the beginning--even if only for a week or two.

Analyze your competition before pulling the trigger. What will be your advantage over them... why will you prevail? You need good answers to thrive in business.

We have set up the "Builder Group" to help folks like you just starting out. It helps you with everything from sales, product line, marketing and even makes your phone ring.

Give me a call if you would like more info!

Hope this helps--


(Lawrence can be reached at 888 293 8938)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lawrence is Back--

Every year I think--"This summer I will take some time with the family and will have plenty of time for writing"-- The writing had to be dispensed with. As usual we were inundated with interesting work to design and build. I had to lapse the writing in favor of taking care of the guys that needed help so please forgive.

In the weeks to come you will see shots of some of our new projects and the website will get a new look, and you will meet some of the new guys. Ohh... and we will be looking at some of the competition's work--with brutal critiques.

Here's a funny one for you. I was getting gas the other day--in the next row there was a deck builder. I asked him for a card--wouldn't you know it, he featured a deck I had built 14 years before on his card. Oops.

Stay tuned!


Sunday, June 03, 2007

What makes a Better Deck Builder?

Exterior Laminations that last-- Here are spy shots--you will have to tune in later to see what the projects look like finished...

The first is a job by Tony Fredericks in Etobicoke:

It is a pair of curved trelliswork screens. There's roughly 12 curved pieces per screen and we've glued them up in 2 days (including layout).

The second job is by Kevin Murrell in Niagara;

It is a new pergola design that can clear span 20+ feet.
Drop by in a month or two to see what these projects look like.
BTW, it will be weekly posting for the next few weeks. I am up to my elbows in design work and rebuilding the website to work better as well.
Happy building!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Making a House or Deck Fall Down

In my travels I see many things that astound me, that's why I keep my camera close by.

These folks were apparently renovating their own home--since the guys in texas can flip this house I guess these folks thought it was a good idea. When you remove all the sheathing, brick cladding and drywall from the inside the home is very likely to flip --over onto the lawn.

There is no empathy to be found for these half wits here, it is the most basic principal. Without lateral bracing--sheathing, let in bracing or cable bracing (for larger buildings), the structure will fall down. If you don't know what you are doing--stay away from houses.

Driving by on Highway 92 near Elmvale Ontario my eye was drawn by a yellow van and some boys disassembling a big pile of pressure treated lumber. Ouch. I had to stop and chat with the guys and as it turned out the owner was there.

He said it was an aquaintence that built the deck for him--he was cheap and the owner knew his dad once upon a time. On first glance aside from the lack of joist hangers it doesn't look that bad.
It was obviously a low bid--and he simply couldn't afford the time to fasten anything properly. Notice the gas line beneath the deck.

When you look a little closer the ledger is fastened about every 3' with a half inch sleeve anchor--though not a terrible detail, look at the placement of the anchor. It is 1" from the top of the ledger, which means the whole deck is held up by a 2x2.
When you look a little closer you will notice that the joists are simply toenailed in with 3 galvanized spikes.

So, here is the paraphrased account from the owner. His kids were up at the house when they heard a loud crunch. The snow and ice had slid off the metal roof and landed on the deck. A few moments later the deck collapsed. The pipe beneath the deck--gas line for the bbq.
Kids get out of the house and call 911 because of the gas leak.
First Volunteer Fireman to arrive is overcome by gas trying to find the shut off.
Second nearly Succumbs to gas removing the first fireman.
Closest homes are evacuated.
So, this poorly built deck nearly cost a few lives and if there was a spark, the home would have been gone as well. This is the kind of thing that the building department is there to prevent--it didn't work too well this time.
Before the BCIN requirements came into force 90% of decks were built without a permit. Now it is closer to 95%.
Many builders and Government officials seem to be lacking some common sense of late.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A closer look at the Timber Tech Warranty

Our Composite Decking vs Wood Decks article is updated. (Click the photo)

Composite decking companies will pretty much tell you what the flaws are in their products.

