painting business, marketing, estimate, deck, staining

Painting Contractors: Here’s How to Estimate Your Next Deck Staining

Let’s get some extra money on your next deck estimate!

I am Ron Ramsden a painting contractor up here in northern Massachusetts.

Deck Estimating; have you ever done one before?

You’re either venturing out on your own or you just want to make a couple of extra bucks on your next one…

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Let me share some tips that worked for me.

Over here in New England, our decks withstand a lot, shuffling, walking on them with maybe sand on the bottom of your shoes.

I have a couple of heavy dogs, we’ve got furniture, we have grills, we have spilled food, and of course, if I didn’t mention, we shovel them also.

Anyways, decks really get a lot of abuse up here, never mind the weather.

We’re going to walk through a deck estimate, what we look for, also some extra little tips that can bring you some extra money by giving your customers some options to spend more money with you because if you don’t write them down, they’ll assume that they are part of the deck estimate.

So, let me walk you through this one, we are going to add some things up, we are going to be looking at square footage, we are also going to look at ways to separate yourself from everybody else.

Like I said, hopefully, put some extra dollars in your pocket!

Anyways, we have a standard deck, this is a 10 by 12 deck, so that’s 120 square foot.

I know for Sherwin Williams, their decking stains, latex, generally, go about 325-350 square feet.

Some of us get a little more out of them, some of us get a little less and it all depends on what kind of wood it is and how porous or old or great or whatever the condition of the wood.

A raw deck that has been sitting there for a couple of years is going to really suck up that stain or paint.

We tend to use stain on our decks, we don’t paint decks up here, only because once it starts to fail, it’s a harder show.

We love staining because a lot of times we can freshen them up every year and that’s residual income for us.

So, we have this 10 by 12 deck and it’s on our 4 support columns about 10 feet off the ground.

The key right here is not the 120 square foot of decking, it’s actually a little more than that, because you are going to lose some in between each deck board.

Generally, when you are measuring out a wall, if the wall is 10 by 12, you have 120 square feet of solid wall.

However, with a deck, you are going to have the spaces in between, you are going to have to brush down in between those deck boards if there is any kind of space in between.

Then we have the railing, this is typically 3 ft. high, maybe a little bit higher, but for estimating purposes, we are going to use the 3-foot high railing.

You also have the balusters.

Each one of these balusters in this example is 1-inch.

They are about one 1 inch wide and about 36 inches high, so 36 inches of surface you have to stain, you have to stain all four sides, so four sides at 36 inches is 144 square inches.

It may not sound like much, but if you have 50 of these balusters at 144 square, you are going to have 12 square feet per baluster so if you have 50 balusters, at 12 feet, you should have 600 feet.

Going by the square inches, you are going to have 600 linear feet of staining to do.

What does this mean?

A gallon covers about 350 feet, so you are going to use over a gallon to coat those.

You also have the railings, and not only do you have these 1 by 5 that covers the top, but you also have to loop around underneath.

You are going to get all 4 sides of almost every piece of wood you’re staining that is visible.

Technically we don’t really stain the underneath of the deck.

You’re also going to have all the outside boards, you’re not only measuring the actual deck, but there’s also a lot of surfaces that we don’t account for.

We have the deck, we’ve measured the deck, we’ve measured every surface of the deck, and then you have the stairs and their rises if they have any.

A couple of things that we want to take note of when we are doing an estimate on a deck is that when we state our price for the deck, whether it hasn’t been stained before or if it’s one color already.

We state that the price for one color on the entire deck, for example, so we propose $1,000 on a deck, and they accept.

Then when you get there and they say, “We want the baluster to be white and then we want the rest of the deck to be blue,” that’s a huge, huge add-on.

That’s why we always state in our estimates that this estimate is for a one-color coating system.

If the deck is currently coated with 2-coats with the railings and deck, we will estimate it that way and we will note it to make sure it’s a 2-coat service.

The reason is you don’t want to be blind sighted, we all have been, when we get there they will say, “oh yeah, we want the decking to be brown. we want the railings to be light brown, we want the supports to be light brown and we want the balusters to be white.”

Well you just lost your shirt on this deck, not only are you losing on labor because of touching up and everything else, you have to buy 3 different colors of stain, huge add-on.

So, make sure in your estimate, you take into account how many colors there are and stick to it.

If not, when they start adding, you lose, the customer is not going to lose, you are going to lose.

That’s a very important thing, also when you are doing the stairs, what other parts of the stairs are you staining?

Are you staining the sides of the stringers?

Are you also staining the support beams underneath the deck?

This is a discussion to have with the homeowner, if not add it on as a line item that the support column, the support is a 4-inch or 5-inch wide, they could be 10-12 feet tall, there’s a lot of square footage right there.

You can eat up half a gallon of staining in no time.

Of course not only stain, you have height you have to deal with and time.

Also, when you are looking at the deck, look at the layout of the land, look at the topography, look at how high you have to put a ladder up there.

Obviously, if it is a 2-step deck off the ground, you are not even going to need a ladder, but if it is 12-feet up, you are going to have a lot of ladder moves.

Also, how are you staining the deck?

Are you spraying it?

Are you brushing it?

Are you spraying and back-brushing?

Make sure these are specified in your proposal, if you are spraying it, you also have to protect a portion of the house for over-spray.

Even if you’re brushing it, you are going to have to protect some parts of the house for over-spray.

You want to note that on your estimate and you want to make sure that they are okay with the spraying and back-brushing.

I’ve had customers in the past, “I don’t want my deck sprayed,” we have to know that going in.

That’s a different proposal we have to write and it tends to be a little more labor.

Anyways, a couple of things to note while you are putting your proposals together, you want to make sure you allow for wash time, so that’s usually a separate visit.

