Your neighbour asked you to build his deck for him. Or you are between jobs and want to make a few bucks. Or you want to make a few extra dollars on the side building decks. But the biggest question you have is, “How much should I charge to build a deck?”
Labour cost to build a deck will be on average between $2 240 – $8 640, roughly $16, but can range between $8 and $60 a square foot. Or an hourly rate twice the average wage of a carpenter in your region, which is often $70 an hour.
After building decks for years, I can tell you upfront how much you should charge to build a deck is not as easy as the above answer.
There are too many complexities in deck constructions, and yes, I know building a deck is seen as a simple construction project. That any DIYer can do. Which is true to some extent. Meaning your largest competitor is not the number 1 result on Google for deck contractors but the homeowner themselves.
That being said, you do not want to compete with the homeowner on price. There is no point.
If you want to build your friend’s deck for pizza and a case of beer. Have fun. I love helping out friends, but if you want to be able to use the right tools. Be able to pay your bills and still be in business building decks tomorrow. You will need to find the right rate to charge to build a deck.
To do this, we need to establish some minimums, considerations and goals.
Minimum Charges for Building a Deck
Years ago, I worked for a contractor who would say I don’t open my van doors for less than $300. I was framing for him for a much lower rate and thought that was crazy.
But he was right.
$300 may not be your rate or the rate in your city or county, but you need to know what it is. Or as my shop teacher would say. How much do I need to get out of bed for.
Like really, why put yourself through all that strenuous work, miss time with family and friends and stress if you could make the same staying home. Yes, I know there are more significant reasons to work than money. But you can have both.
Bare Minimum to Charge to Build a Deck
The absolute minimum is material plus your time or labour. Anything less than that is paying the homeowner to build their deck.
What is your time worth?
Well, most states and provinces have a minimum wage. In Alberta, where I build decks it’s $15 an hour. Meaning with zero skills and experience, I can get paid $15. There are zero reasons to build a deck for less.
I would argue that you better have the experience and skills to build a deck. So the better comparison is a carpenters’ wage.
How much does a carpenter make in your area?
Again, in Alberta, the average carpenter makes $31.97 an hour, on the low end $17.50, which means charging anything less. You would be better off getting a job building decks for someone else. Call up those deck contractors on Google and ask if you can work for them. Chances are they have more decks to build than they have carpenters.
If not offer to be a labour at minimum wage, you will learn more, gain experience and make more money.
Yes, this does mean you need to have an idea of how much time it will take to build the deck. If you don’t, we will get into that more later. But for now, know you need to charge the same or more than you can make working for someone else.
True Labour Cost to Build a Deck
I have struggled with this one for years and still do. How low is too low?
As I said, if I can make the same greeting at Walmart or better working for Busy Beaver Construction (The #1 Result for Deck Contractors in my area). Then why try to figure out how much to charge to build a deck.
Go work for them.
Enter in Tom Reber from The Contractor Fight. He says a lot of things about running a contracting company, some I agree with, some I don’t.
Like many, I pushed back initially, but the more I learned my numbers. He has a simple rule for what you should charge.
There are a few nuances which Tom can explain better than me. But the easy answer is. It would be best if you charged twice as much as you want to make building a deck.
That’s right, charge twice as much as you want to make.
If you are going to do this properly, buy tools, a truck, have a website, WCB/insurance, etc. Once you pay for all this, you will be pocketing half of what you charge.
Yes, there are ways to reduce costs which are good. So, maybe your overhead costs are less than the number one deck builder in your area, but you still have costs over and above paying for your time.
If nothing less, the time you will spend filling and filling in government forms. They add up and will be a drain on your time and bank account. Not to mention time estimating the cost to build the deck.
The time spent cutting joists and screwing down decking is only part. What you charge while building the deck will need to pay for the time not building the deck.
“4 hours billed time, includes 1 hour unbilled.”
Again, you may know ways to do the other things more efficiently. As my teenage daughter would say, “Good for you!”
And it really is, but on average, you will need to charge 20% more just to cover for the time you cannot bill for.
