The days are long gone when a few tool-savvy friends could help a do-it-yourselfer put in a wooden or metal pier. We've compiled a list of questions you can use when you sit down with a contractor to discuss adding a dock.

Q. Do I really need it?
A. Ask yourself this question before any major addition.Your answer will prompt other vital questions about how you intendto use the dock. As a swim platform? For boating? For twilightcocktails? Carefully consider needs―and finances. If all youwant is a place to watch sunsets, save your greenbacks and build adeck on dry land.

Q. Am I getting advice from people who know the rules?
A. Dock building is one of those rare categories in which Iadvise you not to rely on local lore. Chances are, older docks inyour community were installed before current local, state, andfederal environmental regulations were enacted.

Q. How do I find out the rules in my community?
A. Start from the bottom up. Call your town'scode-enforcement officer. Then check with local governmentagencies. Describe exactly where you live, and have your propertysurvey or title available so that you can provide precisecoordinates. For a helpful list of state departments ofenvironmental protection, visit clay.net/statag.html.

Q. Should I build a floating dock or one on pilings?
A. Floating docks rise and fall with the tides. They'reattached to fixed vertical poles, sometimes called piers, poundedinto the seabed. Stationary docks are, well, stationary. Most ofthe big decisions related to them―lengths, designconfigurations, height above the water―are shaped by regionalregulations. One tip for pilings: Choose round rather than squarefor less-disruptive water flow and fewer edges to deteriorate overtime.

Pros of floating docks: They easily adjust to changes inwater levels. In regions where the water ices over in winter, youcan haul them up to shore to wait out the coldest months.

Cons: To some, floating docks feel unstable. Many homeownersassociations insist on traditional docks.

Pros of stationary docks: If well constructed, stationarydocks will ride out storms that tear loose floating docks. Theyalso tower above high tides that pull floating docks to theiranchoring systems' limits.

Cons: Stationary docks are expensive and always in yourview. Localities can impose a complicated review process forpermanent coastal structures.

Q. What material should I use?
A. Composite materials don't have wood's long track record,but they should have an advantage in resisting sun and salt. Onlyuse composites for surface decking, not structural support. For thesupport components, I still favor pressure-treated wood. (Buy themore expensive stock, which contains more of the chemicals thatresist rot.) And steel? Because it corrodes, it doesn't hack it ina residential context.

Q. How about maintenance?
A. Go low maintenance. If you use high-qualitypressure-treated wood, you won't need wood sealer. When you cleanthe dock, stick with plain water, a good scrub brush, and―inextreme circumstances―biodegradable soap. I'm betting afterthe first time on your knees with a brush, you'll see the grime asadding distinctive character.

Read More About It
For additional advice: "Coast-A-Syst" EnvironmentalStewardship for Homeowners; soil.ncsu.edu/assist.

For general dock tips: "Dock Primer," by the Canadiangovernment; dfo-mpo.gc.ca (click on"Reports & Publications).

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