Sunday, November 23, 2008

Decks, Builders in Toronto - When do we quit for the season?

Our Builders of Decks and Fences in the Toronto area will likely be outside until some time in January.

Terry Grosjean (photo above), our builder in the Oshawa Whitby area is putting in footings for a 350 square foot deck today. He is drilling the holes, setting the sonotubes while it is near zero this afternoon, then insulating the sonotubes and putting down straw as insulation. So long as the concrete doesn't freeze in the first day or two, the footings will be good to go next week.
Most people don't realize that 3-4' down the ground is warmer. The liquid concrete draws heat from there as it sets, and also generates a little heat of it's own during the curing process--a chemical reaction.

They are busy putting footings in so that they can keep going for a while yet. So long as the ground is fairly warm we can plan footings for decks and fences.

Normally we can set footings for decks and fences in the Toronto, Barrie, Whitby and Niagara areas until about December 15.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sub-Contractor to Contractor

Making the leap from Sub-Contractor to Contractor

The major difference between Sub-Contractors and Contractors or Builders is that Sub-Contractors work for Contractors only, and Contractors sell their services and sub-trades work to Builders, Architects, Companies and Private Clients.

Carpentry sub-contractors are often talented specialists. It is all about efficiency. They are builders that specialize in Stairs, Handrails, Framing, Trim, Windows and Doors, Flooring, Decks, Fences etc.

They manage to source help and since they specialize in one trade rather than many, they devise ways to get more accomplished than any general woodworker or carpenter could in a given time.

Sub-contractors often lack knowledge of how to price the entire job, how to sell, how to organize the different activities involved the whole job. In my general experience, any good sub-contractor possesses the ability to learn these tasks. If you can be good at one trade… chances are that you can be good at a few trades given the chance.

A Builder or Contractor needs to know about Marketing. What works, what doesn’t.

They need to learn how to sell to private clients. You can read a few books on the subject, we give our builders a sales and marketing guide. Sales is more about mood and attitude and doing what we know we should than anything else.

In this economy you need every tool and advantage you can get to survive.

A successful Contractor needs to have consistent leads. It used to be that you could just pay the yellow pages to get leads. You didn’t have to do the best looking work in town if you could afford a good ad. With the onslaught of Google those days are gone.

To dominate the web you need to do the most beautiful work in town, and you need to use techniques that last longer and you need to treat every single customer like gold. The internet has ways for unhappy clients to exact their pound of flesh from your future sales if they feel maligned.

When you are ready to become a successful Deck, Fence and Pergola Builder click here for information about our Deck Builder Group and then get in touch with Lawrence Winterburn at 888 293 8938

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What is a Sub-Contractor

What is a Sub-Contractor?

Carpentry Sub-Contractors are dependant upon others for their livelihood, and they are often not in a strong position to set their own pricing. They get the “Going Rate” for whatever their specialty is. Often akin to slave labor, as prices tighten up, so does their pay.

Woodwork and other types of Companies have been trending towards sub-contractors and contract positions to avoid offering benefits and the need to take deductions and remit them to the government. It allows them to offload many expenses like pension, benefits, unemployment, compensation etc.

They force the sub-contractor to get a compensation and legal clearance certificate prior to starting the job.

It is a fuzzy line to pinpoint the difference, but one thing for certain--being your average woodwork sub-contractor is not an enviable position to be in presently.

Governments have created new definitions that generally state that a sub-contractor that only works for one contractor or client is an employee.

Lets say that you have had a sub-contractor working pretty steadily for 3 years, but you really didn’t sign any contracts for each job. The sub-contractor just invoiced hourly, rather than spelling out any jobs and amount to be billed ahead of time. The sub-contractor didn’t actually work for any other contractors whether you knew it or not.

That sub-contractor is actually an employee in the eyes of the government.

They will hand you a bill for all the deductions and compensation that should have been paid on that employee. doesn’t deal with sub-contractors and hasn’t for quite a few years.

We believe that a builder that has his name on the contract, his share of the profit and the pride of producing a work of art will always take more care and produce a better product than a sub-contract worker will.

Our builders on the whole get more referrals and produce more magazine quality work than any of our competitors do crew vs. crew.