The document is copyrighted so we won’t reproduce it in entirety click the link above to see the whole document.

Here’s a few opinions about what they mean by certain terms included in the warranty.

…shall not check, split, splinter, rot or suffer structural damage from termites or fungal decay.
(no mention of mold, fading, expansion or wear related damage yet)

…at its option, to either replace the defective item or refund the portion of the purchase price paid by Purchaser for such defective item (not including the cost of its initial installation).
(means that they may pay the cost of one board, or supply a board for you to install—no liability is expressed for the labor to remove or install the new board-no mention of fading yet—though the new board will be a different color entirely)

TimberTech does not warrant against…

…a condition (such as air pollution, mold, mildew, etc.), or staining from foreign substances (such as dirt, grease, oil, etc.); (5) variations or changes in color of TimberTech products… (no warranty against mold, or barbecue grease and no guarantee that it will fade evenly or that it will not fade—here’s a hint, it probably will)

…Each Purchaser is solely responsible for determining the effectiveness, fitness, suitability and safety of the TimberTech products in connection with its use in any particular application. (means buyer beware—if it turns out that this decking was a bad idea—it’s not their fault!)

…is effective for consumer purchases made on or after January 1, 2005
(this is the new warranty—older products are covered by the old warranty, but there’s no link to it.)

The manufacturer warrants that this product will not peel, blister, pit, flake, crack, or corrode as a result of manufacturing defects, or as a result of exposure to ocean air (salt spray) for a period of 5 years. Should this occur, the manufacturer will provide replacement product. Minor dripping may occur.
(so if you live near the ocean there is only a 5 year warranty against salt spray damage—I haven’t a clue what “Minor Dripping may occur means)

Ok… try this link

NO hints on removing mold.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Architect’s Sense of Entitlement

I had a call bright and early yesterday—Good Friday. I had popped into the office for a few minutes (and I will never do that, "answer the phone", again on a holiday)…

Anyhow—the fellow started off saying that he is an architect and he was having trouble printing off our pictures to pull details for an upcoming project.

He then asked if there was a way to get the details without ordering a plan, since he is, after all, an architect.

“I said, let me get this straight. You are an architect. People pay you to create details. But you want to use my details, but you don’t want to pay me for it. Unbelievable” … And I hung up the phone.

This guy did not deserve another moment of my time.

Since when was plagiarism an acceptable form of architecture... Claiming other people’s designs without sending them a dollar is against the architect's code--unless that designer is not an architect. Since when are they hired to go out and pirate other people’s designs?

There are bad folks in many different trades, and so-called professional services like architecture and design, and politics, and even surgeons and fiction writers. I know how the game works.

The fact that people are emulating my designs is flattering. It means I am doing something right.

Currently Hickory Dickory Decks is using a combination of 3 of our plans (simplified) as the feature deck in his dream deck contest. Don't know if you noticed the big putty blotches all over the deck... ouch.

Have a look … “Dream Deck Contest”

It’s D181 Pro Hand Rail, P012 Pro Pergola (single posts), and P181 top portion.

You be the judge. Here's a photo of a deck we did in Acton Ontario about 4 years ago.

Will we act on it? I’d rather work something out, but we’ll be talking to him next week.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Planning to Start a Deck Company Near Toronto?

There is a new article at  "Starting a Deck Company" click to view

Starting a deck company from scratch is the greatest challenge you will ever face. Anyone can approach builders and become a sub-contractor, but if you plan to actually do business and sell to real live clients there are many things to learn and planning to do.
  • How will you get your first jobs? It is difficult to sell when you only have a few or no jobs under your belt or references.
  • What will you use for marketing?
  • What will your Specifications for decks and fences be?
  • How do you design a pergola or trelliswork feature? How do you price them?
  • How do you build a gate that won't sag?
  • The building department asked for an engineered drawing for a hand rail-How do I get an engineered drawing for hand rails?
  • What do I use for a contract? Will it protect me?
There are a million other things to overcome-and we can help.
We will help keep you local, make sure your phone rings, set you up with everything you need to sell and the know how you need to build the best decks, fences, pergolas and trellis features in your area. Your presentation materials will be the absolute best available.
Portfolio packed with Photos
Contracts and Change Orders
Marketing Materials
Design Elements
Business Cards
Web Presence
Details to Work From
Design and Sales Support
Talk to us about Starting up in your Home Town!
Call me at 888 293 8938

