7 steps to a successful deck renovation

Our guest contributor, Robert Robillard, offers his thoughts on how to work successfully with your decking contractor.  Rob is a principal in “A Concord Carpenter, LLC,” a Massachusetts-based carpentry and renovation business; editor of aconcordcarpenter.com; and a regular contributor to The Boston Globe. 


Establishing and maintaining good working relationships is important in life and in the deck remodeling process. Many of us consider ourselves calm, reasonable and understanding people, but remodeling projects can stress out even the most “Zen” among us. You know what I mean … that old saying, “stuff happens.” The best way to approach any remodeling project is to have realistic expectations. To be realistic, you need to be educated, or at least informed, on the process.


The “dirty” side of deck remodeling


When most homeowners think about remodeling their deck, they paint the finished picture in their mind and skip over the steps it takes to get there. I’m talking about the dust, debris, scheduling issues, delays, and other “little” problems that need your attention along the way. Whether we like it or not, these factors can come into play during a remodeling project. As a client, you must be realistic and accept the fact that there will be inconveniences. As a contractor, you should educate your clients about the possibility of problems, as well as try to anticipate and head them off beforehand.


Be honest. Be open. And expect the unexpected (sometimes).

1. Be honest with your contractor about your expectations from the beginning. Clear communication is KEY to a successful project.

2. Be realistic about what you are looking for and what you are willing to budget for the project.

Many homeowners enter a deck remodeling project with grandiose plans that must be scaled down to meet their budget. When a project’s cost exceeds its budget, it is usually because (1) the budget was optimistic and not realistic; (2) the changing cost of an evolving design was not monitored; and/or (3) the client’s needs and preferences were not fully articulated before work began. Learn what your type of project typically costs so you can set a realistic, workable budget. And please, remember that contractors, like other professionals, must factor some profit margin into their prices.

3. Realize that certain stages of a remodeling project seem to go more quickly than others. For example, during stages that involve more visible work, you’ll have a true sense of rapid progress. During other stages, however, when work is more of the “hidden” nature, it may seem as if nothing is happening. If your contractor and his crew are on-site and busy, trust me, work is getting done.

4. To avoid delays, insist that all materials are on site and accounted for prior to beginning the project. Nothing slows down a deck build like waiting for an out-of-stock board or railing.

5. If possible, avoid making changes to the original plan once the project is underway. For construction to be done efficiently, most design decisions need to be made in advance of building. If made during construction, these decisions can interrupt the work flow and increase its cost.



Late design decisions are also more difficult to incorporate into the original plan. And truthfully, while people believe that they know a good deal about architectural design, they often don't realize how much more they need to know to design well; that is, with distinction, refinement, and grace. For example, homeowners often rely on pictures and do not consider how a picture will fit with the style of their home.  A contractor/builder translates the client’s verbal or sketched wish into buildable form, addresses compliance with state and town regulations; completes or oversees the work, and coordinates all technical and aesthetic aspects of the project. The builder solves space problems; manages your budget; protects your project from unreasonable extra costs; and resolves disputes that may arise with your town, or other consultants.


Of course, sometimes changes do need to be made and will pay off in the long run, in terms of increasing your overall satisfaction and enjoyment of your new space. It’s a matter of being informed and educated, and weighing the pros and cons of making the changes. If you do decide some changes are necessary, settle the cost difference up front to avoid misunderstandings.

6. Keep in mind that even the best-laid plans may be upset by “hidden issues.”

I often refer to hidden building/remodeling costs as “what’s behind the walls?” The answer is, I don’t know until we open them up. When building a deck, some hidden issues that might crop up include:


  • Framing and structural issues

Insect and water damage are often the cause of project over-runs. Framing that was supposed to be solid sometimes will have to be removed and re-built. When the current framing is not code-compliant or structurally sound for the renovations you’re attempting, it’s going to require replacing.

  • Inadequate fastening

Many decks are constructed with too few fasteners, weak deck-to-house connections, or improper flashing, which can lead to premature rotting. Every year, people are injured by failing decks.


Is your deck safe? Find out here.


In almost every case, the deck collapse occurred because inadequate fastening allowed the deck to pull away from the home or building. It’s important that your contractor use the right type and size of connectors to install your deck ledger board to the house framing. These connectors will need to support hundreds of pounds of shear load as well as prevent the deck from ripping away from the house.

  • Improper flashing

Many of the deck repairs that I have made can be traced directly to improperly flashed ledger boards. If the flashing fails and water penetrates the house framing, it can result in severe mold and decay, as well as serious and expensive structural damage. Here’s how I handle flashing on my deck projects:

  • All ledger flashing must extend four inches (4”) up and under the house siding before bending the material over the top of the ledger board. I prefer to remove all the siding in the area and install a rubberized flashing membrane directly onto the sheathing. This is called “back flashing.”
  • The ledger board is then installed on top of the back flashing. Next, I apply a second rubber flashing over the top of the ledger board and up and onto the back flashing, creating a redundant flashing barrier and separating the pressure-treated wood from my metal flashing.
  • I finish my flashing detail by installing a copper, lead, or PVC counter-flashing over the rubber, sealing all seams with a six- to 10-inch overlap. Reminder: never let the flashing be punctured by nails or screws.

7. Maintain “face time.”

One of the best things you can do is simply stay top of mind with your contractor. I call this “face time.”  Communicate expectations in person, verbally, and follow up via email.  If you see something you don’t like, speak up now before the project moves further along and it becomes a bigger issue to change. Top-quality contractors take their business seriously, and customer satisfaction matters.




To learn more about our guest blogger, visit Rob’s website: aconcordcarpenter.com

To learn more about beautiful, long-lasting, low-maintenance composite decking, visit fiberondecking.com


One Response to “7 steps to a successful deck renovation”

  1. Jeff says:

    When I first built my front porch I used a bubble level and a 2×4 to try to get the slope right and when it was done it was clearly wrong. When it came time to fix up the deck my contractor used a rotary laser level and ever since I’ve been a huge fan. I highly recommend them for anyone working on or rehabbing a deck or really just anything else that needs to be level. Jeff