We are presently gearing up for spring and do have areas available.

Click here for info about our Deck and Pergola Builders Group then get in touch with Lawrence Winterburn for more details at 888 293 8938.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Should I use Paint or Stain on my Deck or Pergola?

Most Experts oversimplify the stain process.
The Western Red Cedar Association shows a chart in their finishing guide telling you to expect 10 years of durability on properly applied paint—what they don’t mention is that should be expected on a wall of a house. Vertical walls are a little different than a pergola or deck.

I rarely see mention of kiln drying, or back priming, or end cut sealing or pre-finishing.

When wood absorbs water it swells. Swelling causes cracks to appear in the stain or paint and leads to premature failure. The majority of moisture is absorbed from the end grains. Applying stain or paint on a deck after construction is a “maintenance nightmare in the making”.

NEVER use Paint on a Deck or Pergola.

ALWAYS pre-finish the materials all 6 sides with a high quality exterior stain before assembling.

ALWAYS seal the end grains during construction.

Our Guide to Exterior stain walks you through the process of applying stain to decks and pergolas for years of durability. There are many pitfalls, like trying to finish wet wood, mill glaze and applying stain in direct sun which could make your stain fail within weeks. See our Guide to Exterior Stain document below for comprehensive answers.


Our Guide to Exterior Stain Application,

WRCLA Finishing Guide for Cedar

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Web Sites for Deck Builders - Traffic Down

Websites bring us plenty of traffic. This graph is compliments of It is a great tool for checking on your competitors on line. I would expect it to offer a comparative snapshot... but we know it isn't perfectly accurate. (We get Much More Traffic than they indicate).

Figure out how accurate it is for your site... and those numbers will give you a fairly good guess at how your competitors are faring.

Archadeck is down 45% this year, which is understandable since they are in the US primarily. Most of their business comes from direct advertising anyhow.

Hickory Dickory Decks seems to be down 70% year over year. Maybe that's just karma for using our design work in their "Dream Deck Contest" two years in a row.

And (Our Main Site) is actually down 5% this year over last. I would call that a "Not Bad". 10 times the traffic Hickory Dickory Decks gets, and twice the traffic that Archadeck gets if you work with's numbers.

It just means that our builders haven't seen much of a change in the number of leads they are getting even in this economy. I can say that I have a much larger pile of resumes on my desk though.

The economy affects nearly every business. When you are selling things as discretionary as Decks, Fences and Pergolas you had better be doing plenty of high value marketing--and setting yourself apart from the crowd.

We believe our Builder Group is the smartest move for a forward thinking Deck Company.

New products like under pergola canopies and new designs for fences and pergolas coming down the pipe will help us dominate all over North America.

Our Plan products are now sold at Lee Valley Tools and select "Castle Building Centers".

We have a few new builders in our group this year-- Stay tuned to see some of their fine work!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Trends in The Deck Business 2008-2009

Deck Business Trends 2008 - 2009

2006’s Trend of using IPE for decks has crashed for the main reasons of quality and price. It doesn’t arrive kiln dried so it tends to crack and twist badly as it dries. We’ve seen some poor quality product retailed locally and it is extremely difficult to work with.

Apparently Ipe is on the list of endangered species so we have ceased using it at all.

Lighted post caps are a trend, however built in low voltage lighting seems to be a permanent part of the deck business.

When it comes to materials, Tigerdeck is the king of 2008. It is sustainably harvested from more than 40 countries and comes kiln dried with a warranty—yes, it is a hardwood and is expected to last 30 years on a typical platform.

There's a new product going by Envirowood "Heat Treated Lumber". Last time it was marketed as "SilvaWood". It is not new. They believe that by superheating pine lumber they can make it last longer out of doors. The heat treating makes it uninteresting to insects--however the glue that prevents moisture from penetrating (sap), gets burned up in the process. In effect you can successfully turn Jack Pine or Southern Yellow Pine into Poplar... which lasts only a year or two outside.

Composites are yesterday’s news in my opinion. Azek seems to be the best of the group, it used to be Pro-Cell before being bought by another company.

