What to ask your contractor before starting a project
Remodeling or building a new home is a big financial and emotional investment. It can also be a big investment of your time if you want to be closely involved in the decision-making. Knowing what to expect before the project gets started will help you better prepare for the process. Here are 10 questions you should always ask your contractor before starting a home remodeling project.
1. What is our schedule? A schedule is more than just a start and end date. Having a schedule that outlines tasks and timing will give you a big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines for things such as tile and countertops. It will also give you a benchmark so that you know if things are slipping by a day or two.
With small projects such as kitchens and baths, schedule is everything. The cabinet lead time determines the start date and sub-trades need to be scheduled in quick succession, for instance. Don’t start without a schedule that tells you what days and times workers will be on site.
2. Who will be here every day? Depending on the size and structure of the company you hire, the answer could vary widely. Many remodelers use a lead carpenter system, where a staff member (sometimes called a superintendent) is responsible for day-to-day work on site, and often swings a hammer as well. Ask your contractor direct questions about who will be responsible for opening and locking up, who will supervise subcontractors on site and who to call on a daily basis with any questions.
3. How will you protect my property? This is a conversation best had before demolition, not after you come home and find dust all over the house. There are a number of dust-containment measures that can be taken, and talking about it ahead of time will provide you will a clear idea of how the construction area will be cordoned off from the rest of your home and how you'll be able to move through your house.
Ventana Construction LLC, original photo on Houzz
There’s also the issue of stuff — all the books, furniture, drapes, delicate vases and paintings on the wall. It’s helpful to remove them all from the construction zone. This includes anything hung on walls or sitting on shelves in adjacent rooms, since they can shake loose from persistent hammering. If you leave them as-is, it will cost to have them moved and moved again to keep them out of the way, and you risk damage in the process. It's better to move it all at once and know it’s safe and sound.
4. How will you communicate with me? With every mode of electronic communication at your fingertips, you may have some ideas about how you would like to receive information about your project. Your contractor likely has specific ways he or she likes to communicate, too — daily emails, cloud-based schedules or maybe just phone calls. Make sure you understand how you will be contacted and receive information. If the contractor's format doesn't give you what you think you'll need, agree on a method and format so that you’re not in remodeling limbo on a daily basis. Weekly meetings at a specific time are an effective way to make sure you see your contractor in person to get your questions answered.
5. What part of my project concerns you? There’s always something unknown about a project, or an area that is most likely to trigger an immediate change order. Odds are, your contractor already knows what that is. Talking about it upfront and running some worst-case-scenario numbers or doing some early, selective demolition to get more information could be the best way to get a handle on what may be ahead.
6. What will happen if there is a change order? Change orders can be easily handled in your construction contract. A common way to document change orders is in writing, where the change in scope of work and the price are noted and signed by the client and contractor. Some contracts also note the change in schedule, if applicable. Make sure you have a plan in place to document the unexpected and expected changes that happen along the way.
7. How will you let me know I need to make a decision? There are many ways to organize a list of decisions — from spreadsheets, to lists, to notes on a calendar. But all of these methods focus on the same outcome: giving you clear direction about what and when you need to make a decision on something. Asking for a list and deadlines will help you keep organized and ensure you are able to shop for materials and make decisions in time to meet your contractor’s schedule.
8. How do I reach you after hours? Knowing how to reach your contractor on an emergency basis is just as important as your contractor being able to reach you. Exchange all your numbers — work, cell and landline — so that contacting each other won’t be a crisis in itself.
9. When do I need to be available to meet? Even if you set up a regular weekly meeting, there may still be necessary additional meetings. We usually schedule an electrical walk-through on the day the electrician sets boxes and can lights so that everyone can review their placement and function before wires are run. Another key day is when the tile-setter works on layout. There are a number of ways to set tile, and having an on-site meeting is the best way to make these decisions. It’s also possible to have your architect or designer attend those meetings in your place.
10. What kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done? Contracts frequently call out end-of-project paperwork — lien releases, marked-up plans with as-builts on plumbing and other utilities, copies of inspection reports, etc. But there may be additional items you will find valuable: a full set of mechanical photos before insulation is installed, the operating manuals for installed equipment (and a personal lesson in their operation if you don’t know the basics), a list of subcontractors and contact info, care for things such as countertops and tile and a well-marked electrical panel. Confirming that you will receive these things before you get started will help ensure that you finish the project with all the information you need.