In fact, many local businesses are set up to provide just the services that home handypeople need, from estimating the amount of materials required to pricing and cutting the wood to required lengths to providing advice on materials' use and procedures.
But that doesn't get home builders off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for and ensuring that they have basic knowledge of Winnipeg bylaws and building code requirements.
And, given that homeowners are out to spend hard-earned dollars on their projects, it only makes sense that fence or deck builders take the time to learn as much about procedures and materials as possible, which is especially important for those who have never built a fence or a deck before.
Start at the beginning by planning your deck, including style and, importantly, size and shape. This will determine in large measure whether you need a city permit in the case of a deck. No permit is required for a fence, although there are building code restrictions pertaining to height and other requirements.
You will require a building permit for any deck that rises eight inches above grade or ground level. This is true even if your deck will not be attached to the house. "We'll build (the deck), but it's up to the homeowner to get a permit," said Darren Suski, install co-ordinator for RONA Revy Inc., a big box retailer that can sell materials to do-it-yourselfers or arrange for full installation of your fence or deck.
Fences, by virtue of city zoning bylaws, are limited to heights of six feet, six inches for rear and sideyards and four feet for front yards.
There are numerous other requirements that do-it-yourselfers should be aware of, which they can check out at the City of Winnipeg's Web site at www.winnipeg.ca under the links for Planning, Property & Development, then the link for brochures. More information can also be had by calling the city's zoning and permits branch at 986-5140.
"The biggest thing with a fence is to determine where you can dig," says Suski.
"Understanding where your property line ends is important, but the biggest thing is to determine where you can dig given the jumble of power, telephone and gas lines leading to the house," he said. "A mistake here can be disastrous, particularly if you happen to hit a natural gas line."
You must call Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Telecom Services before you start to dig, agrees Andy McKenzie, principal in A.J.'s Decks, referring to the well-publicized natural gas explosion in Transcona that occurred when a gas line was ruptured. The explosion destroyed the house and could have killed or injured inhabitants had anyone been home at the time. Suski cautioned that the same procedure should be followed even if you are replacing an existing fence, because it may have been improperly positioned in the first place.
McKenzie said utility representatives will then come down and mark the fence site with paint.
Suski said should the planned fence be located too close to a gas line, the company reps "may recommend you hand dig or use an auger." Hand augers can be rented from RONA and other local outlets, and electric augers are available from some rental outlets.
For both fences and decks, local companies recommend do-it-yourselfers draw their yard and structure to scale as much as possible and bring the diagram to the store so employees can estimate the amount and cost of the materials. The store specialists will be able to provide guidance on procedures such as the necessity to buy a nine- or 10-foot post for a six-foot fence to allow for enough length to go below ground.
Views differ here, but McKenzie said he would recommend a 10-foot post be used, "six-feet on centre" for a six-foot fence. The reference means that there is a six-foot span between the posts.
In the case of a 10-foot post, four feet would be submerged below grade, rather than three feet as with a nine-foot post. Once the hole is dug and the fence post submerged, builders must level and pack the posts with a "quarter down stone limestone" mix, so named because none of the pieces is supposed to be larger than a quarter, said McKenzie.
By all means, don't get ambitious and pour concrete down the hole, warns Suski. "You shouldn't concrete it because in cold weather it will act more to move your fence up and down (as a result of temperature changes)," he said.
Decks carry their own challenges, not the least of which is to keep the deck level. For this, builders can use commercial deck pads placed under the joists for the framed deck or invest in adjustable teleposts, rather than using wood posts.
McKenzie said his company developed a system he uses for installations that he calls "adjustable saddle jacks." This is a system that allows homeowners to adjust the height of their deck while they are standing on it, he says.
Once again, planning is important to get a proper estimate of materials and costs, and a covering, commonly called ground cloth, weed fabric or landscape paper is placed over the deck area at grade to stifle any new grass growth. This is held down by a covering of quarter down limestone.
It's up to the builder to research and plan the framing and the design for their deck. Some companies like Windsor Plywood have a deck program "where you take your rough sketch to the store and they will provide you with the materials," said McKenzie.
Materials for fences that are commonly used run the gamut from green wood and brown wood to natural cedar. The green and brown woods are both pressure-treated spruce that stands up to the elements better than natural untreated spruce.
"It is not recommended to use any kind of spruce unless it is stained because spruce will rot very quickly," said Suski.
Cedar commonly has a reddish tone when it is fresh, then turns grey when it weathers the elements.
Deck materials include the above materials and a number of low-maintenance composites and vinyls. The composites will cost a bit more to buy but are virtually maintenance-free, say company reps.
"In the last couple of years, the composites have become more and more popular," said Paul Aubin, of Accurate Building & Renovating. "Whereas the pre-treated lumber is not maintenance-free but low maintenance, the composites are maintenance-free."
Hugh Hull, president of Good Guys Builders Corp., a contractor for decks, points out that decks don't have to be plain boxes. Flipping open a binder with photographs of past projects, Hull displays an array of designs incorporating shallow flowing stairs from one level to the next, decks with flower pots and benches, decks with arbours and fancy framed curved stairs and decks that use a multitude of round shapes.
Hull, who has had some architectural training, said, "Even a small deck can be designed well, and that's done through planning lines and proportions," adding that he has a passion for good design.
He advocates homeowners think of their deck as a functional part of the landscape.
Homeowners can get ideas by talking to companies or checking out design books.
Star Building will provide scale drawings for people who come in with some idea of what they want in a deck, said Norman Shoreland, a manager at Star Building.
"They usually come in with a little drawing they've done themselves, and we put it on the computer for them," he said.
Jeff Johner, owner of Windsor Plywood's Century and Main Street stores, offered a price comparison among some materials for a 10-foot by 10-foot deck with no hand rails outfitted with two-foot by six-foot joists; two-foot by six-foot beams. The prices represent cost prior to taxes.
Rhino Deck composite was listed at $629.47; Cedar tone wood (brown treated lumber) $375.97, and Rocky Mountain Select green treated lumber $350.01.
Jim Ryz, purchasing manager for McDiarmid Lumber Home Centres, agreed there are a myriad of new products for decking. These include not only the composites but even PVC (plastic) materials.
"Initially, composites may be a little more costly, but they are maintenance-free generally." The company sells all the different types of woods including composites such as Trex (www.trex.com) for decks and other materials such as concrete pads for beneath the decks and "shortie teleposts."
Aubin said it's also necessary to put in piles or "ground hogs" if you want to enclose your deck, a building code requirement. "Ground hogs are like an eight-inch screw with an adjustable collar," he said.
For outside use, homeowners should also use galvanized nails and ceramic-coated screws for best results.