Building a Deck in Chicago? Here Are 4 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Shannon Antinori
Written by Shannon Antinori
Updated June 15, 2021
building a deck
Knowing what questions to ask your contractor can ensure your deck is built to code and help extend its life.
Photo courtesy of Rock Solid Builders

Your backyard: It’s your own private outdoor oasis, and you want it to look its best.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

One way to make your yard more inviting is to add a deck, which can increase your home’s resale value as well as create a place for your family to relax.

Building codes are strict in Chicago, where deadly porch collapses have highlighted the importance of making sure your deck is built to code and properly maintained.

But how do you ensure that your deck is done right the first time?

Anna Wuchter, owner of Rock Solid Builders in McHenry, Illinois, says there are a few common mistakes homeowners make that can affect the quality and longevity of their deck.

1. Hiring the cheapest contractor

“A lot of times, people will hire primarily based on cost,” Wuchter says.

But basing your decision on the cheapest contractor can sometimes cost you down the road.

“Every contractor will estimate differently,” Wuchter says, and there are often additional costs, such as permit fees, that aren’t included in the estimate.

“It’s really difficult to compare apples to apples,” so clients should read the fine print and make sure they understand exactly what’s included.

RELATED: How Much Does it Cost to Build a Deck?

2. Not asking the right questions

Be sure you know what you’re getting for your money, and who’s doing it.

One question to ask is who’s paying for the permits, Wuchter says. The homeowner should know whether it’s up to them or the contractor.

“The permit one is a big one because it’s the only way to know that your deck is being built to the current building codes,” she says.

Before hiring a Chicago deck builder, homeowners should also know upfront whether the deck will be built by employees or subcontractors.

“That can make a difference from a legal or insurance standpoint,” Wuchter says.

Homeowners should also ask whether the contractor is licensed, insured and bonded.

Another good question to ask is how many decks the company builds per year so you can get an idea of your contractor’s level of expertise, according to Wuchter.

3. Waiting too long to stain the deck

Wuchter says it’s important to apply deck stain or deck sealer to wood decks within 60 days of installation.

“A lot of people hear ‘pressure-treated lumber’ and think it doesn’t require staining or sealing,” she says. “It really should be stained within a couple months of installation.”

Some companies advise clients to wait a year to allow the lumber to dry out, according to Wuchter.

“That’s an old wives’ tale,” she says, and it can be especially harmful to decks built in Chicagoland.

“In our climate, with the extreme cold and extreme heat, you don’t want to wait a full year,” she says. Temperature changes can cause the wood to expand and contract, which can lead to warping, twisting and splitting of your wood deck.

“Treating the deck seals the wood and prevents water from penetrating and prevents expanding and contracting,” Wuchter says.

MORE: Benefits of Using Stain vs. Paint on Decks and Fences

4. Neglecting deck maintenance

While some homeowners prefer composite decking that has the look of wood with less need for maintenance, if you go with a wood deck, you need to be prepared for regular upkeep.

Wuchter recommends pressure washing, sanding and re-staining your deck once a year or every other year.  If you don’t want to do it yourself, depending on the size of your deck, it can cost $500 to $2,000 to hire a Chicago-area contractor to do the work for you, she says.

Failing to maintain your deck can lead to splintering, warping and cracking — and in extreme cases, a deck collapse.

“It’s really a safety issue,” Wuchter says.

Before you build, check out the Angie’s List Guide to Decks and Porches.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.