Improving home insulation for savings and comfort: Part 5

A good contractor is important to the success of any home improvement project. Taking simple steps before you hire a contactor can help ensure success.

In previous articles of this Michigan State University Extension home insulation series, we’ve discussed what types of insulation projects are best tackled by the homeowner and which should be left to a professional installer. If you have determined that your insulation needs require using a professional, now the scary part begins – finding, hiring and working with a professional contactor to get the job done on time, on budget and as outlined. There are some basic steps every homeowner should follow no matter what type of home improvement project you are having professionally done.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission suggests breaking down hiring a contractor into three parts:

Finding a contractor:

  • Start with friends and neighbors for their recommendations or cautions. If they had a good experiences (or not), ask why.
  • Try to check out the work done by the recommended contractor.
  • Also, ask how long ago it was done. Changes at the company since the original work was done could change the results.
  • Do not rely on ads or discounts. The contractor with the best ad or the “best” deal might not be the best contractor for your job.
  • Look at trustworthy websites that provide reviews and rating of contractors.
  • Get the company history. How long have they been in business? Check out their business history with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been made.

Before a contractor is hired:

Get estimates from several companies. The rule of thumb is to get estimates from three companies. Do not automatically choose the lowest bid. Ask questions about why there is a difference in price.

Ask the same set of questions to each prospective bidder. That way you can compare them equally. Questions may include:

  • How many other projects like or similar to yours have they done recently?
  • Does this project require a permit?
  • Will you provide a list of references that I can contact?
  • What types of insurance do you have?
  • Who will be completing this work? Will you be using subcontractors?

Get a written contract from whichever contractor you decide to hire. At a minimum, make sure the contract contains the following information:

  • Contractor’s name, address, phone and license number
  • Project start and estimated completion date
  • Payment schedule including down payment, installments and final payment date
  • Who will get necessary permits
  • Requirements for changes in project by either party
  • Detailed list of specific materials for project
  • Warranty information on material and workmanship
  • Specific “do’s” and “don’ts” of the contractor. Ask for a “broom clause” if it is not already included in the contract. That requires the contractor to do all clean up work, including spills and stains and haul project debris away.
  • Any promises made during negotiations should be written in the contract to prevent additional charges at the end.
  • Written cancellation policy with specific time deadlines to cancel or change the contract.

After the contractor is hired:

Keep good records. All paperwork should be in one place, including the contract, any change orders, correspondence (written and email) and record of every payment.

Upon completion of the job, do not make the final payment until you are satisfied that all work promised is completed. A checklist should include:

  • All work completed to specified standards in contract
  • You have copies of all warranties on materials and workmanship for your records
  • You have proof that all subcontractors and supplies have been paid
  • All clean up has been completed

Remember, “a home improvement project gone wrong can cost you.” Doing your homework to research contractors and your options will make getting the job done on time and on budget less stressful.

For more information on home insulation, see the Michigan State University Extension bulletin “Home Maintenance and Improvement: Insulation” R2798.The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has additional information on hiring a home improvement contractor and recognizing home improvement scams as well.

Other articles in this series:

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