Brite closed it’s doors this spring due to cash flow problems, The Dexx plant burned down a couple of years back (they were making composite from recycled gas tanks), Xtendex was closed permanently last year and the in stock product was sold for pennies on the dollar. We expect a few others will do likewise due to a shrinking market for composite and increased operating costs.

Trex has issues with products made at their Arizona plant deteriorating prematurely, so they have set aside many millions for warranty replacement. “Weatherbest”—also has a serious problem with structural failure. They are proactively trying to seek out the defective product before injuries occur, so kudos to them for being so responsible.

Nevertheless composites are NO LONGER seen as “The” premium product in the business due to aging in a chalky and simulated way. Putting plastic or vinyl outside leads to deterioration—and there is just no way around that fact.

Pre-finishing of wood decks is a major trend again this year. When we can pre-finish red cedar and have it age more gracefully than composites at a competitive price to premium composites… and then refinish in 5 years and make it new again, folks understand the advantage.

Curves and Brows are a trend that won’t go away. Organic looking, free flowing decks will never go out of style. The decks we are designing today look very different than 10 years ago.

Built in Garden Areas have always been popular. Outdoor kitchens need herb gardens—trelliswork screens need a place to root vines.

Pergolas for shade and privacy are becoming much more popular, and this year we have a new product that mounts within the pergola to create total shade and is fully retractable. Made of stainless steel and aluminum mechanicals with a 12 year warranty, they also offer a motorized version with a remote. Sunbrella fabric helps it age gracefully and resist fading. You can now shelter a 16 x 20 area from rain in a single retractable under pergola awning.

We have designed these into a few projects so far—and will have good photography soon. These canopies will be very popular.
It is a challenging economy in many places--generally large cities and all of Canada are doing well--smaller communities in the US are generally having a time of it.
To get involved in call 888 293 8938

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Best Pergola Builder in Los Angeles

Gary Bouchard has been building, pergolas, decks and fences with us in Los Angeles For about 3 years now.
It is astounding to me how immune this area is to most economic turmoil. These folks are imaginative and know what they like--Perfect Clients.
This is Gary Bouchard's second career, he was a project manager for 30 years with a photography company previously. He always did woodwork as a hobby, and when he joined with us he started on smaller projects.

Gary likely turned away more work than any of our builders. I can remember hearing about 2800 sf decks in Hollywood Hills stars glistening in my eyes... He said candidly it was just too big for him to deal with at that point. He could easily deal with work like that today, however that is the genius of Gary Bouchard. He doesn't take on more than he can chew. He knows how to say no--and gets enough leads that he can afford to.

In the days where contractors are constantly late finishing, disappearing for weeks at a time and not returning phone calls--Gary's methods are refreshing.

In 3 years I have not heard so much as the hint of a complaint from clients--and with work like this, I don't imagine I ever will. Thank you Gary Bouchard for representing so well in Los Angeles - Beverly Hills - Glendale.
GREAT looking work Gary!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cornwall Deck Party

The Upscale Decking Group, Our Clients and all the guests were very impressed. All told nearly 100 people dropped in for wine and cheese in Cornwall to see Darren Smith's Dream Deck.

A good time was had by all, it was a successful event and on my part it was good to see everyone again.

By the sounds of it Darren will be working on more interesting projects that will have me driving down the highway 6 hours very soon.

Thanks for hosting this great event Darren--

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wine and Cheese in Cornwall

You are Invited for Wine and Cheese in Cornwall.

Darren Smith is hosting a gathering in South Lancaster from 12-7pm on Friday Aug 8 - 08 (rain date, Saturday Aug 9- 08).

Le Domain is off Hwy #2, look for the signs.

You can RSVP with Darren Smith at 613-551-4259

This is a very large deck that features built in hot tub, privacy screen, curved section featuring tempered glass rails as well as a sun room addition. The project was designed by "Yours Truly--Lawrence Winterburn", and it is a showpiece that Darren Smith and the crew at "Upscale Decking" is very proud of also.

If you live near Cornwall and you are thinking about having a deck built or you are involved in the building trades and may have projects that are a fit for Upscale Decking's considerable talents--please make arrangements to attend.

