Working with Contractors

For small scale projects: Ask for references and check them. Make sure to pay on the performance rather than in advance. Consider the implications of: Contractor Disputes, Contractor Guarantees and a Home Warranty, Hiring a Contractor and Payment Terms, and Relationships with Contractors.

For renovations, additions, or a new home: Review the guide below that outlines what to look for in selecting a contractor. For most Americans, homes are our largest investment and for major work on your property you want a custom builder that can manage multiple sub-contractors, deliver quality work and meet the target schedule within budget.

Here is what to look for in selecting a home builder:

A true custom builder is comfortable with a range of traditional, contemporary and unique designs with the appropriate materials details and mechanical systems. Look for a builder that has selected, over many years, employees and subcontractors who are highly skilled and possess the ability to complete a finely crafted home. When choosing a custom builder, carefully match the type of home you desire to the type of home in which the company has expertise building. Builders have diverse skills but they often specialize in one type of home. Ask the key questions:

What is the contractor's primary field of expertise?
Does the contractor have the ability to assemble a quality group of tradespeople to work on your project? Are they experienced in working with architects, interior decorators, engineers and the like? This person will be your primary source of information during the life of your project. Select this professional as you would your family doctor or lawyer.

Is the contractor financially sound?
How long has the contractor been in business under the same name? Are local banks familiar with the contractor? Does your bank's construction loan department have a good opinion of the contractor? Local building material suppliers often provide excellent information about area contractors.

How many renovations, additions, or new homes per year does the contractor build?
Will your home be one of a dozen, or two dozen? How busy is the contractor at the present time? Does the builder offer a weekly meeting, or do you become fast tracked across their schedule board? By limiting the number of homes per year, your project becomes an important part of a builder's enterprise. In busy building cycles, there are a limited number of quality tradespeople available. Too many projects will lead to decline in quality, or force a builder to seek out subs he is not familiar with. There may be a waiting period at the beginning, but several months is small time to wait in respect to decades of home ownership.

Is the contractor a "quality" builder?
There has never been a builder that advertises "poor" or "mediocre" quality. Most builders, regardless of cost, represent themselves to be quality builders.

How does a client differentiate what is true quality?
Quality builders recommend and specify fine products that have a proven track record of performance. When it comes to details from the ground up, foundations are backfilled with gravel and footings contain steel rebar. This is just one example of the type of ‘quality’ that homeowners may not be able to see or touch. Remember that the building code is just the minimum legal requirement! Your home will be built to give you many worry free years of ownership. Another quality indicator is a contractor's willingness to successfully coordinate and construct complex features ranging from radiant heating, with in-floor slab programmable thermostats to home entertainment built-in cabinetry with innovative hide-away doors and standby power reduction systems. Perhaps the most important characteristic is the commitment to recognizing mistakes during the building process, correct them, and standing behind any problems that happen at a later date. Quality builders should simply know the ‘green’ advantages when it comes to energy saving systems, framing techniques, insulation and overall product selection. Many homes in America are now built to a 50 year life expectancy before they need a ‘gut-remodel’ or tear down. This disposable culture phenomenon is…ridiculous, because over 25% of U.S. landfill waste comes from construction debris. We are literally, building disposable houses. You can demand more, and help break the inertial of energy-inefficient and disposable homes.

Who is my point of contact?
The personality of the primary contact person is critical. You'll be spending a great deal of time with this person for many months. Is the person selling you the home the one you'll be dealing with on a daily basis?

How important is cost?
Better building materials cost more--but last longer. Better subcontractors cost more--but you'll have fewer problems during the construction period and professionals who will be around to service your new home. Cost per square foot is dependent upon the size of the home (larger is usually less), the complexity of the home, the detailing and level of finishes, and site conditions. Every renovation, addition or new home should be individually and completely priced, not priced by the square foot. Before construction begins, you will be provided with a detailed cost report that clearly lists all of the costs for the complete home, from the blueprints to the final landscaping. Also included in this list is the profit and overhead for construction services. You will have complete control over the budget. In regards to allowances and suppliers, our builder's discounted price will be your price. Any rebates or discounts are passed along to you.

Can I make changes during construction?
A true custom builder should be responsive to your wishes throughout the building process. A production, or semi-custom builder, will attempt to force you into a schedule that best accommodates the builder, not the homeowner.

What is the overall focus?
A quality builder’s focus should be there to assist you in making good decisions while your home is being built. They should schedule regular meetings to discuss upcoming construction events, and expect you to make changes during the process. You pay the difference in the actual cost of the item, and are not penalized by being unfairly charged for changing your mind. The overall focus of the builder should be to deliver an outstanding home for you and your family as well as for their portfolio of work.

The right home improvement products, techniques, and services:
Contractors, home improvement stores, and specialty shops in your area may not yet have a complete familiarity with the ‘green’ opportunities, products, system integration, and overall savings potential. So, you may get some resistance, since people in general are typically more comfortable recommending something that they are already familiar with rather than something new. To help break the inertia, use the information across this website like our Return on Investment Master ROI Table. Also feel free to post a question in our forum on the message board about a particular need for your home relative to your area. Our team has spent multiple years aggregating research from public and private sector performance reports and from manufacturers and homeowners across the country in order to provide you with the perspective you may need to see the initial payback and long term advantages. Environmental enthusiasts and leading institutions like the American Institute of Architects and the National Association of Realtors, see the value and link into our resources to support their members.

The Green Home:
For your overall home improvement, you can save money, improve your family’s health, and save the planet. Find out for free how much it will cost to do different types of home improvement in your home from a qualified and member approved contractor in your area. Get a FREE Quote . Plus, regardless of the size and scope of your home improvement project, save money and keep your home clean with the top rated chemical free and concentrated Green Home Cleaning Products.

Home Improvement Basics:
When it comes to home improvement basics, look for interior home improvements like creating a clean, safe, and healthy home through sustainable ‘green’ furniture, home décor, zero VOC and Interior Paint, plus ENERGY STAR Appliances and Electronics. For energy and utility savings you can focus on insulation and air sealing, windows, doors, lighting and skylights, water saving plumbing opportunities, and high efficiency heating and air conditioning systems. On the outside of your house, look for exterior home improvement opportunities through landscape design and gardening plus solar energy, wind and other power sources. If you are undertaking a major home renovation, an additions, or building a new home, then take the lead to ‘go green’ in as many ways as possible to save money and the environment.

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