If you want to make minimum wage building decks in Alberta, you need to charge at least $18 an hour. But to cover your expenses, you are better off charging $30. If you want to make a competitive wage, $70 an hour.
This is very subject to region. Maybe where you live, carpenters make $10 an hour and live like Kings. Or the union pays $90, and you can barely pay rent.
Know your worth, charge for it.
Also, remember, you cannot work 7 hours on one deck, pack up your tools and drive an hour to the other deck you’re working on. Work one hour and consider that an 8-hour workday. No, that is 9 hours or more workday. Often you are better breaking things up in your mind to full workdays.
If it’s going to take 6 hours to dig and pour the footings. You are better off charging your full-day rate. Then use that extra 2 hours with your office work than splitting up that day into a long day at two different sites plus driving between them.
Meaning every day you plan to be working on the deck, you need to bill a minimum $144-day charge. $560 is better. If you truly want to have deck contracting company.
But few homeowners will want to hire you at an hourly rate. And for you to calculate how much time it will take to build the deck every time will take too much time. A good practice to evaluate regularly how you are doing.
But you still will need to figure out a base rate before.
How Much You Should Charge per Square Foot for Labour
A few years ago, I was talking with another construction working. We were talking about how work was going, which led to money. In which he said
“I would never work piece work.”
In which I responded, everyone in construction ultimately works piece work. Even if you work hourly, your boss decides your wages based on what you can produce and charge for.
Square foot labour cost is just another way to charge for labour based on production instead of time. But every deck takes time to build.
If you can build a deck in an hour. You need to charge the equivalent rate of one hour to build the deck.
Just like hourly rate, this will vary a lot by region, but you still need to figure it out. Both for ease of estimating and knowing your numbers.
Let’s start big, national rates for building a deck and narrow it down.
Home Guide estimates labour cost to build a deck in 2021 at between $8-22 per square foot. They wisely cushion that with size, material and other factors which we will need to address, but it’s a good start.
Fixr, another national publication, gives a deck labour range at $10-30 for a wood deck and $20 – 60 for a metal deck.
Neither is correct for you, but they give us a sense of what you need to charge.
Charging anywhere between $8 and $60 a square foot will not ensure you are charging the right amount.
But let’s reverse engineer this. Hopefully, by doing so, you will better understand what you need to charge.
The higher range generally will include complexities like pergolas, multiple tiers and even outdoor kitchens. All great things to include on a deck, enhancing the deck experience. Making lounging, dining and grilling on the deck better.
We will need how much to charge for these extras To build the ultimate dream deck. But that will overcomplicate things for us now.
First thing to keep in mind. You need to charge a base rate and then add additional charges on top of that for extras.
For the sake of simplicity.
What do you charge for labour for a 12×12 attached ground-level deck?
This will only be a basic deck, 2′ from the ground with railing and frost footings.
Using our national guides. Labour for a 12×12 deck should be between $1 152 and $8 640.
The most basic decks, and you working for minimum wage are 64 hours to build the deck.
On the high end, charging competitive wages, 123 hours.
On the low end but still charging competitive wages, 16 hours and 24 minutes.
Can you dig three frost footings, frame the deck, install 144 sqft of decking and install 36′ of railing in 16 hours and 24 minutes?
Well, can you?
Let’s go through the steps to build a deck and figure out the time required.
1. Footings, $560
The two biggest questions here are.
- How deep the footings need to be?
- How hard is the ground?
The farther north you go, the deep you will need to dig.
In Calgary, its 4′ (1.2m), 10″ (250mm) in diameter. In Winnipeg, a deck footing needs to be 6′ (1.8m) deep plus a 30″ (762mm) concrete pad.
If you dig those by hand, and often that is more economical for only 3 footings. How hard the dirt is will greatly affect cost. As long as you don’t hit any huge boulders, you should be able to dig the holes and mix the concrete in less than a day.
Which is a good rate to charge. If it takes all day, at least you got paid for it. If it only takes an hour. First of all, wow, you are amazing. But you cannot start building on the concrete footings on the same day. The concrete needs to set up enough to support the weight of the deck.
So, either way. The footings will take one day to pour, costing you a full day’s wages.
