Pssst! Wanna Buy Premium Remodeling on Sale?

We live in a society of supply and demand. Things that everyone wants to own (a Mercedes SLR) typically cost more than things no one wants (a Yugo). The same applies to services; a haircut from someone who cares about the details and has years of experience in creating the latest styles will demand a premium over a cut delivered by a beauty college student just starting out with scissors.
But what if you wanted that car, haircut, (or in our case, remodeling) that was the better quality option, but you wanted to secure it at a discount. Well, for the car, it might involve looking for a used model, for the latest haircut you might have to look for a coupon or promotion… but what about that finished basement, attic storage space, or outdoor kitchen/deck dream?

Custom Deck, Patio, Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen, Patio, and Deck

Getting the lowest price possible on quality remodeling requires 2 things: Honesty and Flexibility.

  • Honesty: Have a clear understanding of your financial limitations, as well as a list of wants/needs in priority, and communicate these to your remodeling contractor or designer. Once they know what is most important to you, they will be able to revise the project to fit your needs, and can offer revisions and options to best suit your preferences.
  • Flexibility: Timing can play a crucial role in lowering costs. For instance, most contractors in the northeast are slower December thru February, and are willing to work for less just to stay busy during those months– but this may require waiting until that timeframe, or allowing them additional time to complete the project while they work around the weather or availability. Again, clear communication up front– and throughout the project– will help keep expectations accurate and satisfaction within reach.

Keep these simple thoughts in mind, and start the conversations with your prospective deck designer/builder as early as possible to allow you both to work thru any questions, and create the perfect project, at an affordable price.

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Gate Thoughts for Your New Deck…

As a deck designer I frequently get all sorts of special requests from our clients, but one of the most common requests is to install a gate on a deck.

Typically a gate is added for security, to keep pets or kids on the deck and away from the steps, but a gate can also be added to improve privacy or as a fashion statement.

When considering a gate for a deck, consider first the “needs”: should this have a child-proof latch, be self-closing, or rated for pool access?

Trex Deck Pool Gate

Custom Pool Deck

This deck needs a gate

While it may be required because of the location or client’s needs, it’s important to consider as well the location of the gate and operation-will it create an inconvenience when open (blocking travel, or opening over the steps)?

Gate at deck steps

Once you know what a gate “has to” do, it is worth considering what you’d like the gate to look like. Should it perfectly match the deck’s rail?

Matching Deck Gate

This custom-ordered gate matches the TimberTech Rail

Or would this be an opportunity to do something just a bit different to create an artistic statement or accent?

Matching Deck Gate

Privacy wall gate in Fiberon Horizon

Wrought Iron Gate

Custom-designed and built metal gate

Lastly, once you know what you want, it is time to get a price, and see if the cost fits within your budget.

  • As a generic guide, a basic pressure treated or vinyl gate might cost between $250-500.
  • A wrought iron or aluminum gate may range from $400 to $1000.
  • Lastly, a custom-fit, matching gate can often cost $500 to over $1500 installed.

 One thing to keep in mind is that while gates should be discussed during the planning stages, if budget dictates or your needs change, they can usually be added at a later date rather simply.

Light It Up !!

So… you know you want to have some kind of lighting on your deck, but there are so many different options you don’t know quite where to begin.  Well you came to the right place.  For the past 12 years Long Island Decking has been lighting up approximately 90 percent of all the decks we install. That’s a lot of lights!!   It is the number one accessory that we are asked.  They add beauty, value and more importantly, safety to your backyard.  Lighting up stairs will cut down on accidental falls, and lighting up railings or up-lighting the back of the house will make your home less of a target for burglars.

Let’s start with the three basic types of lighting available in the market today so you have a basic understanding of the differences between them.

1.      Line voltage or 110

2.      Low voltage or 12V

3.      Solar lighting

Line Voltage or 110

Line Voltage is exactly the same type of electricity that you will find throughout the rest of your home.  It is the same power that runs through all of your outlets, powers your television, appliances, and other lighting.

Pros

The biggest advantage that line voltage has over the other two is that practically no matter how far you have to go away from your power source you will not have a noticeable difference in the brightness of your fixtures.  Low voltage lighting experiences what’s known as voltage drop.  That means the further you get away from your power source the dimmer your lights will get.

Cons

In most municipalities installing line voltage requires lighting requires a licensed electrician.  That means that typically an electrical permit has to be pulled and an electrical inspection has to be performed.  These additional steps usually end up costing more and taking longer than the other types of installation.  They are fed power through wires.

