Choosing a reputable timber deck builder: What you need to know

You’ve been dreaming about lazy summer days spent sipping sundowners, treading barefoot and catching some rays on your very own wooden deck for months. Problem is, you don’t have your very own wooden deck, but you really, really want one.

Before you start laying out the cash for your wooden wonder, be sure to follow this sensible advice from the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) on choosing a reputable timber deck builder.

Is your deck builder registered with the relevant associations? 

So you’ve Googled ‘timber decks’ to death and you’ve found a handful of deck builders you think can work. First thing’s first, find out if your deck builder is registered with the ITC-SA. The purpose of this Institute is to promote high standards in the timber construction industry in South Africa to protect you, the consumer. Visit the ITC-SA’s website at www.itc-sa.org and do a background check on the builder you have in mind, not forgetting to request a copy of a valid certificate for the current year from said builder.

If your builder claims to belong to any other institute, make the call and confirm that they are, in fact, a member and what their status is with them. Again, ask for a copy of a valid certificate for the current year.

Your builder should also be registered under COIDA (Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act) as well as with the Department of Labour or SARS for UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund).

Ask all the questions

Some basic questions you might like to ask your deck builder:
  • If using Pine, what treatment will be specified? All Pine used outdoors above ground should be H3 CCA treated and if in contact with the ground, H4 should be specified.
  • Do you build according to the South African National Standards (SANS) 10082:2007 and 10400-XA (The Application of the National Building Regulations) and do you have these standards in your possession?
  • How will the poles/supports be placed in the ground? Timber should not be encased in concrete and should rather be supported on a concrete foundation pad.
  • Are the fasteners stainless steel, galvanised or Kal Coated? Normal zinc-plated chipboard screws will rust away within two to three years at the coast.
  • Will the screw holes be plugged and with what material – wooden plugs, epoxy or a waterproof filler?
  • Will the contractor be doing the design himself or will an engineer be involved? Decks which are more than 1.5m off the ground should be designed by an engineer with experience in timber construction. The ITC-SA can help source an engineer with the relevant experience.
  • What type of wood is recommended? CCA treated Pine which has been treated to the correct specifications will probably outlast most hardwoods. The disadvantage of Pine is that it is soft and high heel shoes can ‘dent’ it. It makes economical sense to use Pine for the substructure. Balau, Garapa and Massaranduba are the most popular hardwoods, although many other species can be used.

Make sure you spend some time thinking about your deck and what you might expect from your deck builder. Note your questions down and make a point of clarifying these with your builder for peace of mind.

Ask for references and investigate them

Do your homework and get at least five references for various decks your builder has completed, and make the effort to call them and personally talk to the owners. If you can, go and look at a deck that has been completed by your builder to ensure quality of construction and finishes.

Check the price

If the price you’ve been quoted is much lower than the other quotes you are getting, find out why. Quality deck builders all build at a similar competitive rate, so if you are getting a very cheap price, find out exactly what your price excludes and exactly what product you are going to get.

Plan for payment

Agree to a payment schedule upfront that relates to the phases of the project and pay only for completed phases (excluding your initial deposit, which should not exceed 40 to 50% of the total contract value). No reputable deck builder will ask you for most of the money upfront.

Other points to consider
  • If the deck is to be used by the public, such as for a restaurant or pub, it needs to be designed by an engineer for public structures (the design criteria for domestic and public structures are very different). If you have recently put in a deck used by the public and you are not certain about this, it would be wise to have it checked out.
  • If the deck is to be more or less on the ground, it is advisable that the builder digs out some of the earth (if possible) to create airflow beneath the deck (400mm is advisable). It is also not good to have any of the decking timber in contact with the soil other than the posts or supports.
  • Ask the builder (or specify) what balustrade design will be used, as it may need to blend in with an architectural theme. If you have a nice view, use vertical timbers only other than the handrail as they do not interfere with your view as is the case with horizontal sections.
  • Decide on the finish you require. Clear coatings have almost no UV resistance, which is why most decks are stained. If you want to let the timber go grey it is still advisable to use a clear oil which does not affect the greying (weathering) process. Timber is an organic product and will last much longer with a little care.
  • Maintenance is required on all decks, but if they are well built and you maintain your deck every 18 months to three years it will not become your worst nightmare.
  • If you are decking around a new pool, be sure that the contractor takes extra precautions to prevent staining of the new pool lining. If a newly oiled deck gets wet the excess oil will wash off and could stain the pool.

If you do your homework and find the right deck builder for your project, all you’ll have left to do is pour a couple of drinks, whip out the deck chairs and kick off your shoes.

Bottoms up!

For more information, visit www.itc-sa.org. Image and insight supplied by Cottage Concepts.

 

 

 

 

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