I will be attending also--

Here is a map

">Le Domaine Rd, South Glengarry, ON, CanadaLink:


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Watching the Competitors Build a Deck

I do love the internet.

With the click of a mouse I can watch a deck get built in real time by the competition. Trying to imagine why a 600 sf deck will take 3 weeks, but it certainly has me on the edge of my seat!

Here's the blog link to indulge with me.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Trex Warranty

A closer look at the Trex ® Warranty

25-Year Limited Residential Warranty
25-Year Limited Residential Warranty Details (pdf, 24K)

If a defect occurs within the warranty period, Purchaser shall notify Trex in writing and, upon confirmation by an authorized Trex representative of the defect, Trex’s sole responsibility shall be, 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).
"They Intimate--that they (may either replace or refund purchase price of only the portion found to be defective) --obviously this entire article, with exception of quotations is simply opinion--L

Trex shall not be responsible for costs and expenses incurred with respect to the removal of defective Trex products or the installation of replacement materials, including but not limited to labor and freight.
"They will not pay to dispose of the defective product, shipping to return the product or installation costs to replace the defective product or any other associated costs, (that is what (but not limited to labor....))"
Here is where it gets interesting and where I will try to help you cut through to what will or will not be covered if you happen to have a legitimate warranty claim.
Here is a partial list of what you or your contractor could do wrong that would negate any implied warranty.
1) improper installation of Trex products and/or failure to abide by Trex’s installation guidelines (48 page, 23 meg on-line document)
  • All colored chalk lines are permanent except white.

  • Trex Company does not recommend sanding. Sanding will change the appearance of the surface of Trex ® material and will void the warranty.

  • Check your local building codes for restrictions. Trex ® cannot be used for structural applications. (page 12 paragraph 1)

  • Spacing of edges and end grain butt joints must be present to the specified sizes.
  • They don't spell it out, they assume you know what 100lbs/sf of strength means... it means that a 100lb man with size 12' will be supported by the decking on 16" centers... Better space joists minimum 12" and 8" if diagonal for a solid feeling deck. There is a chart on page 14.

  • Stairs need support every 9" for some products--12" for others.

  • Trex Escapes decking should be cleaned at least twice per year (Spring and Fall). It is important to keep the deck clean of dirt and debris. Any debris that sits on the surface can be a potential food source for mold and mildew.
  • ...never use a metal snow shovel on a Trex deck. A shovel may scratch the deck, which is not covered under warranty.

  • Trex Company does not recommend the use of a pressure washer. The use of a pressure washer with a greater than 1,500 PSI and/or applied closer than 12" from the deck surface could damage the decking surface and result in a loss of warranty coverage.
Mold Technical Bulletin (excerpts)
...Due to mold’s adaptability and large number of species, it is very hard to control and impossible to totally eliminate. Mold will not affect the structural performance of Trex decking.

...Mold spreads easily and may return in some environments despite proper cleaning and preventative measures. Mold does not damage Trex and will cause no harm if allowed to propagate. In some cases it will require several treatments with the deck wash to completely remove all mold colonies. Even if the spots are no longer visible, there may still be mold spores on the surface that could regrow.
This said, Trex is made of pulp lumber (byproduct of the pulp and paper industry, bark and sap wood from deciduous trees known to be high in sugar content (sugars are food for mold). As well the plastic part of Trex is recycled also, much of it pop bottles, again, high in sugar content. Pulp lumber exposed to the environment will begin to decompose quickly.

They negate any implied warranty for;

(2) Use of Trex products beyond normal residential use, or in an application not recommended by Trex’s guidelines and local building codes;In my view, when they don't want you to use in commercial applications the product has wear related issues.

(3) movement, distortion, collapse or settling of the ground or the supporting structure on which Trex products are installed;

(4) any act of God (such as flooding, hurricane, earthquake, lightning, etc.), environmental condition (such as air pollution, mold, mildew, etc.), staining from foreign substances (such as dirt, grease, oil, etc.), or normal weathering (defined as exposure to sunlight, weather and atmosphere which will cause any colored surface to gradually fade, flake, chalk, or accumulate dirt or stains);
I find it laughable that they include mold in the "Act of God" category--but, there it is. They quickly lump stains and fading into this "Act of God category as well. Keep in mind that they had issues with flaking last year and they have set aside many millions of dollars for compensation of homeowners after closing the plant in Arizona.
(5) variations or changes in color of Trex products;
Every batch is a slightly different color--no big deal really.
(6) improper handling, storage, abuse or neglect of Trex products by Purchaser, the transferee or third parties; or leaves left on for weeks, dirt on the decking... barbecue grease spillage--don't be abusive to your deck is the message... better still, don't use it.