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Need for Flashings

Whenever you are attaching to a house you need to seal against moisture.

Porches meeting masonry are a particularly important since masonry transmits moisture. This porch was obviously built about 50+ years ago so back then they made the brick ties very large. Normally a 3/4" or 1" bolt.

This kind of thing is the result of a few factors. Often it happens after years of leaking flashings melt the beam to the point that it will no longer support snow load or even itself.

The other half of the equation, the footings may have been slightly too small to do the job, when snow load is factored in when soil gets moist during freeze, or thaw or just a rainy fall or spring the inadequate footings will get pushed into the ground levering the porch from it's connection.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Woodwork Art

Every once in a while you see something that makes you a more humble Woodworker.

He is Livio De Marchi and he is quite mad. It is a good kind of mad. He's a genius that ranks right up with all the greats. If you work with wood, you should know his name.
To see more of his work click here:
I feel richer just viewing his creations.

Low Bids for Contracting

There’s a common practice in the contracting field. Low ball to get in, then make your money on the extras.

This is caused by low bid mentality on the part of clients and builders. It’s a situation where the contractor and the client both want the advantage in dealings with each other—potentially to victimize each other simultaneously. The client wants the builder not to make any money—the builder wants to make more money than the client may have at his disposal.

Sounds like a bad situation doesn’t it?

Further down the road, after the contractor agrees to do it for free to get in the door, then the price doubles due to omitted items in the quote and additional items sold or requested by the client, (recognize that most of these contractors won’t keep the client abreast of the true cost of the changes), and the client doesn’t have the money to pay.

The Contractor will face a cash squeeze when the final payment isn’t forthcoming. It’s superior court for this amount of cash—so you need a good lawyer. Before you get to court it will likely run 5-$15,000 in legal prep work. The proceedings may be delayed by a long docket or delays by the other side.

For the homeowner it means liens that put pressure on his credit and eventually a large judgment that could mean foreclosure or forced sale.

Who needs it!

Clients need to know that when you find a deck contractor willing to do a job for the cost that other deck contractors tell you they pay for materials—something is wrong. They will either use stolen materials, illegal labor, unpaid labor or simply never show up after taking a deposit, or complete the job part way after getting as much money as possible from you.

They may simply be bad business people—which means their warranty should be discounted due to the fact that they likely won’t be around to honor the warranty they offer on your deck or fence.

They may be using sub standard details or materials. They may not know how to build for durability.

We insist that all our builders be up front about the costs involved in projects. Its just part of fair dealings with clients. Sell your service and professional ability. When our builders quote a price—that’s the price, with everything included in the contract.

Sure, if the client asks for changes or more work to be done, we’ll offer a change order that outlines the additional cost so that the client can budget for it.

This maintains a non-combative atmosphere of mutual respect and is more likely to get you referrals in the future.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Design Elements-clarifications

Design Elements (click for original post), is one of the tools used by our Builder Group only. It is not something we sell in the open market. I've had a call a day from folks wanting to buy it and in short-No. It's not something we will ever release to the general public.

When designs get long in the tooth or are emulated by our competition we will release them as plans on the open market. We give the new designs to our contractors only-so the only way to stay ahead of the crowd is to work within our Builder Group.

We are planning a thumbnail version of design elements for Landscape Designers and Landscape Architects, but the detail drawings will rest safely with our Builder Group Contractors.

