Deck builders abound. Which is why contractors who offer warranties appeal to homeowners looking to avoid the problems that can come with badly designed and poorly built decks. Warranties are a valuable selling tool, providing contractors with an aura of professionalism and clients with a sense of security. Pat Nicholson, whose Pittsburgh-based Deckmasters is now the industry's second-largest deck-building franchise, attributes at least part of his company's growth to a warranty offering customers a limited (nontransferable) lifetime guarantee on workmanship. What that means, he says, is that "if we put it together and it doesn't stay together properly, we'll fix it at no charge."

Beyond the call of duty

Nicholson estimates that roughly one of every five customers will eventually place a service call requiring a visit. Many have to do with loose boards. Brian McFate, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Custom Decks in Englewood, Colo., guesses that of the 150 to 200 mostly composite decks his company builds in a year, he gets a dozen calls on the firm's five-year workmanship warranty or on one of three manufacturer warranties offered. Of those, McFate estimates that two or three are for legitimate warranty claims and the others are beyond the terms of the warranty. All calls get a response -- and a solution -- since the company is intent on building its referral base.

Not long ago, a client called regarding a deck board damaged by a child's toy. "It was beyond the point of trying to sand it out," McFate says. "I said it wasn't a warranty issue but that I'd cover the cost of having someone come out to replace the board if they'd comp me for the materials."

Assurance helps sales

Warranties, McFate says, are part of a process, just like securing a building permit for every job, meant to assure clients they're "making an investment in a product -- and a company."

Renslows Outdoor Systems, which assembles Versadeck, a modular deck made of plastic-coated steel components, posts its two warranties on the company's Web site. One is a 10-year warranty on craftsmanship; the other is a lifetime materials warranty. "We're happy to direct [homeowners] to the site," says Chris Renslow, owner of the South St. Paul, Minn., deck builder. Most clients read it before they buy the $10,000 to $15,000 decks.