How Much Does It Really Cost to Build a Deck?
So you're ready to build a new deck in your backyard and because it's likely something you have never done before, or you're replacing a deck that is 15-20 years old and therefore it's obvious that costs have drastically changed, you have no idea how much it will cost and you therefore have no idea what your budget should really be. Well, hopefully this article will provide you some insight and guidance as well as help you to be prepared when seeking qualified quotes from any deck builder, as we attempt to breakdown this question into the following components
Why overall "price per square foot" numbers and online calculators you find on the internet can't be trusted.
What goes into building a deck that will affect the final price?
What are some price ranges depending on size and materials?
What process should you use to determine your own budget?
Price Per Square Foot
You have likely already done some initial research and as a result gathered a wide range of "price per square foot" figures. What you will notice is that these numbers can vary significantly and the price ranges can be extremely wide. So for example, you might find a range like $20 to $60 a square foot. How helpful is this? Probably not very. Unfortunately, this price range will depend on so many factors including the type of decking and likely doesn't include railings, stairs or finishings such as skirting. So let's assume you want a middle of the price range deck and you are looking at a 300 square feet deck. That's a price of $12,000. Can you realistically get a 300 square foot deck for $12,000? That's not very likely and it certainly will not include railings!
Much of the problem with "per square foot" pricing is what makes up that price and how it may be calculated. Almost every deck builder has their own way of calculating the price of their decks. Some will do it using a historical square footage price that has been calculated using only the square footage of the top down or plan view footprint of the deck. Some instead will use a historical square footage price that has been calculated using not only the top down footprint of the deck but also the square footage of all of the vertical surfaces of the deck such as stair risers, fascia and skirting. Others will break down a project to determine the cost of the actual material that will be needed and also determine the amount of labour cost that will be required and then add a markup to cover their operating costs and profit. They may then quote that as a square footage cost, but it will be only a square footage cost that is unique to that particular project and the deck builders way of determining square footage. Because of these differences in the way deck builders determine the prices of their decks, it is difficult to compare any square footage price on an apples to apples basis.
You might also have tried one of those online deck cost calculators that some deck builders have on their site. Unfortunately, those are almost always under-costed and the actual price will likely be anywhere from 20-40% higher. The reason being is that these online calculators, especially those found on deck contractor websites, act like those big bold signs you see on retail store windows that say "Up to 50% off!" They are meant to get you in the store but good luck finding many items that are 50% off!
What Actually Determines the Final Price of a Deck
What many potential deck buyers don't realize is what really goes into building a deck and what the various components are that can change the overall price. While some may think they are purchasing a commodity and as such, a deck is a deck is a deck, this couldn't be further from the truth.
So what actually determines the final price of a deck? Below is a list that may miss out on a few elements but is still extremely comprehensive and will at least give a better idea of the grand scope of things:
Obviously the size of the deck, but also the height of the deck. And the height can work both ways. Typically the higher the deck, the more it will cost but you could also be considering a very low deck that will require many more footings than if it were 4 feet off the ground, thus a higher price.
The other obvious item is the type of decking and whether it is pressure treated, cedar, hardwood, composite, or PVC. Even within composite and PVC decking, there are various options depending on the brand of decking the deck builder is selling.
The shape of the deck. The more angles and protrusions, the higher the cost.
Will the deck be attached to the house or be freestanding? A freestanding deck will cost more.
Will the deck be one level or multi-level? Generally, the more levels, the more a deck will cost.
Will the deck builder be installing concrete sonotube footings or Helical Pile footings. Helical piles are far superior but more costly.
The width and height of any and all stairs. The wider the stairs, the higher the price. The more steps, the higher the price.
The placement of the stairs can also factor into the price of the deck.
Will the risers of each step be open or closed?
The type of railings that will be installed. These can include wood, composite, PVC, aluminum, aluminum with glass panels, frameless glass, and even glass railings that look like they have lighting embedded into them.
Do you want the underside of the deck to be covered with skirting? This often adds significant cost to a deck.
Additional extras like lighting, pergolas, privacy screens, etc.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into the ultimate cost of a deck and how every single deck is unique, therefore making it difficult to answer the question, "How much does a deck cost?" Having said that, there are some guidelines presented below that will give you a starting point for how much your new deck may cost. But keep in mind these are only starting points.
Deck Cost By Size of Deck
Consider the following price ranges as a starting point to help you develop a budget for your next deck. These estimates range from an approximate AVERAGE deck cost of $50 per square foot for a pressure treated deck at the bottom of the range to an AVERAGE approximate deck cost of $90 per square foot for the most expensive PVC option at the top of the range, with Cedar and Composites in the middle of the range. These averages are based on deck prices found in the Canadian competitive deck building market and as such provide a very general price range. These prices also include a basic aluminum handrail. Please remember that "price per square foot" is not an ideal way of determining the cost of a deck (see "Price per Square Foot" section above), but it can, in many instances, provide a starting point.