If you are a landscape architect or designer and you want to be contacted when the thumbnail version is released in about a month send me an email here that has your full name, company name and phone number included.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Erroneous Advertising by Eon - CPI Plastics Group Limited

Erroneous Advertising by Eon - CPI Plastics Group Limited

I've ripped into the shows on TV about giving people unrealistic numbers regarding costs of renovations, and here in my back yard my time is being wasted by people with unrealistic expectations of price due to poor marketing.

"Based on an average 288 sq. ft. deck, including labor, decking and material costs. Does not include maintenance costs of wood decking of $1/sf' per year, eon is an incredible value over time. "
They were stating quite clearly:
  1. You can purchase an installed 288 sf pressure treated deck for a little over $3,000 completely installed with materials included that will last 10 years. (our estimated cost of materials only is $3456)
  2. You can purchase an installed 288 sf Cedar (type of cedar and grade not specified), deck for a little over $3,400 completely installed with materials included that will last 18 years. (our estimated cost of materials only is $4320)
  3. You can purchase an installed 288 sf pressure treated deck for a little over $4,000 completely installed with materials included that will last Forever.
Well, I called them this morning I told them I would like to buy the cedar or the Eon deck that they had alluded to in their ad.
Eventually she passed me on to Cliff Hatch , (the Marketing Director)
This incident had a good resolution.
Cliff from Eon wrote me back within the hour letting me know that they have directed all their reps to pull in all the offensive marketing materials from every store in North America. He also sent the replacement marketing ( 2007), and let me know that the previous brochure was designed in 2002He apoligized and as it turned out it was a simple misreading of statistics provided by an American company.
Thanks Cliff!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Builder Group- Design Elements

“ Design Elements” is now released.

If you are part of our “Builder Group” in good standing you should see your package arrive within the next 10 days.

“Design Elements” is a comprehensive package of line art that will help deck and structure designers create elevations and layouts for decks, pergolas, fences and any other garden woodwork feature imaginable.

Version 1 features 109 pages of our best designs and details for decks, deck rails, privacy screens, pergolas, outdoor buildings, fences, gates and trellises.

Print out templates on your own printer, lay it over and simply trace details—superimpose a sketch of the residence behind and you have created a realistic rendering of the project.

Offer your clients the most powerful design resource in existence and your sales should increase dramatically. Allow your clients to browse possibilities they never imagined possible.

The best part—new details every few months to keep you well ahead of the competition.

Updated forms featuring our new logos are included on your new CD as well as an advertising template already edited with your information. We will be doing a mass printing in about 2 weeks so get in touch if you want to be involved. When 4 or 5 contractors share printing costs it means dramatic discounts.
For more information about the Builder Group please call 888 293 8938

Monday, February 05, 2007

Style Nazis--Not Quite

Well, I spoke to Jansen Ho about this authorized taste police in Surrey BC today. He very patiently worked with me to make a determination as to why this lady was confused.

What is normal in your neighborhood may not be on the other side of the country, and that is the case in this instance. Approaching an expert for advice seems to be more culturally acceptable in BC. It is due to a call about 10 years ago that our DIY plans came into existence.

Planned communities are becoming the norm in BC and it is possible to buy a house that is governed by a master plan and not even hear the term "planned community".

The City of Surrey is so used to it that a client can approach the counter and within minutes they know that they are from a planned community. They tell them that they need to speak to a "Design Scheme Consultant" to make sure that what they are planning is acceptable to the development master plan. The nice thing about most planned communities is that they have a committee approve designs for construction.

When you are the guys that show up with the nicest drawings and presentation you get to love committees. The scary thing is that the design acceptance is by one human. Personal taste has a part in the decision, coupled with interpretation of written instructions.

If the "Design Scheme Consultant" is capable it can work well. If the consultant is strictly by the book-- YUCK.

Lets just hope it is a trend, like the uniformism of Germany before WW2. L

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Design Dictators in South Surrey BC?

