Need a Contractor?

By now you probably know the value-added pressure treated wood to buy for your project is Ecolife or Preserve, so to find that perfect contractor to make that project a reality, below are industry vetted resources to help you on your search.

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Different Types of Contractors

There are different types of contractors available to homeowners with many specializing in different types of repair, renovation and building. Since there are so many different types of services available from different contractors, it is important to determine what is the best type to suit your situation.

General Contractors

General Contractors do not specialize in any one type of repair, renovation or building. They usually deal with large or extensive projects such as complete home building, additions, or a combination of repairs and renovations. A general contractor is a good person to hire if you want someone who organizes and takes responsibility for every part of the project, including its design, permits, inspections. They will also hire the subcontractors and obtain the building products and materials. Unless you have an extensive outdoor living space planned, you probably won’t want to hire a general contractor.

Specialty Contractors

For remodeling specific areas in your home such as the kitchen or bathroom, you may want a specialty contractor. Many of these types of specialty firms provide design services. They may also manufacture or sell the products they install. A replacement window firm would be a good example of such a firm.

When building a deck or other outdoor spaces, you can find contractors who specialize in these areas. They may or may not have design services available to you depending upon the size of their firm.

Big Box Retailers

Today, most big box retail home improvement chains offer installation services for many of the products that they sell. These products may include roofing, windows, decking and flooring, just to name a few. The convenience of having contract installations done right through your home improvement retailer allows you to deal directly with them for everything from the materials, to the work, the payment and, oftentimes, the design through the use of their specialized design software. They provide the qualified workers and a warranty on the work done for you. Generally, these retailers also follow the procedures recommended by “Get it in Writing!” These procedures include Workers’ Compensation coverage and verified insurance to protect you from unnecessary risks. However, just because they are a national or regional firm, don’t assume that these things are covered. Make sure to ask them about their insurance coverages and warranties.


If you have a relatively small, simple or specialized job that needs to be done, then a specialized tradesperson might be all that you need to do it. You can find a person working in any number of trades, such as a roofer, mason, electrician, plumber, carpenter or heating and air specialist. Most localities require these specialists to be licensed in their area of expertise.

Any of these individuals can be hired directly by you, but you will have to find them and take care of working out a contract with them yourself. They often don’t have specially made contracts but use work orders instead. If you are building a small deck, a carpenter who has experience in and/or specializes in building decks is probably the person you will need to hire for the job providing you don’t go through the home improvement retailer. Always look for licensed and experienced tradespeople when building your deck or for any other specialized projects you might have around your home.

Checking Out a Contractor

When you are trying to locate a contractor, you may get a positive referral from a friend, family member or neighbor. However, you should still fully check the references and reputation of your prospective contractor before hiring them. One way to check them out is to check the Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has lodged complaints against them; and, if so, find out if their complaint warrants any concern on your part.

You should be comfortable enough with your contractor that you trust them in your home and on your property. You should also be confident in them and their abilities to complete the project as promised. If you have any reservations, you shouldn’t hire them.

Interview All Prospective Contractors

  • Interview all prospective contractors

    To ascertain your comfort level with a prospective contractor, you need to conduct a thorough interview with them. You can get most of the information you need by asking them the following questions

  • What are your qualifications for doing the job?

    An experienced contractor will be well qualified to do your job. In finding out about their qualifications you need to find out how long they have been in business and how and when they got started. Ask them about the size of their company. You also need to find out if they do their own work or do they hire subcontractors and what their other company operating policies are. In addition, you will want to ask them about their background, education and training to make sure that they have both the required technical and business skills to provide you with quality services and to ensure that they run a solid company.

  • What services can I expect from your company?

    Depending upon the size of their company, the contractor’s services available to you may differ. They will each provide a specific range of services with some including design services and others possibly working with independent designers. Therefore, it is important for the success of your project that you have a clear understanding of what services the contractor has available to you.

  • Does your company carry workers’ compensation and business liability insurance?

    A professional contractor will be willing to provide you with proof of their Workers’ Compensation and Business Liability Insurance. Remember that hiring someone who is not properly insured could put you at considerable risk, legally and financially.

  • What kind of warranty does your company offer on your work?

