Dear PoPville – Finding a Contractor for Expertise on Building a Fence/Deck

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoPville,

I am a homeowner in the Brightwood area of town who enjoys doing much of work around my house myself. It saves me money and I get the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of my labor. While I feel confident doing most of the work I have tackled (flooring, walls, landscaping, etc.), I am pretty sure I have reached the limits of my expertise as I begin to contemplate my next big projects. I want to build a privacy fence and a deck in my backyard. I am no carpenter and I would never pretend to be, but I really would enjoy being intimately involved in the work. I am fairly young, able-bodied and no stranger to a few long days of hard labor. I am also relatively knowledgeable in the world of DIY and, more importantly, I am a really good student.

I am wondering if anybody out in PoPville knows any retired/disabled/just don’t want to do heavy lifting anymore contractors that would be interested in working with me to plan and execute a big project like this. I would consider them to be to the foreman and I will be the apprentice/laborer. They wouldn’t have to lift a finger as far as I am concerned. Just point and share their wisdom. I would, of course, pay this person a reasonable hourly rate for their time, buy or rent all of the materials and tools necessary for the job, and would even be willing to hire an extra laborer (or ask a friend) to add some more muscle once the building begins.

I understand there will be some commenters that will remind me that this probably wouldn’t save much money once everything is totaled up, and I am not really concerned with that at this point. Most of my days are spent behind a desk or in endless meetings. Working with my hands tends to be a pleasurable experience for me and adds some much needed physical activity to my life. I have a strange feeling I am not the only one out there who feels this way.”

17 Comment

  • I don’t have sources for people for you, but the Fairfax County and Prince William County deck building codes are a great resource. The spell out, in detail and with pictures, what a safe deck should have.

  • Semi-related, but I love the fence in your copy of fromcaliw/love photo

  • “I understand there will be some commenters that will remind me that this probably wouldn’t save much money once everything is totaled up…”

    Not this commenter. You’ll save thousands and you’ll feel good about it. You’re doing the right thing. Specifically, what you’re looking for might be tough. If you’ve done hardwood flooring, you can probably build a deck sans expert. Just don’t be afraid to buy some new tools and a couple books.

  • My recommendation:

    Don’t forget to get the permit. You have no idea how many acquaintences I’ve had over the years that wanted to build a fence, back porch, or deck, did so without the permitting and had to either pay fines or rip it down.

    • Check the regs. I think you only need one starting either over 6 ft or over 7 ft. We had a 6ft one put in and didn’t need one (I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember we did not need one for a 6 ft fence). The regs are very easy to understand. Don’t needlessly get a permit.

    • bleh. two fences and a fully enclosed deck. No permit. No problem.

      just build to code. *That* part is important.

  • I have also wondered if this was a possibility. More power to you! Sorry I can’t offer any recommendations.

  • Send me an email, I’ll come out to look at your place and discuss your project for no initial charge. I can point you in the direction of some good deck building resources as well.

  • For the OP, someone gave me some advice recently that has paid off in spades: if you’re looking for good, solid help, call your local union.

    In your case, I’d call the local carpenters union and see if they can give you contact information for several journeymen. They will gladly put you in touch with qualified union workers who may be willing to help you with your project.

    Good luck!

  • I’ve always wondered if a contractor would actually let me “help ‘n learn” (insurance concerns? union issues? putting myself out of business fears?) Please post again and let us know how this story ends.

  • Why not buy one of the home depot deck/fence books and then watch youtube videos and or/ HG TV. Heack, for a month’s worth of premium cable, you can be an expert in flipping houses between Holmes on Homes and Bathtastic.

    It’s not like there’s some magical trick that’s a trade secret for fences. Wood, tape measure, nails shovel.

    Quickcrete’s got a few good video’s on post holes too.

  • Pretty cool idea. I hope it works out for you. Please do post again with your experience!

  • andy

    Maybe someone should offer classes in carpentry.

  • I took a class one time at Home Depot on framing a room. It was helpful. Maybe you can check their website to see if they offer any fence-building classes.

  • A good book (Black and decker makes some) on decks and someone to help dig holes are your best friends when it comes to a deck. I can see needing/wanting some help, but I’d suggest a friend who has done it themselves rather than a pro.

    For the fence, there is no need at all for a pro. A little google and looking at photos will give you 90% of what you need. 2 ft holes every 8 – 12 feet, 4x4s in them, some quickset concrete. Permit is $39 for a fence shorter than 7ft. Made one of these by just looking closely at photos and drawing it out. Fences aren’t magic and you have to worry less about loads, etc.


  • I actually had the same idea a while back. Unfortunately I could not even get a contractor who is also a family friend to enter into this kind of arrangement.

    My understanding is that the issue is not so much contractors wanting to capture all of the business for themselves, but the high probability of something going wrong and everyone pointing fingers at each other.

    If you succeed in finding someone willing to do this, please let us know. I would be interested in speaking to this person as well.

  • I’ve got a guy that is going to build a fence with me. He also allowed me to work with / watch and learn throughout a basement reno.

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