(7) ordinary wear and tear. That is a difficult thing to define.
In summation-- many things most people expect to be covered by Trex Warranty--Simply is not.

Do your research.



Friday, July 18, 2008

Pergola Design 101, part 2; Pergola Design Rules:

  • More than 12' spans are expensive, use sparingly.
  • Pergolas should have more than 4 posts whenever possible, 4 post pergolas always have that "Amateur Look".
If I get another amateur designer/homeowner ask for free plans for a 16' x 18’ pergola perched on 4 posts I am going to scream.

Not only is it a design faux pas, but it is just plain dangerous to run that close to the edge. First strong wind—first sign of rot—first tremor and your dream pergola with only 4 posts is likely to hit the ground. (If not designed properly)

What are they thinking?
A post stuck in the ground will never move?

A post perched upon a sonotube has infinite lateral strength?

Maybe that the footings are the difficult part of the job so they only want to do 4?

Or is it that they wouldn’t want anything to obstruct their wide open view. Why bother building a pergola if you don’t want to look at it. Does a pergola not frame the view?

Then again when you look at the pergolas typically built by deck contractors, with their 4 posts and their 2 stacks of sticks designs, I would prefer not to look at it either.

Go ahead—ask if we can give you plans for a 16 x18 pergola with only 4 support posts and try to cut me off before I explain why that is a really—really bad idea.

We can design a pergola that size with only 4 posts… the posts will be massive (and come at a premium), the footings are likely to be 2-3’ in width, (also at a premium), and the beam is likely to be more than 16” high, (heavy premium-and will obstruct some of your precious view).
If you are willing to shorten up the spans and use 8 or 12 posts rather than 4 it will be about ½ the price—and just my opinion, but I think it will add architectural intrigue to your home and frame the view rather nicely.

Here’s another article about the same subject: large span pergolas


Thursday, July 03, 2008


Eon really isn't composite decking. It is plastic, and walking on it feels like walking on hollow plastic tubes. We've heard all kinds of complaints and I'm not going to rehash them. If you are thinking about purchasing a deck clad with Eon product go and walk on an Eon deck, and choose a cool day to do it.

On a cool day you will see the gaps between the boards that tell me instantly--this is Eon. One client referred to it as "Orgasmic"--it groans all day long while the sun moves across it.

This customer put down this decking a few years ago--before they had a proper installation guide. Boards have cracked and broken and the shrunken away from the joists to the point of collapse.

I am doing design work for these folks presently and the first project is putting proper decking on this substantial frame--and giving it a better looking rail. They will likely be putting down TigerDeck.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mr. Deck’s Critiques

We finally have a feature on Mr. Deck’s Critique pages! Lesser builders would shudder at the thought but not this one!

It is always a thought, what do other builders think of our stuff.

What would Robert Hauck Jr. think of our work? “Probably not much”, since we do a lot of work for normal folks. We can make 2 choices in this business. We can make a very good living building things that appeal to the masses or we can sell a few pieces of art to a few people over the years.

I’ve been doing this dance between art and what people accept en masse for many years. Sure, we’ve done some art, but it is always a harder sell to make those happen. I've got a whole drawer full of designs that didn't sell but should have. Angel Wing Gates, Grand Fences, Big Pergolas, hundred thousand dollar decks. When it comes down to it I have likely spent about a year doing design work "On Spec", for upscale projects that didn't happen. The portfolio is deep enough that I don't have to do any more "Free" design work--and neither should any of our builders.

There was only 1 Silicon Valley, and I don’t imagine those magical budgets even exist there anymore. All we humble artisans can do is the best we can with an indicated budget from clients until we stumble upon a Shangri la project--that magical place where budgets are unlimited! It is kind of like winning a lottery, and many people are still waiting for the opportunity.

