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Choosing the right contractor

Washington Energy | 05/04/2012 | Posted in Windows, Siding

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. That means in just a couple of weeks it will be home improvement season again here in Seattle and the Northwest. So how do you choose the right contractor to do the work, and preserve what you have already with good maintenance tips.


If you’re like most people, you have a wish list of projects. But how should you evaluate contractors to do the work? Here are ten questions to ask your contractor before you start work on your home projects.

1. What is the contractor’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating?
Unlike online reviews, this rating is one that the company’s employees can’t fake. It is a good indicator of their customer service ethic. Click here for more info on Washington Energy Services.

2. Does the contractor provide any kind of warranty beyond that of the manufacturer? Whether you are buying a furnace, water heater, windows or siding, the product manufacturers have warranties. Some are better than others. But does your contractor guarantee anything? Labor? Overall satisfaction? And if so what are the parameters?

3. Can my contractor service my product down the road?
Often remodeling projects are run by general contractors who obtain and install products for you. But they are not in the service business. For example, if you have a tankless water heater installed in your new basement, who will be available to fix it or do the annual maintenance? Or, if you have purchased windows with a 20 year warranty, who will be doing the work when and if there is ever a claim?

4. Are permits required to perform this work and does the contractor get them?
Around Puget Sound each municipality has permit requirements and related costs. Even small energy appliances like water heaters require permits. Not all contractors take the time to get permits, leaving you on your own to obtain it.

5. What is the total cost of my project?
You might be surprised that this question is on the list. Unless you have a firm bid on paper with all costs included, you may find extra charges adding up beyond that phone quote or ad. This is particularly true of items purchased from chain home improvement retailers which then get installed by sub-contractors. The sub-contractors don’t know your home and there are usually charges for various adjustments they need to make during the installation. It is often recommended that people get multiple bids for large projects. Make sure those bids are complete.

6. Speaking of sub-contractors…who is going to do the project?
Many companies do not disclose that their “employees” are sub-contractors. These sub-contractors may do great work, or not, but they do not receive any training from the company you have purchased from, and may not have much experience. Is the sub-contractor licensed and bonded and are their people background checked? Make sure you know what you are going to get.

7. Who will I be communicating with about my needs?
Will I be able to have input into the job as it progresses? For more complex projects such as siding, windows, roofing or house painting, there may be decisions that need to be made during the process of the installation. Will a manager be on site and if so, how often? Today, great workers can come here from all over the world. If you are the kind of person who likes to ask questions as the job proceeds, you might ask if there will be someone on site during the work who speaks a language you can communicate in.

8. Can the contractor provide me references for similar projects that I may contact? Anyone who has had a contractor nightmare wishes they had done this first. Its great if you have a friend or neighbor who can recommend their contractor, but in many cases that is not available. Reading online reviews is not a good indicator these days of real performance. You never know what incentive the reviewer was paid, if it’s an employee, or if the disgruntled commentator was one versus the one hundred who were satisfied. Talking to another customer or even seeing photographs of other work that was performed can help.

9. What local rebates or federal tax credits can I qualify for?
Can your contractor help you with these? There are numerous utility, municipal and federal rebate or tax credit opportunities and they change every year. For example, the Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency are still around, though there is a $500 maximum for 2011. Many require specific forms and submissions. Click here for more info.

10. Is there a timeline to complete my project? 
Major projects such as finishing a basement or home siding can take several weeks to complete and require a variety of materials. One complaint often heard is “they started the project and now haven’t shown up for a few days. I don’t know when they are going to come back and no one is returning my calls.” I was once told that this is an old contractor’s trick to be able to manage several jobs at a time. Well, even if that were true, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Get a timeline in writing and a full understanding of all steps of the project, delivery dates for materials and work required, so you know what to expect. And make sure you exchange all relevant phone numbers with the contractor including personal cell phones.

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