Style Police in British Columbia?

I received a very disturbing phone call this evening. A lady wanted to know some information about P003 pro pergola plan. Specifically the type of columns to use and whether or not we ship the material to BC. I told her, the material grows in BC, so shipping it back from Ontario may be cost prohibitive.

I told her all the specs were in the plan for her to source locally.

Her next question gets a bit strange. Is this pergola more than .6 meters high? “You mean is is more than 23” high?” was my retort. Yes, it’s about 110” high overall.

“No vertical structures more than .6 meters high permitted in yard is what she was instructed by the Style Nazi. Nothing higher than 23 inches.”

Maybe this lady was blowing smoke but if this is for real I need more information about it.

She said that to get a building permit you need an appointment with a city design consultant who will give you guidelines as to what you can build and what color “colour in Canuckian”. What color? YIKES.

She told me that it has come about and is spreading everywhere because people were painting their houses ungodly colors and upsetting their neighbors. Last I checked good taste was individualized and not a pre-requisite for buying a home. They get their punishment when they sell.

Is this the “Do as we Say Festival Gone Crazy?”.

I told her that this is either a historic district or a planned community (Click for an Example)—she insisted it was not. She told me she lives in Sullivan Heights.

Please—someone give me more information about this, I really would love to know. I tried the building department in Surrey but they were already closed. I’ll try them again tomorrow, but feel free to email me if you know anything about this.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Celebrity Builders---pt.1

Celebrity Builders

Ok, when these celebs know their stuff, they can be ultra cool. When they don’t—Yes Dean, I mean you, it’s embarrassing for the celebrity and the entire trade is cheapened. Every celebrity builder has things that they are good at--and others they are not.

"Red Green is available for DIY advice daily on Home Envy .com "
(an example of a Tres Cool Builder!)
What absolutely grates on me the most is the makeover shows where they totally renovate, paint the house, build new decks and fully landscape with all the fittings for $1241.00.

Arrrrgh. Now, keep in mind that 20 people worked for a week for free, much of the materials and furniture were borrowed or rented or donated (in exchange for contra advertising), and the designers worked for gratis also. Most of the time they are honest enough to give a reasonable figure on materials only—but it makes people think it is easy, which in my mind is criminal. Nothing good is easy.

Ok, we’re nearing the end of today’s rant.

The ones I really love are the California and Texas “House Flipping Fiasco” shows. Buy a dump for $500,000 in a slum and turn it into 730,000 cold hard cash for a cost of 98,000 dollars for a profit of $132,000 in 3 months.

I want to see the episodes where they bought for $500,000 and put in $125,000 and filed for bankruptcy 6 months later when the house didn’t sell for $450,000 because the market corrected mid flip. NOTHING is that easy.

I have never seen a failure on those shows—I guess nobody wants to see that so it wouldn’t help ratings, or it just never happens. Who ever heard of speculators getting burned?

I am sure l'immigra is going to notice that those texans on the flip show are using all illegal labor and pull them off the air. Proceeds from crime getting snatched on national TV- now that would be a great show!

Happy Flipping To all—


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Building Decks - Becoming a deck builder

Building Decks—

Learning about building decks takes time. There’s plenty involved in making decks into an art form. Designing decks, making the design fit a budget while still maintaining a profit. Decks must also fit the client’s needs and desires (wish list), while suiting their personal taste and fitting with their homes. The design of decks is likely the most difficult skill to master.

Technical Drawings for the building department is the next hurdle involved in building decks. Most building departments will accept a hand drawn sketch to build decks, however some expect every detail about your decks to be illustrated clearly. Here in Canada they want a BCIN designer’s number. When you are building decks it is better to have every detail down on paper before you build the deck—it keeps you productive and makes for few misunderstandings with the client.