If you have never seen his critiques, poetry and insights you need to go there right now! Robert Hauck’s Critique Pages It would be loosely described as the first “Deck Business Blog”, though large scale Art Pergolas would better describe what he does. His insights and commentary are priceless, hilarious and honest.

Being 67 now he has certainly been an inspiration to this builder. I wish I had clientele in Silicon Valley in the 80’s with budgets like those to play with. $700,000 was the biggest outdoor budget I have ever had, and we had to do 300’ of gothic fencing and a curved pergola within it.

Robert was known for building outdoor art-sculpture in wood.

He would use brackets and bolts and create beautiful sculpted things. Take a ride around his website to see some.

So, yes, we got our critique. And it has to do with stairs—and the drag is that he assumed it was the southern states where they put steps on a concrete footing for stability. He didn’t understand or expect that we would have to place footings 4’ deep to support staircases that have handrails that may be damaged by the movement of frost.

The principal has to do with water freezing. As it freezes it expands… kind of like clay soaking up water in Texas and swelling…very similar thing, but the ice within the ground is solid and powerful. It will move anything within the expansion zone, which means if you run skirting down to ground level it could well, raise the deck out of the ground.

Factor 2… when I photographed it (a few years ago), the homeowner that was doing many things like stain, moving gravel and all the footings (under my direction), had not yet moved in the soil or grass seed to heal up the void between ground and the footing supported step.

All in all, if that is the major criticism from Robert Hauck Jr. I am doing ok! It is a grand thing to be noticed by one of your mentors.

Thanks Robert Cheers!


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why can’t I get my contractor to call me back?

Contractors tend to be creative types so part of the artistic personality just doesn’t jive with a rigid schedule. Combined with the majority of clients making changes and adding to the job before it is finished and you find a few days of unscheduled work on a typical project.
Good contractors will call you back eventually if you have had past dealings with them. This being mid June—this is the busiest time of the year for outdoor specialists. Everyone wants their job done this summer, and if you were prudent in your planning you would have been shopping the job in December and January.

I heard another panicked announcement by a government think-tank the other day. They say we are heading for a trades shortage. I don’t know whether that is just hot air or whether that is actually a factor. I don’t see a shortage presently… our builders are booked about 2 months on average.

When it comes to small jobs like 3 sections of fence, or a 4x8 deck you will certainly have a rough time getting a contractor to commit.

Small jobs like these are the least efficient and least profitable. Think about it. When you build any fence you need to:

Travel to Visit the Site and chat with the potential client and return. (2 hours + Fuel)
Draw up the contract and sketch the job (1 Hour)
Do the Material Take off (15 mins)
Order materials (15 mins)
Organize your tools and go to the site (1 hour)
Mark the post locations (1 hour)
Have the posts dug and set (15 mins + Charge for post installation)
Drive to the site ( 30 mins)
Set up your tools (15 mins)
“Build” (3 hours)
Clean up your tools (15 mins)
Dispose of the garbage (1 hour+ Tip Fee)
Return to the shop (15 mins)

If the job is only 3 hours on site… that leaves a half-day inactive—because it is not very often two small jobs are close enough to do 2 in a day. The builder needs to be paid for the whole day to make the job happen. (+4 hours)

Now, if the job only takes 3 hours… what should the job be priced at to make it “Worth Doing”.

To do this 3 hour job the builder has spent 15 hours and likely $100 in fuel + materials
So, if you are wondering why that 3-hour job you are trying to get done has contractors asking for more than $1000 – You now understand why!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Illegal Labour in the Deck and Fence Business

Our last poll asked the question--what should be done. 55% said mass deportations. 25% said make them citizens. I am noticing a trend.
About 50% of our visitors are professional builders to this site. WE have all had to deal with it for many years now. Obviously in the US it has been a migration from the south. In Canada it has been from Eastern Europe. One of our largest competitors was here on a student's visa when he started his company.
Contractors are frustrated on both sides of the border.

If they are going to have to compete the competition should be on a level playing field. When people use indentured servants to get work done and charge less due to that advantage the legitimate builders get cheated.

