Do It For Me

As a savvy homeowner, there are several vital things that you must consider before you begin construction. You should always trust your contractor and be comfortable with them. On this page, we will take a look at the topics below to make sure that you are comfortable before you start your pressure-treated wood building project.

  • Contractors to avoid
  • How to obtain building permits and about liens that could be placed on your property
  • Know how your contractor's workman's compensation and business insurance, as well as your own homeowner's policy, covers you during the construction process.

Do Due Diligence

Do due diligence in finding a contractor you can trust and with whom you are comfortable.

This step is critical to a good building experience. It is always advisable to check the contractor out fully even if they are someone who has been recommended by family or friends. When you meet the contractor, ask them lots of questions. It will be apparent whether they know what they are doing or not by the way they answer your questions. Here are some helpful questions to ask when you interview a contractor.

1. How long will this project take?

2. Can you work with my budget?

3. How does your fee structure work? Is everything paid up front? Are the payments split up along the way?

4. Can you provide referrals from homeowners who have had similar work done?

5. Are permits necessary for my project, and who handles the permit process and how long will it take?

6. Are you licensed and insured? How long have you been in business? (Most states that require a license for contractors have websites to verify that the contractor’s license is up-to-date).

Speaking with previous customers will also give you clues about whether they are overcharging or doing shoddy work. Another way to check up on the contractor is to visit their current or past projects. Real craftsmanship stands out from shoddy workmanship.

Contractors to Avoid

Reliability and professionalism are paramount in finding a good contractor. You can usually find a good contractor through licensed trades associations, through recommendations of families, friends, neighbors and coworkers, and through checking them out through the Better Business Bureau to see if they have had any complaints lodged against them.

In personal recommendations from people that you know, make sure that the contractor they are recommending for the job isn’t related to them or a friend of theirs. The person making the recommendation may not be sure of the contractor’s expertise and may just be drumming up business for them.

However, if the contractor or tradesperson being recommended is because your friend, neighbor or associate has had a positive experience in dealing with them, they are worth checking out. Ask them if the contractor delivered what they had agreed upon and if they lived up to expectations. Also, ask them if they had any issues with the contractor and if the contractor was willing to work to resolve the issues. Most importantly, ask them if they would hire the same contractor for another job.

Don’t forget that you can also often work with your big box retailers who will supply a tradesperson who specializes in the work you need to have done.

Don’t Utilize the Services of Any One Who Offers “Cash Deals”

The first thing to consider in working with this type of offer is that you have no personal protections in place. This is because a “cash deal” is usually one where a person claiming to be a contractor offers a low price in exchange for a cash payment and has no written contract or receipts because he is usually working “under the table.” It may seem as if the contractor is the one taking all the risks in an “under-the-table” deal because they are not declaring their income or paying taxes on it. However, a cash deal also means a lot more risk to you. This is because you are at the mercy of the contractor. You have less control over how your project turns out and no guarantees of any sort. Remember, that even if it might cost you less initially, in the long run, you really aren’t getting a deal at all.

If anyone you hire to do a job for you asks for or agrees to a lower price if you pay them in cash, they are essentially admitting that they are either committing fraud and/or lying to the government about their earnings. If you offer them a 1099 for their services and it scares them off, you can be sure that they are following the above practices. If that is the case, you must consider if that is the type of person you want around your home. Besides, if they are being dishonest about their earnings, how can you know if they are not also being dishonest with you.

Even for small jobs, make certain that you, your family and your personal property are all protected. Always insist on a written contract covering every aspect of the project and ask for proof of proper business licenses and insurance coverages.

The things mentioned above are only a few of the things that can go wrong with a cash deal. Here is a short list of other problems that could occur in a cash situation:

Other Problems that Could Occur in Cash Situations

  • Incomplete or poor-quality work

    Without a written contract or receipt for a cash payment, you will be out of luck if you make an advance payment and the work is done incorrectly, not according to building codes or to your specifications, or if the work is never completed or not even started.

    Without a contract, it is your word against theirs. In most of these cases, homeowners lose their money and end up trying to figure out where to get the money to pay another contractor to complete the work properly.

    If the contractor doesn’t complete the job or doesn’t do it correctly, your only option may be to take them to court to settle the dispute. (You might not even be able to find them to have them served to go to court, in which case you have already lost). But, if you make it to court and don’t have a written contract, the judge will decide who is telling the truth. You may or may not agree with the judge’s decision, but you will have to abide by it whether it recompenses you for your losses or not.

    In some instances, you, as the homeowner, may even be required to pay fines or have legal actions taken against you if things are not done according to code and/or the proper permits are not secured for the project.