Building decks is pure carpentry. If you are a good carpenter you likely can cobble a deck together, but there is more to building decks than just being a good carpenter. There are methods for keeping the decking tight, special fasteners for pressure treated, methods for making joints shed water as well. Standing water beneath decks as well as drainage issues to keep the water out of the basement should be of paramount concern. Deck builders know many ways of fastening things that most carpenters wouldn’t even need to consider.

Where our work shines is 5 years from now. When a composite deck is yellowing and many decks are looking old—a quick touch up coat of stain and the deck looks new again.

When you are ready to finesse building decks you are educating your client throughout the process to give them something to talk about to their friends—teaching things that other contractors don’t know.

Over the years the quality of your deck building work goes up—like any trade. If you are building on your own it may progress more slowly than if you are building within a group like where you are challenged to compete and build better decks you can expect to progress more quickly. We also teach you many techniques alluded to above to increase quality.

Learning “about” building decks is different than learning “To” build decks or “Run” a deck company. Becoming a skilled craftsman is different than becoming a good manager or business owner. A good deck builder can do very well—but a good manager will grow a larger company.
To determine if you are ready to join our “ Deck Builders Group ” give me a call at 888 293 8938 and we’ll chat about it.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Starting a Deck and Fence Business in 2007

For the New Article about Starting a Deck Company click

What do we expect from this year’s economy as it relates to decks and fences?

Garden Structure .com web traffic is up nearly 25% this year. So we expect more leads and less marketing required for our Builder Group Members.

Housing Starts are weak which means more competition for those in the deck and fence business going it alone—it means that if they are selling on price alone it could be tough going. Our Builder Group is not often involved in competitive bids—so it makes us more or less immune to price pressure.

NADRA is attempting to open a chapter here in Ontario—I am still not sure as to whether that is beneficial for our Builder Group—We’ll keep you posted. My initial impression is that it is just another Directory to assist with creating more and more competitive bids.

Global warming is helping extend the Northern States and Canadian Building season…so we'll just call that an unfortunate positive factor for some.

Illegal Labor is on our radar and we hope to see solutions to level the playing field this year.

The war has created positive economic influences in many areas with economic dependence on military industries.

Expect to see Duties and Tariffs on goods coming into the US and Canada shortly thereafter —It has to do with devalued currencies from Asia and it’s just further leveling of the playing field economically.

The deck and fence business is servicing 3-7 year old houses primarily. Record building during those years 3-7 years ago will make this a banner year for professional deck companies.

Amateur companies without proper portfolio and product line—relying on word of mouth may find this year a little challenging to say the least. Since the average deck company lasts less than 6 months you may wish to re-think your strategy.

There is simply no point in re-inventing the wheel when you don't have to. From someone who has--it's expensive and can take many years.

In short, our economic Outlook for the Fence and Deck Business 2007 is Highly Positive.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Deck Apples

What are Deck Apples?

How many times have we gone out to do an estimate and we have to bring up the phrase to our customers about comparing apples for apples? It seems like a common sense question, but a lot of people simply don't get what the phrase means?

A deck is a deck right? When you are giving it 1/3 extra foundation—it still looks like a deck, it’s just a deck that you could park your car on if you had to.

If you pre-dry and finish every single part in that deck and seal 6 sides… it still looks much like any other deck, it’s just much more expensive because it takes much longer to build.

If the deck is designed to suit the clientele and their needs and contains inspired details that have taken decades to develop it is my opinion that it is worth nearly double what a normal deck would be worth. It will age more gracefully, it will last longer and it will garner more praise from family and friends. It also takes much longer to install.

I would think more people would do more home work on their part before calling for a “Free Deck Estimate”, but it just isn’t so. It just seems like such a waste of time for a reputable fence and deck contractor to come out to give valuable expertise and time just for the chance to maybe get the job.