In a Toronto Star article they stated that there was some 38,000 illegal workers in the construction trades in the Toronto Area in 2005 -- 125,000 illegal workers in total that year.

It is NOT their Fault.

They came here from a hostile economic circumstance. They will do anything to provide for their families.

Our governments and their communal inactivity are to blame--entirely.
I joined this trade in 1987 because there was a shortage in the trade. The government helped train folks to be carpenters--then threw them under the bus by not keeping the playing field level.
I guess that is why my game is so strong. I had to compete with all the new businesses--all the illegal labour and all the designers borrowing my details in the Toronto area.
Well, we now have about 8 builders in the Toronto Area that don't have to compete with illegals--(they aren't skilled enough to compete with us).

And there are also builders in Boston, Charleston, Virginia Beach, Tampa, Dallas and Los Angeles that are also setting themselves apart from the masses of builders just trying to make a living.

(get in touch with me for more info).

Just try to remember--in every economic season there are always people making money--the trick is to make sure they are your customers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fence Inspections (Part 1)

"This post illustrates major errors in fence building that many contractors and DIY builders make when erecting fences."

Hiring a contractor to build a wood fence anywhere in North America between April and June is fraught with financial risk.

Every single year in an area like Toronto, or LA, or Houston there are 500 new fence companies. Some work out of small cars or station wagons, some have big professional looking trucks. Nice business cards, sometimes company shirts and baseball caps, an eager and optimistic attitude, lots of energy---and most importantly, little or no experience, business training, marketing know how or even the slightest clue how to build a wood fence. They are all eager to do a few jobs and build a reputation.

Where do you learn to build great fences? There are very few books that teach anything worthwhile when it comes to fences. We sell plans on our website that contains plenty of good instructions, however most of the books in stores and in the library are either old, flawed or geared to the southern climates.

Every year I get calls this time of year, “Can I get you to come out and tell me if this fence is built properly”—I ask them if this was a low bid contractor—they typically tell me of course it was. I give them a price and I go out to have a look. "This is often the case--people assume that all fences are equal and that all fence builders know how to build well".

It is always interesting when I arrive with the contractor still on site and begin taking photos of their sins against the fence gods.

Inspections and the following report is firstly a negotiation tool for the client to decrease the contractor due to his shoddy workmanship. Secondly this is due diligence for a future court case. You see when I prepare a report it contains photos and plain English language explanations of the errors being showcased. It is what a judge needs in order to make a reasonable assessment if it does come to court.

Take Snoop Dog Square Pants here—(yes, that is a "Sponge Bob", Tee shirt on this young contractor), the poor guy couldn't’t build a fence straight or level, cheated on the footings, used ardox nails in ACQ materials, built gates backwards-even put the hardware on backwards.

When confronted by the client by asking how long the posts that he installed were—( because they were sticking out of the ground 8’)—this rookie builder told him 11’. Everyone knows you can’t buy 11’ posts. It added insult to injury in this case.

These guys didn't know how to remove the old corner posts--so they just added a piece to the existing fence beyond.

A fence with no corner posts will not last.

You can also see the fence boards touching the ground. Frost causes the ground to expand. It will lift up to 2" in this area. Without 2" of space between the ground and the fence... it will lift the posts out of the ground or damage the fence.

Both of these gates were built by the same contractor. Strange how the frames are different sizes. Gate braces work under compression, so one of these gates is backwards.

They missed with their gun exposing a tragic flaw. Non-ACQ Rated nails in ACQ materials.

Within 3 years there will not likely be a board left on this fence. Black streaks of corrosion will be the only evidence of nails ever existing.

Worse still--he used nails the wrong size--then clipped them off. Straight shank nails tend to pull straight out or work themselves loose due to expansion and contraction of the wood.

Always use spiral galvanized ACQ rated nails in ACQ Materials. If this rookie deck builder had bothered to use actual ACQ rated fasteners and clipped them off--they would rot in 3 years just like ardox.

When it comes to sturdying up fence posts there really is only one way. Replace the post with one that is installed in a proper footing.

Adding concrete will only make the post lift a little higher out of the ground every year.

