I've been a carpenter for years, but still enjoy building decks more than any other type of construction project. I like working outside in the sunshine, as well as the fact that no one is inconvenienced by dirt, dust, or disconnected plumbing (unlike in remodeling). There's a low stress level, because I get the chance to do some nice finish carpentry without the exacting demands of interior trimwork. And even though there are some strenuous parts -- digging holes and hoisting beams, for instance -- they just make me stronger and healthier if I do them safely.
Compared with whole house projects, decks provide instant gratification. Over the course of just a few days, things change radically, as we move from doing the dirt work to laying the decking (my favorite part). A few days more, and we get to create a beautiful railing. And not long after that, the entire deck comes alive with a newly applied finish.
But as with all construction, there is a practical side. Almost inevitably I'm asked, "How can we lower the cost of this project?" My first suggestions are to make the deck smaller, use less costly materials, or eliminate fancy options, but these are not always the right solutions. Another suggestion is that the homeowners help out, providing some of their own labor, or "sweat equity." This will help lower the project cost, but as I remind the owners, they save dollars only in direct proportion to the amount and type of labor they are replacing. There's no magic.
Of course, if the homeowners are willing to help with some of the project, perhaps they should do the entire project themselves. Now they have eliminated all of my hefty overhead (and my smaller-than-you-would-guess profit), most labor costs, and administrative and design fees. Granted, it is now necessary for them to provide all of these services, and of course, there's also a lot more responsibility, but the potential rewards are greater too.
That brings me to you. Do I think you can do it yourself? Without a doubt! If you have the time and inclination, deck building is a great project for people with all different levels of construction skills and experience. The biggest requirement is desire. And the rewards aren't just financial. Like me, you may find you enjoy building a deck for one (or all) of the various aspects of the job, from the mental challenge of the design work to the physical challenge of pounding nails in by hand. Plus, now you get the sunshine and exercise.
Any new adventure begins with a little trepidation, but that can be overcome with a bit of guidance. That's what this book is all about. What I want to give you is the benefit of my experience as a builder. When I'm building, I use certain methods that have worked for me in the past, and I'll be sure to point these out to you as tried and true. But as I've learned over my years as a builder, there are lots of different ways to achieve success, so I'll suggest plenty of alternative methods as well. I'll also give you the inside scoop on things that don't work so well. I won't gloss over the difficult details; my goal is for this advice to be clear, definite, and thorough.
I'm guessing that you've done enough carpentry to give this a try. I'm not going to kid you and suggest that the process won't take time and effort, but if you work slowly, safely, and carefully, you can achieve the same results as a professional builder. The process may take a little longer, but I think you'll enjoy it each step of the way. And long after the project's completed, you'll enjoy the fruits of your labor. To me, that's what carpentry's all about.