    Even though having a contract in writing may not prevent every problem from occurring, it can minimize problems and make them less expensive to resolve. Potential misunderstandings are also minimized with a written contract. It also positions you to demand satisfactory work and resolution of problems if the contractor lets you down.

  • No warranty

    Doing an addition or renovation to your home requires a significant investment of your time and money; and, as such, you deserve to have a proper warranty on the work that is done. Cash only, fly-by-night workers do not provide you with the security of a warranty even if they say they will come back and fix things, while reputable contractors give you a warranty as part of their written contract. If something goes wrong while the work is being done or after it is supposedly completed, do you really think you can trust someone who lies to the government and cheats on their taxes to honor their obligations to you? For your safety, you should always get every aspect of your job in writing and have it signed by you and your contractor.

  • Injured workers

    Depending upon your homeowner’s insurance coverage, your policy may or may not cover any accidents or injuries that occur on your property. However, most professional contractors are required by law to have Workers’ Compensation insurance for their workers in case they are injured on the job. In many places, self-employed tradespeople aren’t required to have Workers’ Compensation insurance, but they should take out their own disability insurance to protect them if they get injured. If you hire someone for cash who is not protected by either your homeowner’s policy or Workers’ Compensation, the courts may consider you as an employer, and you could potentially be held responsible for medical and/or rehabilitation costs if that person is injured on your property.

  • Damage to your property

    Once again, depending upon your coverage through your homeowner’s insurance policy, you may or may not be covered if a contractor damages your personal property or your home. Licensed professional contractors, who operate a reputable business, have comprehensive business insurance to cover damages caused by them or by anyone who works for them. If a contractor is working for you “under-the-table,” they more than likely do not have insurance to cover your losses. You would have to depend on their willingness and, more importantly, their ability to pay for any damages that they cause.

Insurance and Workers' Compensation


What do you do if the construction work being done on your property causes an injury or if the contractor you hired accidentally damages your property or that of your neighbors?

In these types of situations, the actions of your contractor could end up costing you lots of money. For this reason, you should only work with contractors who have adequate business insurance that covers public liability and property damage. Ask for proof that they have coverage as part of your contract with them.

Another place to look for answers in these situations is in your own homeowner’s insurance policy. Often, people assume that their policy covers circumstances like these. Sometimes, but not always, this is true. Depending on the insurer, homeowner’s policies vary widely in their coverage plans. Some insurers have very comprehensive insurance packages while others exclude everything except for a certain number of “specified perils.

”Remember to contact your insurance agent before you start on any work on your home. Explain to them what work you are planning to have done, who will be doing it, and ask if your present insurance policy provides adequate coverage in case of injuries or damages. If it is not adequate, you need to update your policy before you begin any work on your home. You need this extra layer of protection even if your contractor is fully insured.

Workers’ Compensation

It is important to understand Workers’ Compensation insurance. It is a government program which provides financial support and, oftentimes, pays for the rehabilitation of anyone injured while on the job. It is mandatory for contractors to enroll their employees while individual subcontractors are often responsible for their own Workers’ Compensation insurance. As a homeowner, you should not have to worry about Workers’ Compensation because it is the responsibility of the contractor that you hire.

However, if the contractor that you use to take on your building project is not complying with Workers’ Compensation requirements, you may face a financial risk. This is especially true if you do not have a written contract which stipulates that the contractor is an independent business rather than just being an individual who is being employed directly by you.

An example of this scenario is if you, as a homeowner, hire a contractor for cash or “under the table” money and the contractor does not have Workers’ Compensation insurance, you can be held liable if a worker is injured on your property.

There are ways to remove this risk. Ask your contractor for proof of their Workers’ Compensation coverage; or if the contractor is self-employed, ask for a letter stating that he is exempt from the coverage.

If you hire a contractor who is not required to have Workers’ Compensation insurance, find out if your homeowner’s policy covers them if they are injured and if it protects you against a personal injury lawsuit. If your policy doesn’t cover this kind of situation, either increase your coverage or find another contractor.

For more information about Workers’ Compensation insurance and your responsibility, it is wise to contact the Workers’ Compensation program to get the answers you need.

Permits and Liens

Building Permits

Building Permit laws vary greatly and are dependent upon where you live. They are enforced on a local level whether that is through the county, town, parish or city. Before you begin building your outdoor living space, it is important for you to understand which permits you need and how inspections work.

Some communities have more stringent building codes than others; but, generally speaking, a building permit is required for any work that involves the load-bearing structure of your home or work that could affect the health and safety of its occupants. There are also other permits that different municipalities require, which may require any of those mentioned below:

· An Electrical Permit for wiring a new structure or changes to the electrical system in an existing structure.

· A Plumbing Permit for plumbing a new structure or changes to the existing plumbing in a structure.