I don't have anything against someone starting a new fence company--however--learn your craft before competing with real fence companies.

In this case I explained to this make believe fence builder that he should be ashamed of himself for wasting all these materials and then expecting the client to pay for it even though it would only last 3 years.

If he wasn't going to bother learning how to build fences properly, that he should go and do something that doesn't require any learning--like digging ditches, or sweeping floors.

The kindest thing I could do for this contractor is to give him a nudge to help him get out of business and help him towards doing something productive with his life.

I told the homeowner that he should offer the builder $500 to take the whole fence away... then he should have a proper fence built by a legitimate contractor. This fence will be an eyesore within months.

By The Way-- If you want to learn how to build a fence properly click the link. The step by step plans are fool proof.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Landscape Design- Builders of Decks and pergolas in Hamilton - Burlington Ontario

We are not providing landscaping, landscape design and outdoor woodwork in the Burlington, Ancaster and Hamilton Ontario area

You will find Our Landscape Designers courteous and eager to help you realize your outdoor vision.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Collapsed Decks

Sometimes decks collapse because of creativity.

This looks to most people like a good idea--few things are as strong as Polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate is a very strong plastic. The trouble is that every product will eventually meet their maximum level of usability. Most plastics do react with UV exposure and get brittle.

In this case they were overloaded to the point of failure. I found 3 broken clips...not sure how many there were.
These brackets were designed to hold the snow on steel or aluminum roofs rather than folks slamming the door and it landing on their heads.

Trouble is that they work very well. It keeps the snow on the roof... long enough to turn it to ice during protracted cold spells.

The ice builds up over the months and eventually the weight is too great--for the plastic snojacks in this case. If they were made of metal--it is not likely that they all would have failed simultaneously as in this case.

This was a deck that was sturdy enough for the owners to have a party on last weekend--and a week ago 2 or 3 tons of snow and ice slid off the roof and impacted the deck, punching the support posts up through the platform.

When a deck is just under built or a ledger fails the entire platform typically collapses.

Now, lets not rush to hasty judgement that the polycarbonate brackets caused the failure.

4 snowfalls with very little melt, protracted cold weather and a not so well insulated home causing the snow to condense into ice and a metal roof and a not so new deck all had a part in this deck failure.
This was in fact a fortunate accident.

Because this is the main entrance to the house.

No one was home at the time of the collapse.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Gazebos - New Designs

The first of Our new Gazebo Designs -- (just kidding, there will be more new gazebos this summer)

This floating gazebo showed up in my in-box this morning... Thought I'd share it.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Final Word on Free Deck Designs

Our poll shows that nearly 50% of our visitors are homeowners looking for ideas. That means that the majority of contractors think that offering free designs is short sighted.
Who's idea was that?
When you are good at something you should get rewarded well for your efforts. When you are practicing your craft--sure, you are willing to do for the experience of doing.

In my case having my work showcased in numerous magazines, being emulated by Landscape Architects and Builders worldwide, (and shipping historical plans worldwide), being on TV, in Newspapers and having tens of thousands of websites pointing to us as the world's best means that we don't have to do design work for free.

Free deck plans?
The trouble is, if we offered free deck plans--that's all we'd have time to do.
The fact is, there are stores and companies that offer free deck designs and plans, however they normally turn out to be worth precisely what you pay.
Most of the time these "Free Deck Plans" are loaded into the cost of the materials (in the case of big box stores), and into the cost of the Deck that many companies offering free deck designs will high pressure sell you in your living room.

A Call to your local Deck Builder for a quote and for our input into how to improve your deck design ideas or to find out what options we can add to bring the deck design up to our level of detail will get you on the right track. Our Builders may have a token fee however I am confident you will find them knowledgeable and creative.

Our Deck Builders will always supply free quotations on decks or pergolas if you have deck designs already.

If you don't have plans and need design assistance and don't trust lesser builders to design your dream deck--you can contact Paul Corsetti at 416 455-5515 for complete landscape plans as well as structure and deck designs,
Or Lawrence Winterburn (Principal Designer for ) at 416 951 9998. Paul and I do charge for consultations and design work--but keep in mind we do it professionally. L