As warmer weather rounds the corner, homeowners are looking forward to spending more time outdoors. But sometimes they have difficulty grasping the full potential of their backyards. Their outdoor space can be so much more than what they might realize. With the right features and amenities, an outdoor area can become an extension of your customers’ living space—a favorite “room” for enjoying family time, reading a good book, or entertaining friends.
As a trusted advisor, you can help them imagine the possibilities.
Here are some questions to consider asking homeowners to discover what they need from their outdoor space.
- In what seasons would you like to use your outdoor space?
- What times of day will you typically use your outdoor space?
- Do you want your outdoor space to let in or shield out direct sunlight?
- What types of activities will you do in your outdoor space?
- How many people will your outdoor space need to accommodate?
- Do you have (or foresee having) pets that you want to keep on your property?
- Would you like to increase your level of privacy?
Getting customers to answer these questions will help them realize what they want and need. And it will give you a better idea of what features (such as a screened porch, pergola, deck, arbor, fencing, outdoor kitchen, etc.) will help them live their vision.
For many contractors, sales is one of the least favorite aspects of running a business. But it’s an important issue because your success can depend on it. Even if most of your customers come to you through referrals, you still have parts of the sales process to deal with.
Keep the following tips in mind to help make your sales efforts successful:
- Ask questions.
Listen closely to what your customer tells you rather than jumping in with your thoughts and suggestions out of the gate. Ask questions to gather as much information as possible about your prospect’s needs and expectations before you propose ideas and solutions. This will also help you write more accurate estimates of time and costs for projects.
- Follow up after you send your quote.
If you haven’t heard from a customer in the time frame you expected, follow up.
While you may be thinking the prospect will call you back, that person may be thinking the ball is in your court. By
following up, you have an opportunity to answer questions and move the sale forward.
- Set expectations.
After a customer contracts you to do the job, explain your work process, schedule (as accurately as possible), and any other details that will help set clear expectations. This will help avoid misunderstandings and ensure customer satisfaction.
Installing decks when Mother Nature turns down the thermostat presents some seasonal challenges. Here are some quick reminders about what to be aware of when working with decking material in cold weather.
- When the temperature is cold (40° F or less), reduce the feed rate when cutting vinyl. This will help prevent chipping and breaking.
- Keep vinyl material warm—in the customer’s house or your heated truck—before working with it.
- Keep SCREENEZE® in a heated area prior to installation, because the caps might split in cold weather.
- Keep rail bracket screw covers in your jacket pocket to keep them warm. When cold, the covers might break.
- When installing composite decking, pre-drill before putting fasteners into it. This will help prevent the material from splitting.
- If you haul plastic materials on the back of a trailer or truck, make sure you have fastened them securely. If they flap in the wind, they might crack or break.
- Decking will expand and contract; make sure you consider that when measuring materials and constructing decks.
According to the WOLF PVC Decking installation guide:
“WOLF PVC Decking, when installed with two screws per joist, will have minimal expansion and contraction due to temperature changes. There will be no side-to-side movement and small end-to-end change; slight gaps may be noticed at the ends of boards or in spliced joints.”
With a 50° F temperature change, expansion and contraction estimates for unattached WOLF deck boards are:
- 3/16” for 12’ boards
- 1/4” for 16’ boards
- 5/16” for 20’ boards
When you’re installing decking in temperatures below 32° F, WOLF recommends spacing butt ends of boards 3/16” apart and leaving a spacing of 1/8” to 3/16” from side to side.
If you’re looking for outdoor lighting solutions for your customers, Placid Point Lighting may be the perfect fit. Made in the USA by Key-Link Fencing & Railing, these outdoor LED lights offer:
- Energy efficiency: Placid Point’s Post Cap lights use only 1.6 watts of electricity, while the lens lights and stair lights use just 0.4 watts—which means increased efficiency and cost-savings for your customers
- Versatility: They’re available in colors to match all of Key-Link’s aluminum posts and railings and all of Superior Plastic Products’ vinyl posts and railings. With a choice of lit or non-lit caps, you can customize this lighting to suit the customer’s environment.
- Long-lasting performance: These lights have protective seal coating on their circuitry to prevent corrosion and retain their attractive appearance and functionality for years.
- Convenience: Placid Point’s timer allows customers to set their lights to turn on and off automatically for a set period of hours, so they won’t have the worry or hassle of doing it manually.
To learn more, call us or visit placidpointlighting.com.
In our last newsletter, we mentioned the uncertain future of Clubhouse Decking. We have since heard that a Canadian company in Ontario, TRUNORTHDECK™, has bought it and is planning to keep it on the market. We expect that until production is back in full gear supplies may be limited.
We’ve recently learned that Tapco, the manufacturer of Clubhouse® decking, plans to discontinue the Club-house product line. A press release revealed that Tapco is exiting the decking and railing market so it can focus on other building categories.
The Not-so-good News
The timeline for when Clubhouse decking will no longer be available from Tapco isn’t clear, nor is whether another company might acquire that product line and continue it. Either way, we anticipate some difficulties or delays in ordering Clubhouse decking products.
The Good News
Even though the future remains uncertain for Clubhouse decking, you can rest assured you will still have all your needs met by Homestead Outdoor Products.
We have other high-quality decking material options available, including those from WOLF Home Products, Paldeck®, and Fiberon®.
Three Common Questions (and Their Answers)
In porch projects, getting the posts right can mean the difference between a structurally sound porch and one that puts people in harm’s way. In serving contractors, the three most common questions we hear from our customers are:
What are the load tolerances of Superior Plastic Products porch posts?