Another plus for floating decks, but they should not be attached to the house.
2. Framing, $560
Here we are not limited like the footings. Once the footings can support the deck, nothing is stopping us from finishing the deck.
You could both frame a 12×12 deck and install the decking in one day. It depends on how efficient you are.
Personally, I would rather error on the side of charging more than I need than undercharging. It keeps the relationship with the client better. Few want to be asked for additional money, but few will get upset paying what they agreed to pay.
3. Decking, $560
Here again, you may be able to install the decking and frame the deck on the same day. But better to schedule a day for each task.
In one day, you should be able to install 27 deck boards. You may even be able to install the field decking and the picture frame boards on the same day.
But it is often better to include an additional charge for installing the picture frame. That way, your time is compensated, and it is clearer on your estimate or quote of what you are doing.
Itemized estimates help to communicate the extent of the project and related fees.
Interesting side note, composite decking will often take less time to install but requires more preparation work. For example, I always install joists membrane to increase the life of the joists under composite decking. That can easily add a couple of hours.
4. Railing, $560
Wood railing requires many parts and is quite labour intensive. One of the advantages of aluminium railing is much of the work is already done for you. Which reduces labour costs but increases material costs.
A great relationship with a local railing contractor makes subcontracting this out an easier solution. Which is what I often do. The time it takes to pick up the material and install it. I would rather frame another deck.
Instead, I send a quick email. They take full responsibility. Measure, build and install. Often for less than what it would take me to do the same work.
Labour Charge to Build a Basic 12×12 Deck
Adding all four together, we get $2240 in labour, or $15.56 a square foot. Easier to remember and for math to say $16 a square foot.
Adjusting Price According to Deck Size
But this does need to be adjusted for deck size. I am not sure what a one-square-foot deck looks like, but I know I won’t build it for $16.
This is one of the biggest reasons to estimate per day/task, not square foot for labour.
A 12×12 deck will take about the same amount of time to frame as a 16×16 deck. Which may allow for a lower rate.
At the same time, it takes the same amount of time to do off-site coordination to build a 144 sqft deck as 256 sqft. This may give good reasons to increase your rate for decks less than 200 sqft.
I have also found that larger decks generally include many extras and upgrades. Making larger decks more complicated to build. But before we get into extras, how can you know if your prices are out of wack?
Things to Consider When Charging to Build a Deck
An old carpenter rule is.
“Labour costs = Material costs.”
If the joists and decking cost $1200, building the deck will cost around $1200.
Home Stratosphere puts labour cost closer to two-thirds of the cost of a deck. The same amount of material but the total deck now costs $3 600, with $2 400 being labour. A significant jump in price.
Using our previous example, when we broke it out by phase, labour was $2 240. In 2021 with government restrictions significantly impacting material prices, a quick reference is hard to nail down. But on average, the material would be around $1 800 for material. Giving us a labour range between $1 800 and $3 600, putting our estimate in the middle. It could be higher, but it is enough to cover basic labour.
Not perfect, but a quick range for charging.
If the material comes in at $5 000, you need to add between $5 000 and $10 000 for labour. If you don’t want to figure out how much time it will take to build the deck. It’s not a perfect system but will put you into a reasonable range.
Adjustment for Specialty Material
I hinted at this early but material used will impact this math too. Most composite decking will cost between 2 and 5 times as much as pressure-treated decking. But they will not take that much more time to install if you are experienced framing for composite decking. More than 5/4 wood decking but not twice as much. Which may need to be considered.
In the same vein, the material for aluminum railing will cost significantly more than wood railing, but the labour for wood railing will be more. Something to keep in mind when pricing the cost of the deck.
There are also little nuances to account for. Composite hidden fasteners and cortex plugs are expensive compared to decking screws. Except most homeowners will accept paying extra for composite deck fasteners but expect wood deck screws to be included.
There are many more nuances you will want to keep your estimates
Charging for Deck Construction Extras
Extras that will need to be billed fall into two categories, preliminary and upgrades.
This is not a hard and fast division, but it helps me as I think through my estimates.
