From file "021_rcs" entitled "4x4-3.qxd" page 01
Credit: Courtesy Built by Mac From file "021_rcs" entitled "4x4-3.qxd" page 01
Jon MacDonald, owner of Built by Mac, finds shade structures are the most popular built-ins.
Credit: Courtesy Built by Mac Jon MacDonald, owner of Built by Mac, finds shade structures are the most popular built-ins.

Question: When is a deck more than a deck?

Answer: When it includes not just the usual deck boards and railing, but planters, benches, tables, and even showers or hot tubs.

Providing the option of built-ins can add to your bottom line and can give that customer something more than a custom deck.

John MacDonald, owner of Built by MAC in Eugene, Ore., finds that benches, planters, and free-standing roofs are what homeowners prefer. His clients are most receptive to the suggestion of some sort of shade structure, especially pergolas. In constructing pergolas or even tub surrounds, “my own push is for curves,” MacDonald says. Curved edges and rafter ends (on pergolas) add a decorative look and that “wow factor” helps MacDonald sell his next project.

Time and Materials Built-ins such as benches and hot tub surrounds — MacDonald has done four of those this year, but only one shower in his company's nearly three years in business — are priced individually. “I'm not working off a price list,” he says. When building a tub surround, for instance, he may need to add footers in some cases, but not in others.

Built-ins take time, not just to build but also to design. So, for example, building a bench might add half a day or more to the job, and would be priced accordingly. MacDonald says that builtins can add from a few days to as much as a week to the job.

Web Helps Sell Often customers need to see deck built-ins before making any decisions. Images are readily available through pictures on Web sites, marketing brochures, trade or consumer magazines, and computer programs. Several programs now available allow you to create 3-D renderings on the spot.

Whether you sell built-ins as additional items or as part of the original bid will depend on your customers and their budget. Joe Wood of WoodsShop Creative Builders in San Diego, Calif., always designs built-ins as part of the original job. “That way,” he says, “I can add or delete them as the customer's budget allows.”

Offering built-ins helps you sell the design, so it's worth it to show prospects your decks with built-ins. Worst case scenario, contractors say, is for the client to approach you at the end of a project, complaining that they were unaware of built-ins as an option. —Carl Sperry is a contractor living in South Carolina.