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Ask the Architect

‘The first thing you must do is be decisive’


Q. I’m an elderly widow. For five years I’ve interviewed contractors to replace my two-story deck and add a landing and steps. The lower deck is concrete slabs that have heaved. Somehow a tree split the concrete base, and slabs are sticking up almost 10 inches — very dangerous. A few contractors wrote detailed estimates. One even brought five men who measured, sketched and estimated, ready to start, but I just wasn’t sure if it was a fair price. How will I know a fair price, and do I need a permit? Most of them said I don’t, and many never even called back or I can’t find them. What should I do?

A. The first thing you must do is be decisive. It appears, from your much longer three- page question, filled with names and stories of how each advised you, that you have no plan for how to move forward. You must make an itemized list of what needs to be done. You must have architectural plans, since you also want a wood structure with long-lasting synthetic deck boards to replace the raised concrete terrace. Because you live next to the ocean, columns should be enclosed to protect them from the weather. Correctly specified connections prevent deterioration and quick failure in a high wind and salt air zone. Without clear plans to follow, the contractors meant well, but each has his own opinion on materials to use and cost. They need a uniform plan that each could estimate from.

The reason that many didn’t call you back is that they may feel you wasted their time. They all want the same thing: to get in, get out and get paid. The contractor who brought five people to map out and estimate really wanted that job, and probably felt that you weren’t appreciative of the effort he expended, since you didn’t follow through and may have misled him. Time is money. He has a business to run. It’s unusual for anyone to spend that kind of time if they aren’t being hired.

Basically, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. You’re making people you want to do business with lose interest, and with no clear plan, you’re causing yourself confusion trying to sort out the ideas, opinions and plans of attack from well-meaning contractors who may not think you really intend to do this project, especially since it has taken five years, so far, to just move forward.

You must also have a permit. Anyone who tells you that you don’t should be taken off your list, since you described to me that the configuration of the decks needs to be different, that columns are bowing and failing, and railings are loose and dangerous. Even something as simple as a deck is a structural system, and if it’s not constructed properly, it could maim or kill people. Good luck!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.