Low Voltage or 12 V

Low voltage lighting is our preferred type of installation at Long Island Decking.  Contrary to popular belief low voltage lighting is not dimmer that line voltage.  When installed properly they are just as bright as the line voltage equivalents if not brighter.

Pros

Typically all that is needed to install low voltage lighting is an outlet to plug a transformer into.  In our area at the time of writing this article you do not need to file additional permits or have a licensed electrician to install them.  The newest fixtures on the market today are available in LED.  They use a fraction of the power of a normal fixture and last up to 15 years before having to be changed.  Less power means smaller transformer and lower cost.  These newer fixtures also cut down considerably on voltage drop that is known to plague low voltage systems.  We can install 50 fixtures on a single 60 watt transformer and only use the power of a 50 watt bulb.  Now that’s efficient!!

Cons

Normal incandescent low voltage lighting fixtures are known for burning bulbs out rather quickly.  They also experience voltage drop and require special wiring techniques to avoid having some lights dimmer than others.  They are fed power through wires.

Solar Lighting

Solar lighting is by far the easiest to install as there is no wiring to deal with.  Just unpack set outside and wait for it to get dark out.  Most solar lighting are used as post caps as they get direct sun and collect energy from the now smaller solar panels on top.

Pros

Ease of installation… let me say it again.  Ease of installation.  The main thing that solar lighting has going for it is that they are very simple to install.  No wiring necessary.  That means that not only do you not need a permit, you definitely do not need an electrician.  There is no timer or switch to worry about as they will turn on via a sensor built right into the fixture.  They use no power.

Cons

Brightness level is the biggest complaint about solar lighting in general.  Though the newest generations are much better brighter and smaller than years past they still have a long way to go to catch up with the other two types of installation.  Batteries tend to die after a few seasons.  Don’t stay on all night.

I hope you now have at least have a general understanding of the three types of exterior lighting available to you so you can make an informed decision on which works best for you on your home.

Owner Jay Oliver has been designing and installing backyard projects in Long Island NY for the past 20 years.  If you have any questions or comments on this article please leave them below.

No Maintenance Decking

So you’re in the market for a new deck and you want to install a decking product with no maintenance.

STOP RIGHT THERE…

All rights reserved by TheMuseCalliope

All exterior building products require maintenance of some sort of another.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “NO MAINTENANCE” decking or railing. Even the most expensive, super duper top of the line synthetic products require cleaning to keep them looking good.

I have come across many poor souls who have called me to replace a composite deck that’s not that old because it looks like hell. Mostly because they completely neglected it for it’s entire life, but in some cases, they were told by whoever they bought it from that it was “maintenance free”. This bothers me deeply. To me, it’s akin to a car dealer telling a little old lady to buy a car because “this one never needs gas.”

There are plenty of dealers and contractors out there that use the words “maintenance free” way too freely. It’s a complete lie.

Whether it be decking or railing or siding, you have to perform some kind of routine maintenance on them. In many cases, it’s just cleaning.

Typically, the more you pay for a deck or rail product, the better it will perform long term. This means less frequent cleanings and when you finally do go to clean it, it will be require a lot less elbow grease.

The original composites (which are still on the market today) are probably the highest “low maintenance” product you can install while the newer, much more expensive PVC boards are the lowest maintenance option at the moment.

Let’s face it. Birds will poop on anything. They don’t discriminate. So until someone invents a self-cleaning deck board or railing system, you’re going to have to go out there and clean up the poop!

PVC Deck Boards or Capped Composite?

Here’s a very common question I saw on a construction forum I frequent. This was asked by an electrical contractor with no experience with decking, so he’s probably a lot like you.

I am having a deck built in January (Design, deposit, etc is already done). Right now I am slated to have Timbertech XLM Sandridge (color chosen due to some performance issues with the darker colors) decking and White Radiance Rail. From what I have read here, I went with a Timbertech Premier contractor. I just got a call from the deck contractor today about the new Timbertech Earthwood products. He wanted to let me know about it in case I wanted to change from Timbertech XLM Sandridge decking. It sounded like he thought the new Earthwood Evolutions was a better product. He mentioned that it withstood the manufacturer’s tests of scratching, fading, and spills better than all of the other lines. What are your thoughts?

