Building an outdoor deck is a rewarding DIY project that’s realistically within the realms of a moderately competent home handy-person. However, before you strap on the tool belt, it’s worth seriously considering the pros and cons of DIY vs professional installation.
Pros of a DIY project
First and foremost, a DIY decking project comes with the satisfaction and rewards of building something with your own two hands. Everytime you use the deck, whether you’re entertaining with friends and family or just relaxing in the sun, you’ll have the pride that comes with a job well done.
Building your own deck also means you have complete control over all aspects of the budget, design, work and timeline.
And of course, there’s the cost savings. A DIY project will save you serious money by effectively eliminating labour costs as well as contractor markup on materials.
The DIY downsides
Any DIY home improvement or renovation project comes with some potential downsides. The two biggest issues with a DIY project are the time investment and the quality of workmanship. Building a deck can be a major project and not something you can get done in a weekend. You may find that it ends up taking much longer than you initially thought. And unless you’re a near-pro home handy-person or a carpentry savant, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to deliver the same high-quality work that you can expect from a professional.
So if you’re weighing up the pros and cons of tackling a decking installation yourself or calling in the pros, there are 7 factors you should seriously consider.
As with any home renovation/extension project, how much you have to spend will have a big effect on how the project is done. If you’re a little strapped for cash, then building the deck yourself will save you some serious money. With the money you save on labour costs, you may be able to spend a little more on premium quality materials like native hardwoods or composite decking boards.
While building the deck yourself will definitely save you money by eliminating labour costs, it will bring up some other cost elements that you might not incur if you were working with a professional contractor. For example, you may need to factor in the cost of hiring or purchasing the necessary tools for the job.
You will also have to bear the cost of any design errors or mistakes you make during construction. For the inexperienced home handy-person, mistakes can mean costly damage to tools or materials, which could throw out your budget.
Depending on the quality of your DIY workmanship, you may also be setting yourself up for higher long-term repair and maintenance costs than you might expect from professional installation.
Sourcing the materials yourself, on the other hand, can save you some money. When a contractor sources materials for a project, they usually add a 5-10% markup to cover the time spent picking up, transporting and storing the materials. By sourcing the material yourself, you should be able to eliminate this markup.
Realistically, unless something goes horribly wrong, you will save money by building your own deck. However, it’s important to be aware of the additional costs that a DIY project will incur so you don’t blow out your budget.
2. DIY experience
If you’re an experienced DIY pro, then a decking project shouldn’t be a problem. However, it may be beyond the abilities of the novice home handy-person. There’s more to building a deck than just basic carpentry skills. You may also need to deal with the ground preparation, set the foundation posts, build the support structure and handle some waterproofing and pest-proofing.
If you don’t have a huge amount of DIY experience and you’re looking for a challenge, there’s a chance the project could quickly get away from you. You could wind up with a deck that’s unstable, needs regular and ongoing repairs or, in extreme cases, a deck that simply isn’t safe to use.
Before committing to the DIY path, it’s important to do some serious research to ensure that you’re up to the task.
3. Materials and tools
Before kicking off your DIY deck, you will need to do a little research into the materials you’ll be working with and the tools you’ll need.
Working with different materials can require different levels of expertise. For example, premium hardwoods and composite decking can be more difficult to work with than cheaper softwoods like treated pine.
Different decking materials will also have different maintenance requirements, meaning that the cost of maintenance inputs over the life of the deck can vary significantly.
Working with high-end materials, like premium hardwoods, can also be costly if you make mistakes. Any mistakes while measuring, cutting or handling the decking boards may mean you have to purchase replacement materials, and that can be costly.
Different materials can also require different tools. Composite decking, for example, can require special saw blades designed to cut composite boards.
If you’re an experienced DIY enthusiast with a shed full of tools, you’re in a good position to start. But if you don’t own the necessary tools (or if you have little experience using them) you could be exposing yourself to a pretty steep learning curve and risk of costly mistakes.
4. Free time
There’s no doubt about it: a professional decking contractor will get the job done faster than you can. While you should expect your DIY job to take longer than a professional installation project, you also need to think about how much free time you actually have to dedicate to the project.
If you work full-time and have a family or other responsibilities, you may only get a few hours on weekends to work on your deck. That means you may end up spreading the decking project over several months. This could clutter up a large portion of your backyard for the duration of the project. And leaving any materials, fixings or tools lying around could be dangerous if you have young children.
Be realistic about how long the project will take and how much time you can feasibly put in. If you don’t have adequate time to dedicate to the project, you may be better off hiring a professional.
Permit requirements for building a deck differ from state to state and council to council. In Victoria, for example, you need a permit to build a new deck or replace an existing deck, regardless of size. In New South Wales, on the other hand, you may not need a permit if the deck is smaller than 25m² and meets the relevant building standards.
A professional decking contractor should have a thorough understanding of the permit requirements in your area and be able to handle all the permit applications and approvals on your behalf.
If you’re taking on a DIY project, you may have to deal with the permit applications and other red tape yourself.
6. Deck size and complexity
A small, simple deck can be a great DIY challenge. However, as the design complexity goes up, so does the construction difficulty. If you’re planning a deck with levels or stairs, curves or angles or you’re planning to add a pergola or canopy, things can quickly get tricky. Other factors that can affect the complexity of a decking project include the height of the deck, the ground preparation required and what kind of balustrade system you’re adding.
Be realistic about your level of DIY expertise and don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.
7. Consider the hybrid approach
If you want to enjoy the satisfaction, learning experience and cost savings of a DIY decking project while ensuring the project remains within the realms of your DIY abilities, then you might want to consider a hybrid approach. You could hire a professional contractor to take care of the more complex elements of the project, like the design, ground preparation and foundation structure, then take on the decking carpentry yourself.
Alternatively, you could build the basic deck structure yourself, before bringing in a pro to handle the final aesthetic touches to ensure the final product looks as good as possible.
A hybrid approach means you can take on the building elements that you feel most comfortable with and cut back on unnecessary labour costs.
Regardless of whether you decide on DIY or professional installation, it’s important that your do your research and use the best quality materials wherever possible to ensure a long-lasting deck.
Julian is an editor and content creator with a background in industry journalism and technical writing. He’s an enthusiastic home handyman and gardener and collector of vintage books.