· A Gas Permit for new heating, hot water or cooking systems that use propane or natural gas or for any changes to these systems.

General maintenance repairs such as replacing shingles or flooring, often do not require a permit. However, some work such as replacing windows may or may not require a permit depending on where you live and the exact nature of the work you are doing. Since building codes vary so much, it is always wise to check with your local municipality to see if a building permit is required for any work that you are doing to your home. If a permit is required, you may be asked to submit drawings or blueprints of your project.

It is your job as the property owner to secure the building permit and to comply with all building code requirements for your project. However, if you specify in your contract that the contractor obtains the necessary permits and arrange for inspections on your behalf, he can do so. But, if you don’t make it a condition of the contract, that responsibility falls back on you. If your building project doesn’t comply with the local building or zoning laws, the municipality can force you to correct the problems or demolish your outdoor living space.

If a contractor suggests that you skip getting a required permit for any reason, it is advisable to look for another contractor.


When someone files a legal notice that claims they have a right to be paid from the value of your property, it is called a lien. If a supplier or subcontractor is not paid by your contractor for their materials or labor, you might just end up with a lien on your property. If that happens, you cannot renew your mortgage or sell your home until the lien is removed. It will require that you pay the lien holder what they claim is due them to get the lien removed.

Even if you pay your contractor on time, it is not a guarantee that you won’t have a lien placed on your property. If they take the agreed upon money, and then fail to pay the subcontractors for materials or labor, a lien can be placed against your property.

Lien laws vary depending upon where you live. For more information regarding these laws, contact Consumer Affairs or other appropriate government agencies.

Homeowner Good Practices

  • Find out what services your contractor offers

    Homeowners are often unaware that many professional contractors also provide design and planning services and can add a lot of value to the process of your build, especially if it is going to be a more complicated one. They may see opportunities for improving designs or offering alternate solutions if there are structural challenges. These services may save you money in the long run.

  • Don’t let a contractor start until you know the facts

    Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Your contractor should be able to answer your questions about your building project so that you know what to expect. Ask them questions about how the work will be done and by whom. Ask them about the process of the build and what does the work entail. Ask them about who’s responsible for the clean up after the deck is built. You might want to know how the building process will affect your day-to-day living. Ask them any question that comes to your mind about the whole building process. However, do so before they begin the work. You should not let them begin until you are satisfied with their responses. Besides, once they begin the project, they will expect that they have answered your questions so that they can busy on doing what you hired them to do. With that in mind, the more you know upfront about the whole process, the less anxious you will be.

  • Take an active role throughout the project

    Because it is your house and your investment, you will want to follow things closely. It is best to know what is going on at all times about the building process. Good communication and a good working relationship with your contractor will make for the best end results for both parties and should prevent any issues arising during and after the process. It is reasonable to expect regular updates, so ask for them. Make sure to go over the drawings for your deck to make sure you are getting what you want. Then monitor the progress of the project. Don’t leave these to happenstance. Discuss any decisions with your contractor.

  • Don’t expect to finish the project problem-free

    This is especially true if you are building a large outdoor living space. The bigger the project, the more likely it is that you will run into unexpected problems and delays. There might be a big storm that delays the work for a few days, or there might be delays in special orders. Any number of other problems could occur. Don’t place blame. Some things are out of your control and that of your contractor. This makes it important to be flexible and understanding. Trusting your contractor and having a good rapport with them makes it easier to move beyond the problems and find a solution for them.

  • Plan ahead

    It is your job, as the homeowner, to decide what type of materials you want your deck to be made of and what type of finish you want to put on it. You are also the one who must choose the type of railings, end caps and stairs that you want. All the choices about your deck are your responsibility, and making these choices may take you some time. Set some time aside and do your research. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you want. In places where there is lots of construction going on, there might be significant delays in getting everything you want, especially if you have special orders for materials. And don’t forget that your contractor has built many outdoor spaces and has the experience that you may be lacking. Take full advantage of his knowledge and experience to help you find the best options.

  • Have enough money in reserve for extras that you might add to the project

    In building an outdoor living space, there may be extras that you might want to add as the work progresses. This might include benches, tables or planters that match your deck. Or it might be a more expensive stain than you initially planned to use. You might want to add an extra set of steps. Any of these little things could add to the cost of your building project, so it is advisable to have a cash reserve to take care of any of these “additions” to your regular plans. This is the best time to get the little extras that will add to the future enjoyment of your outdoor living space. Besides, it is always a good rule of thumb to dedicate a certain percentage such as 10% over and above the projected cost of your build for unforeseen necessities.

The next page, “Contracts and Warranties”, will give you information that you will need regarding what is and isn’t involved in contracts, as well as about getting price quotes for your building project.