Barbara Bashall: Deck your summer out |

Barbara Bashall: Deck your summer out

Barbara Bashall
The Union columnist
Decks are welcoming outdoor living spaces, but they are expensive.
Submiited photo

The weather is perfect for entertaining outdoors, and what better place to entertain than on an inviting, outdoor deck? This month’s column will explore deck construction, replacement, maintenance and cost.

Nevada County Building Department Director Craig Greisbach says some skilled homeowners might be able to build their own deck, but he recommends hiring a professional.

“I strongly recommend hiring a licensed contractor, as customers will generally get a better quality product that will be built quicker and last longer,” Craig tells me.

Craig notes that new decks and structural alternations/repairs require a building permit, while some repair jobs (such as replacing deck surface boards) do not. Regulations for deck construction are mandated by the California Building Standards Codes, which are updated every three years. Some homeowners associations have additional regulations.

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In some areas, decks must be professionally engineered because of snow loading.

“Any deck with a snow load over 40 pounds per square foot, essentially higher parts of Alta Sierra in elevation and above, must be designed by a structural engineer,” says Craig.

Craig suggests homeowners view the Residential Deck Construction Guide on the Building Department’s website.

Our Nevada County Contractors’ Association website can also help. Go to, click on “Consumer Information,” and select “Find a Contractor.” Then choose “Any Category” and scroll down to “Decks and Gazebos.” Then click “Search.” You’ll see contact information for 20 licensed professional contractors who build decks and gazebos.

Richard Houghton, owner of Fine Line Renovations, has specialized in deck construction and repair for 25 years.

“Call contractors and talk about the deck you want, size, decking material, and railing design,” recommends Richard.

Richard warns that some repairs aren’t cost-effective.

“For example, there’s no use replacing several deck boards if the railing is below the current code height of 42 inches,” says Richard. “Any repairs should include bringing the deck up to code.”

Materials matter

There are many types of decking materials.

Composite decking materials are in their fifth generation and offer a multitude of colors and styles, many with a 25-year warranty. Composite materials cost about 30 percent more than redwood decking, but you never have to stain or paint them. They are eco-friendly – made of repurposed sawdust and new types of polymers.

Homeowners can easily maintain composite decks by washing them with soap, water, and a scrub brush such as a broom.

Pressure-treated redwood is an old standby, but we’re seeing issues with holes. Much of today’s redwood is young growth and has more knots where limbs were cut off. As those knots age, they can shrink and fall through the wood, leaving holes in your deck.

Redwood needs to be cleaned and re-stained at least every three years, and sanded every five to seven years after it’s been scratched, dented, or the soft wood between the grain lines degrades or is washed away during cleanings.

Less expensive deck lumber must be prepped and painted, and cleaned and repainted at regular intervals.

Correctly designed and constructed, then properly maintained, a deck can last up to 30 years.

Decks are welcoming outdoor living spaces, but they are expensive. One way to keep costs under control is for homeowners to know specifically what they want before construction starts, so change orders don’t increase costs.

Chris Bozarth, owner of Bozarth Construction, has worked in construction for 40 years and built his share of decks.

“People can get sticker shock when they receive bids for building or repairing decks,” says Chris. “They’ll ask, ‘Can’t you just pop a few stairs off and fix them?’ The work is very labor intensive, and needs to be done right. I’ve known people who have fallen off decks or leaned against a railing and gone over. The safety regulations have merit, but they add to the price.”

Dave Ganster, owner of Ganster Construction, has been in business since 2005.

“The quality of framing is just as important as laying deck boards down,” says Dave. “It must be built to code with quality craftsmanship. It’s an investment. Some people want to take apart a deck and fix a spot here or there. They spend too much money chasing little things and end up with a shoddy deck for a lot of money.”

Silverwood Construction’s owner, Michael Parker, has been building and maintaining decks for two decades.

“Decks are expensive because we have to build them to withstand the elements.”

Reputable contractors will schedule a site visit and inspection before offering an estimate on construction or repairs. Michael recommends obtaining at least three estimates.

“If one bid is low and two others are similar,” warns Michael, “there’s a reason the low one is so low. The quality is going to be low, too.”

Mike Haemmig, owner of Haemmig Construction, Inc., has been building decks as part of his construction business for more than 25 years. Once built, Mike says maintenance is “the key to everything.”

“You’ve got to pressure wash or scrub wood decks to get rid of mold and mildew before they lead to dry rot,” Mike explains. “Water and sun are enemies of wood decks. Even with regular deep cleaning, you should hire a contractor to sand down the deck, reset screws, and re-stain it every few years.

“We can get your deck as beautiful as the day it was new.”

Barbara Bashall writes a monthly column for The Union. She is the executive director of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, a nonprofit group of 320 general contractors, sub-contractors, building material suppliers, and other construction professionals whose mission is to promote high standards, integrity, and ethical practices within the construction industry. Visit or call 530-274-1919. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.

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