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​Selecting your contractor

A quality home improvement requires both the right product and the right contractor. Whether it's a new heating system, natural gas fireplace or another product from PSE's Contractor Alliance Network, consider the following points before you decide on a contractor.

Did the contractor:

  • Verify adequate venting for natural gas heating, and water heating systems or offer direct vent options?
  • Discuss equipment and installation warranty?
  • Explain the permitting process?
  • Explain the maintenance requirements of the system you're purchasing?
  • Provide a detailed, written estimate of work to be performed?
  • Discuss high efficiency equipment options?
  • Describe exactly what the installation work will involve (e.g., disruptions to every day activities)?
  • Explain the company's service and maintenance ability and hours of operation?

Does the written estimate from the contractor include:

  • Disposal of old equipment and other waste created from the project?
  • Demolition, rebuilding and painting if appropriate (e.g., for windows or insulation)?
  • All permit fees?
  • A list of all work to be performed, equipment to be installed and efficiency ratings?
  • Warranty length for equipment and labor?
  • Service contract?

Remember that proposals from different contractors may look as different as apples and oranges. Don't be shy about asking any contractor to clarify the proposal. Be an informed consumer—ask lots of questions and each contractor the same questions for consistency.

When remodeling your home

Remodels or extensive roofing projects can run in to weeks or even months for completion. Choosing the right contractor is essential. Here are some issues to consider for more involved home remodels and roofing projects.

Consider the following when remodeling:

1. Check customer references

Many contractors carry photo books to show samples of their work. But the only way to really judge the workmanship is through an on-site inspection. Ask the contractor for names of recent clients, and arrange to examine projects similar to yours.

2. Insist upon a written proposal

Examine it to make sure you think it is complete and fair. Have the contractor document all points clearly in writing. If you have a question during the job, ask the person who signed the contract. No one else may have the authority to make decisions or the knowledge to answer your questions correctly.

3. When will they start and finish?

After you settle contract terms, discuss daily start and stop times as well as completion dates for each phase of the project. Determine if you need to leave the house (during demolition, for example) or can you live there while the project is underway. Let your neighbors know what to expect in terms of traffic and noise.

4. How long is the installation and workmanship warranty?

Be clear about what is and is not covered. Who issues the warranty? Make sure they have the financial resources and intention to service and honor the warranty in the years to come.

5. Debris removal

Who is responsible for removing project-related debris from the site, and what is considered removal? Is the curb or alley sufficient? Will workers clean up everything at the end of each day?

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions-write them down so you don't forget. Clearly define the problem you want to solve.
  • You may want to hire a designer to create project specifications if you're not comfortable doing them yourself. For example, specifications for a kitchen-remodeling project might include cabinets, flooring, sinks, faucets, appliances, countertops, doors, windows, and any custom carpentry needs.
  • To help communicate what you want, gather photos from publications that illustrate your preferences. Sharing these images will help your service professional get a feel for your tastes.
  • If subcontractors are involved, what are their names and license numbers? Do not pay in full until you receive material and workers lien releases.
  • Last-minute changes are common in a remodeling project. Always specify in your contract that you and the contractor must approve all changes and additional costs. This also protects you from the contractor making changes without consultation. Make all change orders in writing.
  • Is a down payment required? Get this in a percentage and actual amount. Most experts recommend withholding 10 percent of the project cost until after completion, to ensure that the contractor will return to fix problems.
  • Before undertaking a major remodeling project, make sure that all necessary permits have been obtained. Your city's building department could force you to tear down any work completed without a permit.