Superior has done extensive testing to determine their posts’ “point of failure” (i.e., the absolute maximum amount of weight their posts can hold). To ensure safety, the typical rule of thumb is to not attempt supporting any more than half of that maximum load. For example, Superior’s max load rating on 4” posts is 7,800 pounds, so you would not want to support more than 3,900 pounds with them.
The max load ratings for other-sized Superior Plastic’s porch posts are below:* • 4.5” posts = 11,800 pounds (appropriate for supporting up to 5,900 pounds in your projects)
5” posts = 10,500 pounds (appropriate for supporting up to 5,250 pounds in your projects) • 6” posts = 18,000 pounds (appropriate for supporting up to 9,000 pounds in your projects)
With Superior Plastic Products load testing results, we’ve found them to be more than adequate in serving most porch projects’ requirements.
What are the load tolerances of pressure-treated wood posts?
Quite often, we’re asked how much weight a 4 x 4 or 6 x 6 pressure-treated wood post can hold. The answer to that question isn’t always straightforward. Many different factors affect the load tolerances of wood posts, including the length of the unbraced height, the type and grade of wood, the service conditions, and other variables. According to calculations using an online “Capacity of Wood Column Calculator” by Jonathan Ochshorn via Cornell University, a southern SPF wet-service 4 x 4 9-foot-long post can hold about 3,500 pounds and a 6 x 6 9-footlong post can support about 10,000 pounds.**
What does code require?
Unfortunately, no answer exists to this question. International Residential Code (IRC) offers guidance on platform and balloon frame construction, but not on the construction of posts and beams.
With building codes not specifying the weight a post must bear, you’re left on your own to figure it out, unless you’re working off an architect- or engineer- The Good News Even though the future remains uncertain for Clubhouse decking, you can rest assured you will still have all your needs met by Homestead Outdoor Products. We have other high-quality decking material options available, including those from WOLF Home Products, Paldeck®, and Fiberon®. approved plan. To ensure posts are adequate, make sure you know the expected dead-load and snow-load capacities. And when in doubt, consult an engineer.
* According to Superior Plastic Products’ website— accessed 9/29/2017
** This information is not meant to replace the expert advice of an engineer. While the online calculator’s
information appears to make sense, we cannot guarantee its accuracy
To give you a more convenient and informative experience when you visit us online, we recently launched
our new website.
You’ll still find us at www.homesteadoutdoorproducts.com, only now you’ll discover we:
- Made it easier to find what you’re looking for.
- Provide more details about the products we carry.
- Made the design more attractive to the eye.
- Updated our FAQs section.
- Added information about the areas we serve, our delivery services, and the types of customers we serve.
We invite you to visit our new site and browse around. If you have any questions, we’re just a phone call away!
Attractive and very easy to install, SCREENEZE® fixed screen system lets you transform your customers’ patios and porches into outdoor living spaces they’ll love.
For the best results during installation, keep these two tips in mind:
Install with consideration of sun exposure and temperature. In hot summer months, consider the porch location and temperature when installing SCREENEZE. On hot days with lots of sunshine, the vinyl will have expanded, so you’ll want to make sure the caps have a snug fit.
In cool weather (under 60º), keep the vinyl caps warm until you’re ready to install SCREENEZE. In cold temperatures, vinyl becomes brittle and can split or crack if not stored in a heated environment before installation. The ends are particularly susceptible to breaking in cold weather, so SCREENEZE’s manufacturer recommends hand-pressing the
caps at the corners and tapping the caps close to previously expanded points.
Cut the track and cap at the same time to ensure clean miters. If you try to cut the aluminum base and vinyl cap separately, you’ll find it more difficult to get the joints right. By cutting them together, you’ll ensure they’re of equal length and avoid leaving gaps.
For detailed installation instructions and tips, visit the SCREENEZE website at Screeneze.com. And, as always, you’re welcome to call us with questions.
Bonus Tip: For pet-hardy screened-in porches that resist tears and punctures better than other screen fabrics, we carry TEXTILINE ® (formerly known as SuperScreen™). Used with SCREENEZE, this heavy-duty coated polyester screen will give customers years of use with minimal maintenance.
Photo courtesy of SCREENEZE®
Boost Productivity and Keep Customers Happy
A neat, well-organized job site affects customer satisfaction and how efficiently your crew can get the job done.
Here’s a checklist of to-dos to help you deliver an exceptional customer experience and streamline your work:
- Visualize the flow of work in advance. Consider the layout of the job site and plan ahead for how you can work—and clean up—most effectively. For example, determine where you might place your saw to minimize the distance between where you’re cutting and the destination of your finished lumber stack.
- Keep supplies in good order. Arrange your materials neatly as soon as you bring them on-site. Taking a few minutes to do that can save hours by making supplies easier to find and minimizing clean-up efforts.
- Use a blower to remove dirt and debris. After wrapping up your work each day, use a blower to clear dust and debris from porches, yards, and sidewalks. Although the home’s exterior may still be a work in progress, it will look more like a completed job if you’ve cleaned it up as you go.
- Set standards and expectations with your team. Strive for consistency in how your crew handles organizing and cleaning up sites. With uniformity from one job to the next, you can boost productivity and better ensure customer satisfaction.
Never underestimate the goodwill you can create with your customers by keeping their property organized and clean during and after the job. A little extra attention can go a long way toward gaining repeat business and referrals!