Review of Deck and Three-Season Room Project

Contractor:  Creative Remodeling

1- The Need

I was faced with replacing a deteriorating multi-level deck on my contemporary style ‘deck’ house.    While replacing the deck with the same design was an option, I was painfully aware that the original deck design had limitations and therefore was never really put to use by the family.     I could not see investing significant money into a design that would ultimately be of little practical value.    I had a general idea for type of improvements I would like to see over the original design.   A screened in area to provide protection from the mosquitos that invade all summer and drive you back inside in early evening was highly desirable.   Outside access to the upper deck level from outside the home was desirable since the only way to currently access that level was to go back into and through the house.  I also envisioned somehow being able to put the lower level of the deck to better use.   Because there is no real protection from the elements and the space does not receive much light, it added little value to the outside experience.  It was my dream that this space could somehow be protected and made desirable and functional.   

2- Turning Dream into Reality

Being pretty knowledgeable about home improvement was both a blessing and a curse.    For each of the areas that I wanted to address with a new design, I could come up with at least ten different approaches to solving the problem.   I attempted to do a number of design drawings myself, but was not confident that they could be practically implemented. 

3- The Search for The Right Contractor

I realized that this project would, at the very least, require a significant amount of professional help.   I consulted with architects and contractors that I had worked with in the past or had come recommended to me.   I quickly realized that finding the right contractor would not be easy.   I was able to identify contractors that would certainly be able to build your project, but they needed to be told exactly what you wanted done.    Since my project had a number of ‘moving pieces’, I didn’t feel comfortable with using any of these contractors without a detailed plan.    I did consider and interview a number of architects in order to solidify my design into a ‘shovel ready’ project.  The cost for the architect would have been significant considering the relatively small scale of the project.    While I needed design and planning help, I really wanted to put these funds into the actual project itself.    The other realization that I came to was that a project of this size required to be matched with the ‘right sized’ contractor.   I had spoken with a number of two person contractors and realized that while they had the required skills, a project of this size would be beyond their comfort zone and take forever to complete.   At the other end of the scale were contractors that were set up for doing complete home construction and major remolding.   In this case, they were too big and not all that interested in a project of my size.   

4- finding the Right Fit

I came upon Creative Remodeling while I was on a walk in my neighborhood.   I noticed that a neighbor’s deck was being rebuilt and liked what I saw as I observed their progress of the next couple of weeks.   I reached out to Creative Remodeling and requested a quote on my basis project.   John Parent, owner of Creative Remodeling, responded promptly.    John came over to see me on a Saturday in order to accommodate my schedule.     John listened to my basic requirements, a ‘like for like’ deck replacement, and said that he would provide me with a detailed price quotation within the next couple of days.    I felt that it was important to develop a baseline for the cost of the project by picking this simplest design and that it would allow provide the opportunity to evaluate John’s approach to the project, his flexibility, his cost and whether he was someone that I would be able to work with.   John came back as promised with his detailed quote.  Initially, I had a bit of sticker shock.  But after carefully reviewing John’s approach to the project, getting educated regarding the new zoning requirements for outdoor structures and evaluating the quality of the materials and workmanship, I considered the price to be consistent with the value that John and his company would be providing.   I also felt that Creative Remodeling had the right ‘domain expertise’ in the area of deck construction.    Where decks where once just an add on to a house, they have now become significant structural additions and the new building codes now reflect this. In short, I could not do a ‘like for like’ replacement of the deck as it would not meet current building codes.  It would require a re-design at a minimum.

In making my selection, I also felt that the size of John’s company was ideally suited for a project of this size.    John has about eight full time employees that make up the core group of his company.   He is able to expand manpower and pull in specialized resources with contractors that he has worked with over the years when required.  Having this size workforce becomes important to keeping the project on schedule.   Although I did have a dedicated team working on my project, interruptions to the project inevitably come up.  They can be weather related, another customer that needs some immediate attention, etc.   John has enough flexibility built into his workforce and schedule that he can be responsive to his customer base, while at the same time meet the needs of current projects.  His team was willing to even work on Saturdays in order to keep the project on track.

John also separates what you are paying in labor from the materials required for the job.   So much so, that a homeowner is able to purchase the materials directly with John’s suppliers at a very fair price.    This insures the homeowner that there is no mark up in the price of the materials.  This openness is just how John operates.   I found that refreshing and knew that I could trust John to keep to his agreement regarding all aspects of the project. 

5- The Design

Once I made the decision to use Creative Remodeling, I then introduced the new design elements that encompassed my vision of the completed project.   One of the big advantages in working with John is that he has a degree in structural engineering.   This plus the fact that he has great design skills makes it possible to take on a project like this without necessarily need to bring in an architect.    My project went through at least two to three major design revisions.   Realizing my vision turned out to be an iterative process.   Sometimes new ideas emerge once you have solidified a design.   John was always enthusiastic about looking how to get me what I had envisioned, while at the same time trying to keep the project with the scope of cost targets that were established as the project progressed.    

6- The Construction

Once we had what we felt was close to the final design, John was able to take care of all the necessary permits and approvals required for the project.   Because John has a great professional relationship with the building inspector in town, all of his designs were approved with a minimum of revision.   All of the subsequent inspections by the building department went flawlessly. 

John was never reluctant to take on a new design challenge.   I ended up deciding to add a spiral staircase to improve access to the upper deck.   John had never installed on of these but was willing to take it on.   In order to have the staircase fabricated properly there are a number of critical measurements and calculations that must be communicated to the fabricator.  John hit a bullseye with all of these specifications.   The staircase was manufactured exactly right and installed as if John had been doing these staircases all his life.  Having complete confidence in this aspect of a project is extremely important.   There are so many other areas that the homeowner needs to pay attention to; you really don’t want to be worrying about something like this.   

On any project, some things don’t go exactly has planned.  Mistakes are made, both by the homeowner and the contractor.   I found that John was always fair in sorting these things out.   If something didn’t go as planned on his end, he took care of it, no questions asked.   If I made a mistake in my instructions or wanted to change something in mid-stream, John always worked with me to minimize the potential cost impact while making sure that I was getting exactly what I wanted.   

John’s communication during the project is excellent.   He will check in with you daily, review the work for the week ahead, summarize the work that has been done and remind you of anything he needs that you are responsible for. You are never in the dark about what is going on.  John will answer any question that you have in as much detail as you would like.   If you question something, he doesn’t take that as an insult, but instead will take the time to make sure you completely understand why something is being done in a certain way.    In my case, because I really wanted to know all the details, having someone that was happy to explain things made it a great working relationship.   

7- The Outcome

In the end, my deck replacement project resulted in a new multi-level composite deck, access from the outside to the top deck, a beautiful three season room with both heat and AC, and an underdeck area that was completely weather proof.    The deck structure was redesigned to have a more contemporary footprint and now blends seamlessly into the rest of the house.  The cable railing system chosen provides both a contemporary look and provides great visibility to the natural areas surrounding my home.   The workmanship, design, and implementation of this project exceeded my own original vision and provide great new indoor and outdoor living space. 

Ray Phillips

Sudbury, MA