Lighting and stairs training for deck contractors

Last year around this time, I wrote about how The Deck Store hosts a Contractor College each spring before the deck season. It’s an opportunity for us to spend a Saturday morning together with our deck builder customers and regroup after a long winter. It’s also an educational session that helps to make sure that we’re all prepared and on the same page before things get really busy. As this year’s deck season is finally ramping up, I want to share a couple of items that we are focusing on training for our deck builders at this year’s Contractor College.

This year, we’re going to spend more time on the details that go into projects that require lighting and stairs. For lighting, customers want riser lights and post lights. Here in Minnesota, deck builders who install a lot of such low-voltage products are required to be licensed. However, most deck builders are not. Many manufacturers are aware of this and have done a good job making their products as plug-and-play as possible to get around those licensing requirements. Yet even with easy-to-use products, there is still the danger of installing something incorrectly and risking malfunction. As a retailer, it is my responsibility to make sure that my contractor customers know as much as they can about the products they install.

As a licensed electrician myself, I like to make sure that the installers know the proper way to put lighting projects together. At our annual Contractor College, we’ll have a discussion as well as demonstrations about DC loop circuits. We’ll also spend time explaining how to calculate the proper size of transformer needed for each project. In the past we used AC power supplies. Today, the LED lights that are used need to be supplied with DC power. The advantage of LED lights, of course, is that they have very low power consumption. With them, we’re able to use low wattage DC power supplies. We also are sure to teach our deck builders how to service the lighting systems we sell.

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Stairs are another topic that we will be sure to cover this year. We work closely with our contractors to be sure that they understand all of the codes and rules for stairs. Most deck builders know that composites are different than real wood, and that various composite brands are different from each other, but you’ll want to make sure they understand how that affects the building codes. Some composites require that you build your stair stringers 9″ on center. Others require 12″ separation.

A deck builder will need to know which composite decking he is using in the project before he knows how to build the stair stringers. I often use the analogy that you can’t pack for vacation unless you know where you’re going. Many times people come in and say that they’ve already built their frame and now they want to know what kind of decking to use. I have to tell them that they needed to have built their stairs and frames to certain specifications in order to install a certain decking properly. At this point, we’re left to find decking that is suitable for the frame they’ve built, and that limits the options the customer has to choose from.

“We, as retailers, can help educate our installers and homeowner customers so that they not only understand our products, but also know how to use the products accordingly.”

We’re also going to spend time coaching contractors to make these decisions up front and how to explain to customers that we have better products. I’m sure to talk about the benefit of our Kiln Dried After Treating (KDAT) materials, as well as the quality composite brands that we carry.

The biggest reasons for failure in a deck project are not the materials themselves, of course, but improper installation. We know in our industry that it is a challenge sometimes to get people to follow instructions. We, as retailers, can help educate our installers and homeowner customers so that they not only understand our products, but also know how to use the products accordingly.

In our Contractor College environment, it is nice to have 10 to 15 skilled carpenters in our store who don’t regularly spend time together. We find that they often collaborate as a group and even though they are competitors out in the field, here they are open to sharing techniques in an educational setting.