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The Ins and Outs of Custom Decks: An Interview with John Chandler of Chandler Construction Services LLC

By John Chandler

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

I started Chandler Construction Services LLC almost 9 years ago. Before that I had worked for Harbor Habitat for Humanity. I have always been involved in construction and have always wanted to do things the right way. Our business specializes in remodeling and new construction. Our primarily focus is on residential projects.

What are the main decisions a homeowner needs to make before having a new deck built?

Once a homeowner decides on a design, they have some questions to answer. If the deck is to be built adjacent to the existing house, should it be attached to the existing house or not? Not attaching the deck to the house, a floating deck, has several advantages, primarily you do not have to be concerned with flashing (means of directing moisture away from a house, could be metal or other products) the ledger boards (board that goes next to house) to keep out moisture.

The homeowner needs to choose what materials to use. There are four primary choices. They are treated pine, cedar, exotic wood (IPE) and composite/PVC decking. They are listed in order of price with the composite/PVC being the most expensive. Composite/PVC is about 3 times the cost of treated decking. The advantage is that it has minimal maintenance. Composite decking is usually combination of wood and plastic. A second option is PVC. I prefer PVC decking as I believe it holds up better as the wood filler can rot. Expect to pay more for a PVC product.

Another choice is how to fasten the decking to the structure. Just 10 years ago, attaching via nailing or screwing through the face of the boards was the standard. With the increasing popularity of composite/PVC decking, hidden fastening systems have become quite popular. Their advantage is that there are none or minimal fasteners showing on the surface of the deck.

Can you give an estimate of a range for what it can cost? How is the price for a custom deck usually calculated?

Decks are usually priced on the size and complexity of the project. I usually figure materials to be $7-$10 a square foot for the wood structure and treated decking. Double that for labor. If the plan calls for a lot of built-ins such as benches or planters, then the cost will be higher. There are a lot of products available to customize decks. But we have found that doing simple things increases the craftsmanship and visual appeal of the project. An example is using a router to round off edges. We have gotten a lot of complements by doing simple things as this.

What is one of the biggest challenges involved with building a custom deck?

Finding the right construction firm that understands your vision can be a challenge. If the homeowner is going to tackle the project themselves I would suggest getting a good book on building decks and familiarize themselves with the building process. These books often have plans which can be used as is or a good starting point for a brain storming session.

Is there any regular maintenance that would help people preserve their decks and avoid unnecessary repairs?

The life span of a typical wood deck is 10-15 years. If composite decking is chosen the decking lifespan can be 20-30 years depending on the manufacture. So a homeowner could end up with a deck where the decking has longer lifespan than the structure it is on. This has caused the development of metal structure materials. Such materials would for the advanced do-it-yourselfer.

All decks, whether wood or composite, should be washed and inspected yearly. The goal here is remove any debris that has accumulated in the gaps between the boards. This debris can cause structural rot if not removed. The whole deck should be inspected the whole deck for rot and repaired.

Do you have any tips for homeowners who want to build onto an existing deck?

The best rule of thumb is to do no harm. I believe this is twofold. First, don't weaken the original structure by adding the addition. This could be a cut that weakens a structural member or over stressing a structural member by the added weight of the deck addition. Second, make sure the new decks design complements the existing design. Continue design elements through to the new project. Consistency is the goal.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

The best way for people to reach me is through my email address. It is john@chandlerconstructionservices.com.

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About The Author

John Chandler has an Associates degree from Lake Michigan College and a Bachelors...

Phone: 269-983-6706

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