Preliminary Deck Construction Charges
This is where the site visit before starting construction is important. The rest, as Tom Reber encourages, can be done over the phone before visiting the site. There is little that will change how much you need to charge for a basic 12×12 deck outside of preliminary work.
I include landscaping, site access, demolition of existing deck and ledgers as four main preliminary work, but there can be many more.
Landscaping can include the slope of the yard, how much digging needs to be done to prepare the ground under the deck, etc. It is not unusual for me to spend a whole day prepping the ground area under or around the deck before starting construction. Something that needs to be accounted for before starting.
Site access hindering construction.
I have never done it before, but I have watched a video where I believe Mike Holmes does a renovation on an island. All his tools and material needed to be loaded unto boats and taken across the lake to do the project. Easily doubling the time, money and logistics of doing the work.
Not as bad, but there will often be additional charges for out-of-city material delivery, which need to be accounted for. This can include even the location of the deck on the yard. I recently spent hours backing decking around the house and down a hill because the yard overlooks a riven with no rear access.
Adding 4 hours to the project can change your number significantly, especially on a low-budget project. If the moving material adds 4 hours to a 10-hour project, you have gone from making competitive wages to covering your expenses and wages.
Another reason to always include a small cushion in your bid.
Billing for Demolition of existing deck needs to be added to the estimate. The biggest facture here is the additional waste to be removed. An old deck can easily fill a waste bin, requiring you to pay for an additional bin or schedule time to haul it away while still paying dumping fees.
Fees and time that all need to be accounted for.
Charging for deck Ledger installation. Often with a basic new house, there will be an existing ledger installed during the house’s original construction. Making this easy.
But sometimes, the siding will sit right on top of the ledger and need to be raised to install the deck flashing. Often requiring matching siding to be sourced and installed. Adding to the time and money it takes to build the deck.
In my experience, deck suppliers are great at supplying excellent decking material and accessories, terrible at siding. That is not their thing. So I end up driving across the city to match a particular brand of siding because, of course, builders rarely source their siding from Home Depot. Besides, my Home Depot has a terrible selection of vinyl siding.
But those are the easy ones.
Building a deck on an older home with stucco or brick veneer is more technical and labour-intensive. Especially if you want to do it right and not damage the house water seal. Which I am sure you do.
There are many other possible complications, but those are a few to consider when charging for installing a deck ledger.
Charging for Deck Upgrades
These are either going to be the source of your company’s wealth or demise.
Wealth because these are the things that make a deck special to the homeowner. Making it unique or enhancing their experience. Regardless of the money to be made of them, looking for opportunities to upgrade their deck is a good thing to do. For this will truly provide them value.
Shade for a south-facing deck can make the difference between a deck sitting empty all year or their favourite space to unwind after a hectic day at work. You, the expert, should recommend either a pergola, windsail or umbrella to help them enjoy their deck more.
And once realizing their value, homeowners are often more than willing to pay for them. Separating you from other deck contractors.
But they are also expensive. Greatly increasing the cost of building the deck both in time and money. A simple decking return on the stair treads can double construction time.
There are a million ways to upgrade a deck that we don’t have space here to go through. Just know that you need to account for them. Have a clear explanation and plan how they will be billed.
They will make the difference between you contracting decks for years to come. Bringing smiles to faces and relieving stress. Or a frown on your face as you cannot continue to stay in business after all the amazing decks you have built.
Charging for a Profit While Building a Deck
Finally, what about profit. Often talked about as a four-letter word, profit makes the difference between helping people tomorrow or not. Profit determines if you will still be building decks next summer.
Trucks and tools need to be replaced, which may not be built into your billing. It is hard to have a line, New-350, in your deck quote, butit will need to be replaced. Countless other future expenses will need to be accounted for.
Even if its not future expenses, profit allows you to grow your company. To become a better deck contractor with better tools or ways to connect with people wanting to improve their outdoor living space.
Profit makes this all possible.
How much profit will need to be determined by you. But if you plan to be profitable, you are much more likely to be than if you don’t.
What’s that Wayne Gretzky saying,
“I miss every shot I don’t take.”
Or at least that’s what my Dad told me. Plan to be in business tomorrow and figure out how you can do that.