We have the pleasure of featuring Keith Muracz of Prairie Decks & More, as he introduces himself and discusses how he’s been doing construction work since the late 1970’s learning carpentry, plumbing and locksmithing. At the age of 16, he designed and finished the basement of the newly built family home. From there, he ran a carpentry and deck and fence business with his best friend while doing his studies.
CanWel: What is the history of your company?
Keith Muracz: I’ve been doing construction work off and on since the late 1970’s when my Dad ran a maintenance business taking care of a few old apartments in the city.
I’ve been running my own construction business for the last decade plus, have been a designated trainer with the Apprenticeship Board of Manitoba for about eight years and have had my son, Jason Clearsky, working with me for the last six. In January of this year, I brought him on as a full partner and we dropped all other aspects of construction that didn’t involve working outdoors! Thus, Prairie Decks & More was born (more of a name and focus change than a birth, per se)
For the most part, it’s just my son and I and that’s the easiest way for us to maintain quality control. We specialize in custom decks, pergolas, gazebos, fences and storage solutions.
What services do you offer?
We design scalable deck packages for presale as well as custom designs with extensive client input and involvement. I do all the design work in-house, though for larger projects we typically use a drafts-person for plan drawings. We have a penchant for adding alternate colour fascias and inserts; because we don’t think two-tone builds should be reserved for composite budgets!
Can you tell us about one of your favourite projects and why?
One of our favourite builds was this design in East St. Paul which featured black posts on the privacy walls and railings, black horizontal balusters and overlapping handrails. The amount of precision required in the build to get everything where we wanted it kept us on our toes. It’s a lot of clean straight lines with a lot of definition and a very modern, perhaps Asian-inspire feel. The customer is still absolutely in love with it and she is definitely the envy of her neighbourhood. It’s without a doubt, a showpiece of our design elements. We’re building decks with unique design elements a plain-wood-deck-with-2×2-balusters budget!
Why do you work with . . .?
We build all of our wood decks exclusively with MicroPro® Sienna Treated Wood. We won’t build with alternatives and we won’t build green treated anymore. Because MicroPro Sienna product is the only treated lumber we have access to with 5/4 finished surface, we don’t have to alter drawings or elevations if we’re moving between treated, cedar and composite. Plus, the sanded non-permeated surface actually looks and feels like surface.
Also, we’re huge proponents of GRK Fasteners structural anchors (we use them on every build) and Deck2Wall spacers where ledger boards are not already in place.
I’d also like to point out that IRONiK Steel Design has been a wonderful industry partner and they not only manufacture the custom steel inserts we offer with our privacy walls – they also produce our stainless steel deck tags! And what’s a deck or fence if you can’t set foot in the rest of your yard? Pawluk Landscaping has been a wonderful addition and we’re now able to offer clients their complete backyard oasis (not just a nice fence and a fancy deck!)
What warranty do you offer on your work or the products?
One of the things that I believe sets us apart in the deck and fence building area, is that we offer a 3-year warranty which covers not just labour and adjustments, but wood contact surfaces (i.e. deck surface, hand rails, steps, gates, etc.) against splintering, warping and raised or loose knots.
We realize that even at a good price, a wood deck is an investment and you should be comfortable using it for the life of the product (shoes? who needs shoes?). Since wood will dry and shrink to its capacity over the first year, any anomalies in the product that present in the first three, we’ll sand, fill, treat or replace accordingly (at our discretion, of course).
All other items and hardware carry manufacturer warranty (1 year only) but if they require replacement within that three years, at least there’s no labour bill!
The only exception is low-voltage lighting, which carries a 90-day replacement warranty.
How do you approach each project?
I have a tendency to over-design perhaps, but I like very defined, purpose-built areas on a deck. I spend a lot of time with my clients discerning what their wants and need are from their backyard space and then try to narrow the product offering so that the process is not overwhelming. I’ll often draw mock-ups with colour choices and options included if I think a customer is going for something but they don’t necessarily have it in mind. Nine times out of 10, they go ahead with our original design or something very close with a couple modifications.
What trends do see in the future for your industry?
Low and long. One of the big changes I’ve seen over the last 35 years in regard to deck building, is the lean toward low-elevation decks, unencumbered by yard size restrictions. I think even a decade ago, people would tend to build higher elevation decks or have ascending tiers and now low is the way to go. Let’s face it: in new developments, you’re often staring at four or five neighbours before your fence goes up, because of the close proximity of the homes. Do you really want to build your deck so that everyone is looking at you when you’re trying to enjoy a family BBQ outside? It’s either that or 12′ fencing! lol
Is there a product you really want to try?
I’m really interested in looking at some of the waterproof membranes on the market. We build a few decks a year with a fairly large storage space underneath (fully skirted) but so far they’ve all been with the intent of seasonal storage. I see some other deck builders doing the membranes to keep the space underneath dry. I just have concerns in our climate about snowfall accumulation but I’m sure someone here must be doing it!
Do you have a product you use that you just can’t build without?
GRK-RSS Structural anchors. We use multiple sizes in various areas of our builds. We use 5/16″ x 6″ for both ledger board installations (when using Deck2Wall spacers) and for post and privacy wall installations. We use 3-1/8″ into 4×4 when we’re attaching post to piles; gussets to post and beam. We also use 4″ when hanging our stair sets. We even use GRK finishing screws to attach our business plaques to the decks! Definitely can’t live without them!
How do you find out about new products?
I follow deck builders, manufacturers and product distributors from around the world. I love to see what processes and products my compatriots from all corners of the world employ. Often, I’ll weight the feasibility of a new product in our climate, with our materials, etc. and perhaps even come up with a different way we can employ something similar here. It’s all about best practices. I’ve been playing guitar for as long as I’ve been deck building. I’m a pretty good musician, but I’m not under any illusion that I’m done learning. My view of this trade is very much the same!
Contractors often receive swag from manufacturers and suppliers. What’s your favourite swag?
Honestly, we never receive swag! lol. I think we fly under the radar for the most part and in person at least, I try to give the impression that we’re a little more low key than we are. I’m sure swag will eventually come . . . but we also don’t like to feel obligated or indebted to one supplier, manufacturer, etc. so we show up for free pizza or the odd BBQ, people whisper, “Who are those guys?!” We eat and we disappear into the sunset.
What social media channels do you use?
CanWel would like to thank Keith Muracz for taking the time to share his projects and insights with us. In the meantime, stayed tuned for our next Contractor’s Corner. Follow us on social to find out when our next feature will be posted.
If you’re a contractor and want to be featured in an upcoming Contractor’s Corner blog post, message us and we’ll send you the details. If you’d like to share your photos of your latest project with us on Instagram, tag us @canwelbuildingmaterials with #canwelpros.