— electronics4lif

As of this writing, there are three major manufacturers producing “mainstream” capped composite deck boards:

  • Fiberon Horizons (Fiberon was the first to market with this technology)
  • Trex Transcends
  • TimberTech Earthwood Evolutions

A capped composite board is a two-part deckboard with a traditional composite (wood flour and plastic mixed together) core and a very thin veneer (usually about 1/16″ thick) of PVC-like material wrapped over the core that is the surface you see when you look at the deck. Manufacturers are using this technology to produce less expensive, better performing deck boards, however their methods are all slightly different. Prior to the capped composite boards coming to market, you were either going to get a true composite board or a 100% PVC board.  Traditionally, composite was less expensive but always has performance issues, while PVC was more expensive, but had some color limitations due to PVC blending technologies. Here’s a video where I explain the different types of synthetic deck boards.

Fiberon was the first company to get capped composite off the ground and into the market with any gusto. Horizons has been proving itself as a solid, reliable board for a few years now and it has been embraced by many top deck contractors I know around the country. Fiberon fully encapsulates or wraps the board with capstock which is important. The less water that gets into the wood particles under the capstock, the better for long term performance. Unfortunately, the cap is compromised when Fiberon cuts the groove into the board. It’s not a deal breaker, but it would be nice to see the capstock seal as much of the board as possible.

Trex saw the success of Fiberon’s Horizon line and introduced Transcends to the marketplace as their capstock product. While Transcends has a very nice deep grain in the cap, there are some things about Transcends that worries me as a deck builder. The cap does not encapsulate the entire board leaving the entire underside exposed to moisture. Also, the cap does not seem to be laminated as well as other manufacturers are doing it. In fact, I have seen boards come right off the truck with the capstock delaminating and peeling off. Trex has been successful marketing Transcends, but as we’ve seen before with Trex’s products, they have had major quality control issues that have spawned serious warranty issues for thousands of homeowners. While I know one or two reputable deck builders that swear by Transcends, I know 20 or more that won’t touch the stuff.

TimberTech, as usual, waited in the wings to see if the capstock concept was going to take off before investing in it. In 2011, TimberTech replaced their hugely successful Earthwoods line of composite decking with a capped composite called Earthwoods Evolutions. Evolutions is a fully encapsulated board whether it’s a square-edged board or a grooved board which I like. They also nailed the aesthetic producing boards that are pleasing to the eye. The board is too new to make a judgement of performance on, but based on TimberTech’s history with rolling out new products and the testing they do, I feel good about Earthwood Evolutions.

So, which is better? PVC deck products like TimberTech XLM, Azek Deck, Fiberon Professional or the capstock brethren I detailed above?

The answer is: It depends.

I’ve installed miles and miles of PVC decking over the last few years because if I had to choose between a true composite (watch my video) and PVC, PVC wins every time because it out performed composite in every category even though it was more expensive. Now that capped composites are proving themselves, it really boils down to aesthetics and cost. PVC still has the edge in terms of aesthetics over capped composites, but capped composites are slightly less expensive and may have even better cap technology than some of the original PVC capped products.

What? Capped composites “may have even better cap technology”? Did he just say that? Yes…I did.

All deck products evolve just like computer technology so new product lines are usually always better (at least historically) than the ones they replaced. For instance, the cap technology in some of TimberTech’s earlier XLM lines has remained unchanged for at least three years now. I’m pretty sure the chemical technology in the cap of Earthwoods Evolutions is more advanced because it’s newer. Every manufacturer learns from each generation of decking they produce and build on it. They learn what works and what doesn’t.

This is not to say PVC is obsolete, because it’s not. Capstock technology has virtually assured the disappearance of plain old composite decking by providing a nice aesthetic with much, much, much better long term performance.

5 Ways to Become an Expert Deck Buyer

First, let me make the assumption that you will be hiring a competent deck contractor to complete your project. Our goal here is not to create another DIY “How to build a deck on a Saturday with three buddies and a 24-pack”. Instead, we want to empower you with knowledge that will help you get a high quality, enduring deck project built by a reputable deck builder.

  1. DO A LITTLE HOMEWORK: I would much rather meet with a prospective client that has done at least some cursory research about decks. I don’t expect you to know too much, but it’s extremely helpful if you can lead me, the deck designer and builder, down the right path so I have an idea of what you think you want to do. Photos are great. Maybe you saw a picture online of a staircase style or shape you liked. Benches, custom railing designs, pergolas and shade structures are SO much easier for me to integrate into your custom design if I know what style you like.

