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Timesaving Deck-Building Tips

The stay-at-home trend coupled with the home-improvement boom continues to bode well for contractors who specialize in deck building and outdoor living areas. One way to operate the most profitable business possible is to implement highly efficient systems.

April 30, 2006

By implementing efficienct, company-wide project-management processes, you'll save time and drive more profit to the bottom line.  Photo courtesy of Archadeck of Charlotte

The stay-at-home trend coupled with the home-improvement boom continues to bode well for contractors who specialize in deck building and outdoor living areas.

One way to operate the most profitable business possible is to implement highly efficient systems. So we asked some of the best deck-building specialists to offer their tips for top-notch project management and construction.

Boosting On-the-Job Efficiencies

Be process driven. Barry Klemons, owner of Archadeck of Charlotte, N.C., the largest U.S. Archadeck franchisee, manages 23 crews and a total staff of 50. "From the lead generation to the final sweeping off of the deck we try to be as efficient as possible, putting as many trigger points as possible in our processes to make sure people are doing their job," Klemons says.

Archadeck employs four staff members to field all the initial calls, using a system of prepared questions to guide the information-gathering process. "They ask a lot of detailed questions so when the crew goes out to build, all the information is known and all the material is ordered in advance," Klemons says.

Job-site walk-throughs keep everyone involved in a given project on the same page. Photo courtesy of Archadeck of Charlotte

Managing Time and Costs

Monitor production hours. George Drummond, president of Casa Decks in Virginia Beach, Va., advises deck builders to closely monitor production versus non-production hours among carpenters and laborers. "We expected each worker to have about 32 hours of production hours with the remaining eight hours per week in travel time, set up and take down time," he says.

Sub out labor as necessary. Drummond suggests contractors employ temporary or contract labor to perform jobs requiring less skill such as hauling materials or demolition to increase yields. "If we have to carry lumber a long way, we'll use a temporary contract person to move the pile," he says.

Communication & Management Strategies

Perform job site walk-throughs.From carpenters to administrative staff to sales managers, Casa Decks maintains open lines of communication among all those involved on a project. "Everybody on the team and the job site knows what they're doing." Drummond says. "When we arrive, we take a few minutes to walk the site and talk our way through it. Having a copy of the CAD drawing or building plan helps so everybody knows what you are trying to accomplish."

Set goals. Casa Deck team members at each job site openly communicate daily goals. "Take three minutes each morning to relay what the team will be doing and suggest benchmarks such as by noon having posts installed," Drummond says.

Communicating with the customer during the process helps avoid problems later. 
Photo courtesy of Archadeck of Charlotte

Create lines of reporting. Sales managers at Archadeck of Charlotte coordinate regularly with operations, and sales managers are ultimately responsible for overseeing each project. "The sales person is responsible to watch the entire job from start to finish." Klemons says. "He talks to the carpenter to discuss everything and oversees the start of production, performing checks along the way." One outgrowth of the firm lines of communication is better accuracy in estimating construction time. "What annoys the homeowner is telling them the job will take 10 days and you're there for a month," Klemons says.

Archadeck has firm procedures in place for review and approval of project work depending on the size and complexity of each project. Small, simple projects have less involved approval processes, while larger, more complex projects require the designer and sales manager to go out to the site with involvement by a building superintendent in addition to the required municipal inspectors.

Perform project audits. Informal post-project assessments drive future project success. "Take time to review the job and what you did right and what could have been done better and use that information to improve the next time," Drummond says. "By doing so, employees or independent contractors will buy in that it's a team process and they can take ownership of their work."

Better Building Procedures

Install temporary supports. For elevated decks, Rick Shore, president of Rick Shore Deck Builders in Brooklyn, Mich. recommends locating temporary stanchion posts on the ground to support the framing. The temporary measure helps avoid having to readjust posts later or having to keep posts perfectly plumb during the framing process.

"We start from one side of the deck framing and build across using the temporary built-in-the-air supports made out of a T-frame from two 2 x 4s nailed together and resting on a block of scrap cut from a framing member." Shore says. "After the deck is all built, we then square it to locate the permanent posts. You can use angle braces on top or underneath the deck to keep it all from shifting right or left and a plumb bob to properly locate the footing. Then, we dig a hole and the footing is poured. After the concrete is set, we place the post under the framing, plumbing the post and level the deck as we go."

Adjust joist spacing. When using wood plastic composite materials as opposed to pressure-treated or natural wood, Shore places joists every 12 inches on center versus the conventional 16 inches. "Composites can show a little bit of sag over time, so we use joists every 12 inches. We've found the cost of a few extra joists is a whole lot better than having to explain away a sag in the decking," he says.

Temporary supports were used in the construction of this elevated deck.  Photo courtesy of Rick Stone

Materials Matter

Use a small group of suppliers. Franchisor Pat Nicholson, CEO of Deckmasters Technologies, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pa. suggests sticking with your most reliable suppliers and keeping suppliers to a minimum. By partnering with select distributors and product lines, deck builders benefit because their field crews gain product familiarity and expertise. He recommends using only those manufacturers with International Code Council-approved products.

"Find products you have confidence in and that have good warranties." Nicholson says. "Pressure-treated wood is still number one without a doubt, used by 60 percent or more builders in most markets, so build a relationship with wood distributors. Likewise, develop relationships with one or two composite material distributors and several baluster firms."

Stay fully equipped. Drummond avoids down time by having a van on site with the appropriate tools and materials, pre-stocked in advance. "We keep a tool van around with everything in it for each of our two job sites," he says. "Preplanning and set-up before you get to the job site avoids wasted time."

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