100 to 200 sq ft
$5,000 to $18,000
200 to 400 sq ft
$10,000 to $36,000
400 to 600 sq ft
$20,000 to $55,000
600 to 800 sq ft
$30,000 to $72,000
800 to 1,000 sq ft
$40,000 to $90,000
1,000 to 1,200 sq ft
$50,000 to $110,000
How To Determine Your Budget and Match It to the Ultimate Cost of Your Deck
Step 1: Decide the rough size of your new deck.
If you have an existing deck, have a good look at it and decide if you want the new deck to be smaller, larger, or the same size, otherwise, come up with an approximate square footage footprint of your ideal new deck.
Step 2: How much are you willing to spend?
Take the square footage you determined in step 1 and based on the table above, determine how much you are willing to spend. Let's say you are considering a deck that has a 300 square foot footprint. That would mean that it will cost anywhere from $15,000+ for a very basic pressure treated deck with aluminum handrails, to roughly $20,000+ for a mid-range composite with aluminum railings, to $27,000+ for a top of the line PVC deck with aluminum railings. This is based on an average square foot price of $50 to $90. Again, this is only a starting point and should be considered as the minimum.
In what part of this range are you willing to spend? If you are only willing to spend towards the bottom at that range then you are likely going to have to consider a Pressure Treated or Cedar deck. If you are will to spend towards to the higher end of the range, then you can consider higher end decking.
Step 3: Get estimates
With this information in hand, get three preliminary estimates (not quotes) from qualified deck builders. This can be done through a telephone consultation whereby the deck builder will take your information along with any pictures you can provide and they will give you a preliminary idea by way of a ballpark estimate. Don't be afraid to be honest with the deck builder you are speaking with in terms of what your budget is. This way you can get more accurate estimates and information.
Step 4: Revise your budget
Based on step 2, you have already consider the decking you would like to consider based on the deck cost ranges provided. Compare this to the estimates you received in step 3 and begin revising your budget accordingly. Begin considering all the other elements of your ideal deck while keeping in mind the what was discussed in the above section"What Actually Determines the Final Price of a Deck". Do you want glass railings instead of simple aluminum railings? Do you want to move up to PVC decking and maybe make the deck smaller to compensate? Do you want to consider lighting? Do you want to consider a multi-level deck? Do you want to make the stairs wider or more narrow? Etc.
Once you have come up with the key elements of the deck, size, shape, decking, and railings, revise your budget accordingly. As a very basic rule of thumb, consider each change to add or subtract a couple thousand dollars to your project and then add 10% to the overall budget number you come up with. If you think that number is too much, go down to a number you are comfortable with.
Step 5: Request a firm quote
At this point you are ready to request a proposal with a firm detailed quote. Return to the qualified builders and request a formal site visit. Some builders, like Deco Decks, will charge for this service. Why? For two reasons. One, is due to the amount of time and work that can go into conducting a site visit and preparing a proper proposal that should include a project plan and a detailed drawing. These proposals can take up to 3-7 days to prepare and sometimes longer depending on the scope of a project.
The second reason is that, due to the amount of time and work that goes into them, builders don't want all of their hard work and designs to be freely shopped around for the best quote and having put in all that work, never hearing from the client again. But in all cases, where deck builders charge for a site visit and a proposal, they will always credit that charge back to you once you sign a contract with them.
Ultimately, a pre-paid proposal is to your benefit since the proposal and drawings become your property allowing you to properly compare apples to apples (or apples to oranges) when shopping around. But more importantly, a qualified deck builder who charges a fee will work closely with you to develop the full scope of the project including the design of the deck and all of its elements so as to meet your prescribed budget. Again, this requires a lot of work going back and forth with the client to meet their needs.
When requesting the final quote, it's important to ask the builder to break the cost down into its various elements for comparison purposes. The basic break should be also follows:
The Deck, including stairs and finishing (fascia)
Any other extras
This breakdown allows you to compare each element to other quotes and each element should be detailed even further to include the type and dimensions of the materials that will be used. If not, don't be afraid to ask questions of those who have provided you with quotes. If a particular element is much higher, don't be afraid to ask why. Give them the details of the elements from the other quotes (without providing the dollar values) and ask why theirs is much higher. There may be a very valid reason that you hadn't considered. Having said this, if you have spent time working with the builder to develop a proposal that meets your budget (the major benefit of a pre-paid proposal) you likely won't have any questions to ask and it will be the other builders who simply wrote up a quote for you, who you will be asking the questions.
Once you receive your proposal and quote, you now have a working document to move forward with which should meet your budget.
In summary, every deck is unique which makes it very difficult to provide a proper answer to the question, "How Much Does It Cost to Build a Deck?" Such a question can only really be answered after you have determined your own budget in a systematic way using reasonable cost ranges such as those provided above. Don't get fooled by "per square foot" costs and online deck cost calculators that you find on the internet, as you will be disappointed once you start looking for quotes, especially knowing that you will likely have to adjust your budget as you go forward. Also, in seeking final quotes, it's extremely important to work with a builder who will take the time to work with you to come up with a project proposal that meets your budget.
If you have any additional questions please do not hesitate to reach out to us by email or through our "Let's Chat" feature at the bottom of the page.