    Please...Share your budget with your Deck Contractor

  2. ONLY DO A “LITTLE” HOMEWORK: The worst thing I encounter in meeting new clients is the person who has done so much online research about decks that they’ve literally become drunk on completely inaccurate or outdated information. The internet is a great resource, but it can be dangerous in that so much of the information is just bad. The lay person usually doesn’t have the overall knowledge of the big picture to process all of this data. Plus, you are hiring me because I am an expert. When you use your the lawyer or accountant, do you argue with his professional opinion? You are paying me because I spend a lot of time educating myself. Get your money’s worth and heed my advice.
  3. COME UP WITH A BUDGET: I’ve got some news for you. Believe it or not, you are going to have to pay to have us build your project. Yes…I know. It’s unfathomable to think I have to charge you, but I do. But seriously, homeowners tend to guard the budget they have set for a project like gold bullion. This is simply ridiculous and it wastes a lot of time–both yours and mine. In order for me to design your deck project efficiently, I need to know if you are in the market for a Ford or a Ferrari. I can design anything you want, but what’s the point if you have $15,000 set aside for the project, but I designed you a $75,000 deck you fell in love with but can’t pay for? If you tell me your budget, I’m going to give the most bang for your buck. Think about it. Do you really think that reputable deck contractors get to where they are by ripping people off?
  4. ESTABLISH A SCOPE OF WORK: You may not be in the market for a true custom designed deck. Heck, most people still hire us to build “rectangles” with one set of steps. We love those jobs because they will always be our bread and butter. If you are in the market for simple deck or a “rectangle” as we call them, you might be calling anyone and everyone you can find to give you a price. While that is the topic of an entirely different story, you need to make sure you are asking everyone “bidding” (I hate that word…it just lacks value) to include the exact same materials and methods. Here’s why. A deck builder like me is going to do things the right way, using the best methods, and is probably going to do things a plain ol’ contractor never even thought of doing. Write it out. We want X decking, Y railing, this kind of framing, this many footings, etc… This way you’ll have an apples to apples comparison.
  5. PRETEND YOU ARE GOING ON A DATE: Hiring a contractor is kind of like going on a blind date of sorts. The first time you meet the contractor, you have to remember it’s his first time meeting you too. An established deck contractor is not living and dying based on hiring or not hiring them for your project, so it’s important that you make a good impression so that they will want to work on your project. I’ll tell you a little secret…sometimes we (contractors) get such a bad vibe from a prospective client during the first meeting that we wouldn’t  take the project if you paid us double for it. I could write pages about things people have said to me (probably unaware of how tactless their comments were in their defense). Be cordial. Be honest. And…be respectful. You’d be surprised how far that will get you.

What is DeckAdvisor.com?

PVC Deck in Ramsey, New Jersey

Building a modern deck these days isn’t easy. Most “carpenters” think building a deck is simple. Sure, nailing 2×10’s together is not rocket science, but there is so much more to designing and building a deck these days! Your average carpenter really has no clue because ignorance is bliss. There are thousands of decking and railing products on the market right now. How the heck are you, the consumer, supposed to decide what to install? I can tell you this much, your average general contractor probably knows less than you do about alternative deck and rail products like composites and PVC and taking an uninformed recommendation can be a very costly mistake. I can’t tell you how many times this happens.

How do I know? Because I see these guys at the supply house asking incredibly stupid (basic) questions about products they are trying to BS their way through signing a contract with some unsuspecting client. Do you really want to write a check to contractor that can’t even pronounce the name of the product properly? It pains me to witness this and I see it all the time.

The team of professional deck builders at DeckAdvisor.com are experts in deck building industry. We specialize in designing and building custom decks using the most cutting edge products and techniques. We aren’t installing kitchens one day, painting the next day, or installing doors like some contractors who may build the odd deck here or there. We take deck building seriously–it’s our livelihood. Probably more seriously than we should (but that’s really good for you!)

Let’s put it to you this way….

If you had a brain tumor, you'd hire a brain surgeon, right?

If you had a brain tumor, would you go to a general practitioner or a brain surgeon who has performed the surgery you need hundreds of times and is experienced? Well, what we realized a long time ago is that a majority of the issues we hear about are directly related to homeowners unknowingly putting their trust (and money) in a contractor was ignorant. We don’t want that to happen ever again. You don’t deserve it.

DeckAdvisor.com is committed to providing you, the consumer, with real information about design, decking products, code compliance, and deck construction techniques that will help you make an informed decision when selecting a deck contractor and your decking and railing products.

Feel free to ask us questions. We’ll do our best to give you an answer with no agendas attached other than making sure your best interests are served.