When “Joe Shmoe Custom Decks Contractor”, sells you a deck with no profit in the job he very likely won’t be in business a year from now to back any warranty. I guess that deck warranty really isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

There are many reasons for the cheapest price to send up all kinds of red flags. If the contractor doesn’t know how to price a job-how can you be sure he knows how to build it? As a project manager I always threw out the low bid.

Just think about it this way would you rather pay 10.00 dollars for bushel of nice firm apples all the way through or take your chances on the 8.00 a bushel where the top is firm and the other two thirds are either punchy or half rotten? When it comes to clients I want to be able to provide good service—and that costs time, which I need to be paid for. For this reason I am rarely the low bid.

Salesmanship is about offering a service of value to the right people and helping them understand why our decks are a better value. A good deck salesman will teach the client how to identify quality construction and what exactly makes a deck great.

Mak ...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Comittee of Adjustment Application Fee $1250.00 YIKES!

Barrie Ontario January 1/ 2007

Committee of adjustment application fee is now $1250.00

This means if you want to build a 101sq' shed rather than a 100 square foot shed, or a fence that is 2.2 meters high or build a deck between 2 houses there is a financial spanking doled out.

From the creators of the "Do as We Say Festival", there is now a financial incentive to be good citizen and just accept what the city dictates. Not only do they want to inflict their taste on the masses--they demand we pay $1250.00 for the privilege of being told what we can or cannot build in our yards.

All the building department fees are ballooning--get caught without a permit... few hundred dollars, the cost of a basic permit is up.

Mississauga-- $150 application fee, Barrie $1250.00. Strange isn't it?

On the same subject--to obtain a permit in Oakville Ontario to build a deck you need a special permit with a deposit of a couple of thousand dollars in assurance that you will not make a mess on the street or boulevard in front of the house on city property.

BCIN numbers, insane fees, from people who don't know why a fence stands or a gate works--really is a bit of a joke.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Behavior on Site

I am only going to be able to touch the tip of the iceberg on this subject! There has been an expression among us carpenters for years. " What looks good is good" That phrase applies to more than just the out come of the project at hand.

It also applies too the way the project management performs and keeps everything moving along in a professional manor.

One of my pet peeves is to keep the job site clean and orderly through out the entire project even if we have to hire a laborer just for clean up. To me keeping the job site clean and orderly shows the customer that you take pride in what you do and that reflection carries on to the workmanship of the project itself.

I make sure every employee is busy doing something at all times. Just standing around lollygagging and smoking cigarettes does not cut it. My son Dan has been working for me since he was a freshmen in High school ask him how I feel on the subject? I won't keep my employees from smoking, but don't let it hinder your ability to keep the job progressing.

Another thing I will not tolerate is any swearing on the job. In the summer month people have their windows open and in the early morning the sound really travels if you get my drift?

Sorry if any one thinks I'm a mean boss but I was taught the correct way to act on a construction job site. Any other behavior is not going to help your company thrive.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Composite Decking -More

I received a note from a fellow that works at a large composite decking company. He gave some very candid information about the shortcomings of composite decking, such as deterioration of surface and puckering near the fasteners. He explained why it is such a struggle to create a good product with the technology that is presently available-- at least it makes sense to me.

His contention is that it is best to try because "trying" leads to eventual success. Experimentation and going through the motions leads to development and learning.

I agree entirely. That's how Honda and Toyota did it. If you remember their earliest cars--Would you ever imagine Toyota would be competing in Nascar next year?

With people like this trying--those who will compete with themselves for success-- I think they will create a superior product to wood decks some day. I would be happy to entertain ideas as to how I could work with the companies developing new composite decking products. I can see numerous ways they could improve.

"Rumor has it that there is a new composite decking product that should be
in distribution within 3 years that weighs half and is 3 x stronger than the
best composite decking is today."

Here's a laugh. I did an article on composite decking a couple of years ago.
Of 561,000 results it ranks #4 for Composite Decking (click for the search in Google)
I guess I should get that article re-written to include some recent developments.
A Prosperous New Year To All of You-- Happy 007