You can wash, soft wash, power wash, however you like to do it, we are more into the soft wash these days so that we don’t hurry any of the wood or raise any ground that we don’t have to raise.

Also, prepping, prepping is number 2.

What is prepping going to mean for this deck?

Is it going to be sanding the entire deck to remove an old coating?

The prepping is going to be time and material, a lot of people don’t like this, a lot of people want to know right up front, “what is this going to cost me?”

So make sure you cover yourself on your prep.

Also, is there a replacement wood that is going to be needed?

Be sure you are looking around and checking for that.

That should be a separate lined item, I noticed that customers really like lined items so they know what they are paying for on a deck replacement.

You also have to allow for protection underneath, maybe there is another patio underneath the deck.

Maybe part of the siding is under the deck, so you can get plastic and tape that off.

Some people don’t want excess stain dripped on their rocks that are underneath the deck, make sure you are alert for all of these things.

What kind of stain are you going to use?

Specifically put in your estimate, the stain, maybe your using Sherwin Williams staining, how many gallons are you going to use.

If you are using an oil stain, make sure you are alert to put your sundries in there.

Sundries will be your sandpaper, your paint thinner, your plastic, your tape, list these things. Homeowners don’t know that you are going to need them and they don’t mind paying for them if you put them in there.

This is not a lost part of the job, this is not added to your material, this is a lined item that is the cost of doing the job.

You don’t go to a garage and they throw in oil changes because you are a nice guy, list these out on your proposal and let the customers pay for them.

This is a big one, this is the star right here, moving furniture and gas grills.

If a gas grill is hot, plugged in, we have these up here in northern England, some of the homeowners have them and we paint around those grills, we do not disconnect them.

If there is ever a liability and that thing starts leaking down the road, guess where they’re going to point their fingers at? You.

Gas grills and furniture, the deck will need to be emptied, I put those on my estimate as a lined item.

We will allow for one hour of labor at a cost of X number a dollar, whatever you determine your labor rate is, and that will take two guys about a half hour to empty the top of the deck.

Obviously, if there are potted plants you have to take them off a few days ahead of time, because they are usually wet underneath them.

What would be terrible is if you power wash instead of soft washing the deck and you get there, ready to start painting or staining and you have soaking areas underneath all these plants.

You’ll have to get all those off, if the customer has already started growing their tomatoes and their vegetables on the deck, maybe it’s something that you have to revisit in the fall.

Some of these things can’t be moved.

Moving gas grills and furniture, even homeowners will say they will be empty, I will say 50% of the time we get there, it’s not empty.

We then charge; it might take us 15 minutes, we charge them a half hour, half hour for two guys equal one hour of pay.

Also, other factors to consider when you are looking at your deck here is the condition of the deck.

Is all the wood dried out?

You are going to make it look good but they have to know it’s not going to be looking like a brand new deck.

Also which product they’ve used in the past, there is this one product, I’m not going to name it, it was actually a very thick coating they put on that’s actually failing on almost every deck I see coming off in big sections.

We usually tell them, at this point, it would be cheaper to replace the deck boards and the wood for us to save them.

Height, that’s another big thing, if the entire height like I mentioned is 12 feet off the ground, then you are going to need a ladder on the entire exterior of the deck, moving that ladder all the time adds a significant amount of time, make sure you add that in for yourself.

What kind of product are you going to use, is this the product that you actually trust?

Do you know for a fact that next year it’s going to look great?

We find out that most of our decks, we call them the flats, anything flat, the decking, the top rail, the stairs, that’s almost an every year project up here in Massachusetts.

North England has tough weather compared to other places in the country.

If it is not heat, heat, heat in Florida, it could be coastal, it all depends on where you are, ice, cold, rain, intense heat over the course of the seasons.

You want to make sure the product you use will be able to withstand the weather.

It will be a great add-on, if you could give your customer a price, let’s say it’s $1,000 to stain the deck, but next year we come back and do all the flat for $350.

You don’t wash them, you just go back and hopefully, the furniture is gone, we just come and do all these flats.

You can give them a price right off the bat, you can touch base with them sometime after you stain it.

Once again, we are going to talk about furniture and grills, that is a huge add-on.

Also, power and water, make sure you ask the customer about power and water, you need water to wash the deck.

I don’t know how many times, this has slipped out of mind in the past when we get to the house, the crew gets there to wash the deck, and there is no outside water turned on.

The homeowner never even thought about it because they’ve never used it.

Make sure that’s checked ahead of time, maybe put a reminder in 48 hours ahead of time.

Before you actually go out to the proposal for the homeowner, check the water and follow up with that.

Also electricity, that’s a must, these are a couple of things that are going to save you a lot of grief and keep your production going.

Make sure you measure all surfaces of the deck, their railing, underneath their deck, underneath their railing which you typically don’t stain all four sides of the board.

The upper railing, about 4 inches wide, in this example, 12 feet long on the deck.

You start adding these little things up, you are going to eat up another gallon in no time.

You’ll want to make sure to include the color combinations on the deck or one color and give them options and specifically put it in your estimate if it’s for a one-color coating system.

We’ve broken a glass table before, at that point, you are staining a deck for free.

Those are the little hands there that make your deck estimate go the best, hopefully, you can add on a few extra dollars in your next estimate.

Once again, I am Ron, a painting contractor up here in Massachusetts, helping painters work on their business so they don’t have to work in the business.

If you’re interested:

here’s how much I pay my painters.

and How to estimate a house flip. 

Happy staining everybody.

About the Author

Ron Ramsden is the owner of the successful Ramsden 1-800-PAINTING, who implemented the DYB SYSTEM, and crushed it in 2015, and now coaches other painting contractors around the nation to do the same.