How To Choose A Contractor For Your Next Home Improvement Project

The plan is ready. All the details are in set, so far, so good. You have decided you cannot do all, or even any, of the project. You need to hire a contractor. How, then do you pick the right one for the job? If this is not your first project, you know the drill. Merely repeat it or rehire the contractor you had previously employed on other jobs. If they are available or did a good job.

If you are new or need a refresher course on the dos and don’ts consider the following as a brief guide into hiring the right contractor for the job.

The Plan

It is always necessary to know first what you want done. Create the plan before you even attempt hiring. Write it all down so it can be easily circulated and understood. This is not the final draft but will be a work in progress.

The Search

You could look in your local phone book under contractors but there are other ways to go. Word-of-mouth is the most common means of referral. Ask any of your friends, acquaintances or colleagues about any work they have done. Find out how they liked the quality and overall execution of the work.

Check with building material suppliers, building inspectors, insurance agencies, banks, local builders’ associations, brokers, real estate agents, architects and the Better business Bureau. This should supply you with names, numbers and varying degrees of references from glowing to non-committal to condemnation.

You now have enough information to make the initial contact.

First Contact

The first contact with a contractor should be over the phone. Explain the basics about your project. Without going into excessive detail explain what it is you want done, the size of the project, the location, a possible time-frame and any essential deadlines as well as a cost range. Find out the contractor’s availability and notice any expressed enthusiasm or disparaging remarks. Find out, as well, the certification or licenses possessed and, maybe, obtain a free estimate.

Conducting Interviews

An interview is restricted by a number of factors, including whether any of those contacted want to attend. It is, however, an essential part of finding the right contractor for your project.

The interview should focus on such aspects as availability, the kind of work crew hired, the structure of a contract, the relationship to the all-powerful permit granters ( a bad one can hold up work), and former projects. Check out the contractor’s portfolio. Are jobs similar to yours listed? If so, how long ago were they completed? This information will paint you a picture of that particular side of the contractor as well as providing information on references to be contacted later.

The plan should be trotted out. A good contractor will really listen, making astute comments, indicating positive aspects but noting where improvements or changes could or should be made.

If possible find a little about the personal life of the contractor. Emotional turmoil or serious drama on the home-front could complicate or interfere with your project, extending dates and resulting in chaos where there should be order.

Whittling Down the List

After all the interviews are completed, contact the supplied references, see what they have to say. Whenever possible, go to the contractor’s past and current work sites to see how it is operated.

Check on their stated qualification to obtain verification and compile a list of pros and cons. From it select the final candidates. Hopefully there will be two or three. From them obtain bids or, at least firm estimates.

Factor this into the total equation of compatibility, competence and price. Only after all this leg work is done should you decide who is the best candidate for your next project.

Home Improvement and Remodeling – Do I Need a Building Permit to Do That?

“Do I need a building permit to do that?” is a frequently asked question when people think about building, remodeling, and home improvement projects. You might be surprised how many construction projects require one, according to the International Residential Code. From a practical perspective, people do not obtain one when they should and building officials may not make an issue about this oversight. But as inspectors know, work performed without one is a common source of safety issues and costly repairs.

You often need a building permit for:

  1. replacement of or major repairs to water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, gas and plumbing pipes, and similar components,
  2. modifications or major repairs to the electrical system such as adding or moving receptacles or lights, and adding new circuits,
  3. installation of new plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning equipment and components,
  4. replacement of building components such as roof coverings and exterior wall coverings,
  5. construction of new buildings,
  6. additions, structural modifications, and major structural repairs to existing buildings,
  7. movement and demolition of existing buildings,
  8. changes to building occupancy.

A change to building occupancy means changing how the building is used. Example: using a single family home as a place of business is a change in occupancy that may require a building permit and may require a zoning change or zoning waiver.

You may not need a building permit for:

  1. building or installation of one-story detached accessory structures less than 200 square feet with no utilities,
  2. fences not more than 6 feet tall,
  3. retaining walls not more than 4 feet tall measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall and not supporting a surcharge [a vertical load in addition to and/or above the retained ground],
  4. driveways and sidewalks,
  5. painting, wallpapering, floor covering installation, cabinet and countertop installation, and similar finish work,
  6. installation of portable plug and cord connected electrical equipment,
  7. installation of portable gas heating, cooking and clothes drying equipment,
  8. installation of portable HVAC equipment [such as window air conditioners],
  9. clearing of plumbing stoppages and repair of plumbing leaks and removal and reinstallation of toilets if the repairs do not involve replacement or rearrangement of valves, pipes or fixtures.

You usually do not need a building permit for routine maintenance of existing buildings, fixtures, and equipment if the building structure is not affected and if the nature and use of the electrical, plumbing, gas or HVAC system is not changed.

A permit is a good investment, even though it costs money and slows the project. It provides a comparatively inexpensive way to ensure that the project is inspected and it helps reduce your potential liability if there is a defect that causes injury or damage. The building official can require dismantling or removing work performed without one.

You should obtain a building permit when required. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements, so contact your local building official if your project requires one. Keep it with your home documents. It will be useful at the time of sale, should the purchaser have questions about the quality/nature of the work performed.