Friday, February 29, 2008

Free Deck Designs

When I initiated the poll “Should deck builders do free designs?”, I fully expected a blowout. I’d love to know what you all think so please—treat this as an invitation to post comments on this subject.

It was a tie for the first week or two but the result was, 58% yes, deck builders should do free designs with over 50 votes.

I guess to interpret these results we need another poll. (See the new poll in left margin)

Some Lawyers do Free Initial Consultations—normally ½ hour maximum.

Many deck builders feel that free estimates are your opportunity to “Sell” the homeowner on your ability and prowess.

Others see it as “You train your clients”. If you acclimate your clientele to expecting you to work for free, (depreciating the worth of your time), then they will expect you to do work for free later.

Some of the Leading though declining Deck Franchises actually force you to do Free Deck Designs for every single potential customer. I’ve been told that it takes roughly 10 hours for the average contractor to do a free deck design to their standards for a “Potential Client”.

Any Business that forces its employees, (worse still—investors), to work for free, (Slavery), is nothing short of “Tyrannical”. Slavery is just plain wrong, but when you have slaves you need to feed them, cloth them and house them. Forcing people to do 50 hours a week for free is worse than slavery.

If you are to do 5 estimates a week, (Often I will do 5 Initial Consultations in a day—not free), and those free designs eat up 10 hours each… ahem…When on earth are you to be making your living?

When things tighten up—as they have in the US presently, deck builders may well need to hustle. Free initial consultations may well be necessary. But Free Designs for Decks, or pergolas, or gates?

Members of our "Builder Group", have a large portfolio and "Design Elements" which is a line art portfolio of designs. Potential clients can pick and choose elements that they like and the builder simply has to use these details as specifications. No need to reinvent the wheel. (Call Lawrence at 888 293 8938 for more about the Builder Group). Our Builders are inspired to do a little marketing so that they get more leads--when you have more leads you can charge for designs and even consultations in many cases.

I just don’t agree with the practice of working for many hours for free.. If you must do free estimates, so be it. When it comes to the deck business I believe that deck companies in general don’t charge enough—before factoring in working for free. This business needs an injection of professionalism.

When you do deck designs for free, you are either just doing it for fun, or really bad at it, or you may be using some automated software that spits out boring and elderly designs in an attempt to take over the world one deck at a time—and in that case it is worth precisely the price charged.

It is truly a shame when you get duped into driving an hour to see someone so that you can be milked of your expertise and then shamed into 10 hours of toil under the pretense of being hired for a job—only to have your hard work taken for free—and a door firmly closed in your face.

The definition of ignorance—doing it twice.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

One of our Best Deck Builders-Niagara Ontario

What can I say about Kevin Murrell. When I met him he was thinking about getting out of the deck business. He wanted to do beautiful things and was having a hard time making it happen after a couple of years in the Deck Business. He had yellow page ads, he had marketing, but he didn't have a deep pool of good photography to work with.

How do you get the chance to build the best decks--when all you have been given the opportunity to do is simple jobs. I knew the moment I met Kevin that he was very skilled--and a brilliant craftsman. I think I had to call him 5 times to convince him to work with us.

He is a perfectionist, and he may take a little longer to do the job the first time through... But so did I in the first few years. There is something to be said for being patient enough to develop your own techniques.

This is just one of the jobs I photographed that Kevin built last year. I think it is top 3 for all the decks built by contractors last year. I'm going to show off more of Kevin's work in the next month so stay tuned.

Kevin DESIGNED and Built this Deck. It is pre-finished red cedar and I just can't say how impressed I am with his blossoming ability. I sure do love when I turn out to be right about someone! Enough solo back patting, It's Kevin Murrell's work... I really like this deck.

What's more impressive? Last I checked Kevin is converting 50% of his leads. People love Kevin Murrell the first time they meet him... and it's just my theory. He's a bargain at any price. Unassuming nice guys can indeed finish at the top of the heap!

Kevin-- I am so Impressed. Nice Deck!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Screws VS Nails for Deck Framing.

While watching one of those TV Hero-Competition Bashing Contractor screwing a deck frame together the other day it illuminated a contentious debate in the Deck Business. Which is stronger… Nails or Screws for decks?

Nails have a much greater sheer strength, while for a short time in a deck application screws may hold tighter. If this surprises you, try this experiment. Put a screw in a nice big block of wood about 1.5” deep…could be firewood, the type doesn’t matter.

Now, hit the screw with a hammer.

It sheers off clean.

Try the same thing with a nail.

You would have to bend the nail back and forth 50 times for it to snap off.

This is why we use Nails for framing.

If it is in the budget to use a joist gasket and stainless screws, we will use them. Or in the case of Pressure Treated, at request of the client, we will use ACQ Screws. However we do let them know that when it comes time to refinish the deck, you may end up changing a number of broken screws even taking these precautions.

When the boards are swelling from moisture it can cause the screws to tear out of the joists leaving a void for moisture to cause premature rot. If the finish was damaged during installation it can corrode. Often the screws will simply not hold beyond a couple of years.

When you refinish a deck typically we set all the nails a quarter inch deep, then sand the deck with a large machine….

If the deck is screwed down, you have to set the screws. This means that roughly half the screws will strip within the joist, or break or the head will strip at the bit. That exposed steel will react with Red Cedar causing black streaks.

Now, In California did you know that it is illegal to assemble your deck with Screws?

Due to earthquakes, screwed frames have collapsed causing injury and damages in several locations. Many things are discovered in California first…

Build Safe gang—Don’t believe what you see on TV when it comes to woodwork.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

North Kawartha-Peterborough

Garry Douglas used to be a project manager and generally talented construction expert doing everything and including heavy construction like water treatment facilities in the far north.

About 3 years ago he chose to retire from the long distance work he did through most of his career. Garry chose to do what he always loved doing--Woodwork. He wanted a better quality of life and to spend more time with his wife. We were proud to be able to help him make that happen!

He's been doing great work and has been the consummate professional. He's been building with us from his base in Apsley and going as far as Peterborough as well.

He's set up great workshop right in Apsley and has been interesting work upto an hour away.

He is not just a Builder--but also has a dealership for Shade Tree Canopies. I know he designed some pergolas with canopies at 3 or 4 residences in just one complex last summer. He's been getting busier and busier over the years.

Garry found himself in the hospital a couple of weeks ago and is hoping to heal by spring. would like to let Garry Douglas, our deck builder in the Kawarthas, know that we are thinking of him during this time. Garry has been a valuable member of our team and trusted advisor for the last 3 years and we've just plain enjoyed working with him.
We sincerely wish you a speedy recovery Garry, Get Better Soon.
You can send Garry a get well soon note at