    If the contractor does not offer a warranty for their work, you need to find one that does. A professional company will spell out in a written warranty what they cover and for how long they cover it. Professionals will also promptly follow-up if there are problems or if defects are found in their work. It is important to check with past customers about how well the contractor honored their warranty and the service they gave in doing so.

  • Will your past customers give you good references and can we talk to them?

    Request a contact list of at least three of the contractor’s past customers for whom they did similar projects so that you can get references from them. If the contractor is reputable, they will be proud of their work and will be happy to provide this information. If they refuse this information, don’t go any further. You should never hire anyone who refuses to give you references from prior jobs.

  • Can we visit one of your current job sites?

    If you can, visit one of your contractor’s current job sites. In doing so, you can learn a lot about how they operate. You should take note of how well the materials, tools and surroundings are organized, how neat the site is and any measures that have been taken to protect the homeowner and their property.

  • What kind of contract will I get?

    A contract sets out the agreement between you and your contractor and contains the details of your project. It provides the description of the work that is agreed upon, the actual materials to be used, the responsibility of both you and your contractor and the price you will have to pay for the job. If you don’t have these things in writing, there is no proof about what you and your contractor agreed to. If they are not willing to give you a written contract, don’t hire this contractor and stop the interview. You need to always get everything in writing when hiring any contractor.

  • Are you familiar with this type of building or renovation project?

    It is important to know if a contractor has experience and how much experience they have in doing projects like yours. This is because many contractors specialize in certain types of projects such as roofing, flooring, decking or kitchen/bath remodels or repairs. Other contractors are called general contractors because they have experience in almost all phases of building and remodeling. It would be silly to ask a plumbing contractor to build your deck when there are general contractors or specialized decking contractors available to do your job. So, make sure that you have the right kind of contractor for your project and that he has been frequently involved in projects like yours. Ask them how many similar projects they have done in the last year or two.

  • How would you deal with my specific project?

    Ask the contractor for ideas about what they think about your project, what ideas they have for improving it, how they would approach it, and how could you get more value for your money. Include questions about whether they would assist you in choosing the right products for your job and in your budget. You also need to ask them if a design and working drawing is necessary before they can give you a firm contract price. Find out who would handle getting the necessary permits and inspections and would they be responsible for cleaning up the work site during the job and after it is complete.

  • How long will my project take and what about a start and end date?

    It is important to ascertain whether the contractor has the time to take on your project. You need to find out if they are spread too thin. Some questions that you can ask regarding the time schedule should include when they could start the job, how long it would last, what would the schedule be like, could they fit it in your deadline if you have one, and how much and how long would it disrupt your household. If the start date isn’t for several months, they are probably too busy to take on a new project and you might want to find another contractor who has the time to start your project within a reasonable time frame. Moreover, you wouldn’t want to hire someone to do a job for you if you have a deadline you are trying to meet within a short period of time. For example, if you need to add a nursery before your baby is born in 3 months.

  • How much do you estimate this project will cost?

    In your initial consultations with a contractor, you need to get a “ballpark” estimate of the cost of your job. You should compare their figure with that of other contractors for the same exact work to help you make your choice about which contractor to use. While price isn’t the only factor, it is an important one when doing any building or remodeling project, especially if there is a big discrepancy between the quotes you are given. When you get ready to sign the contract, the contractor should be able to give you a final price that would be written into the contract. If he refuses to do so, find someone else to do the work for you.

    While you are getting to know the contractor, they should be getting to know you and your project and what you expect out of them as a contractor. If they are talking to ten other people while you are trying to interview them, they are probably not really interested in your job. You can tell their interest level if they are listening carefully, taking notes, offering ideas and suggestions and asking the right questions of you. You should be able to decide at the end of the interview if they understand what you want and if they can help you get it done. By this time, you should be confident in the contractor. Otherwise, you should be ready to find another one who can answer your questions satisfactorily and who is attentive to you and your building or remodeling needs.

  • Interview worksheet

    We’ve provided you with an easy-to-use Worksheet for Interviewing a Contractor for you to print out to help you conduct these interviews. It includes important questions that you need to ask your contractor.

How to Check Contractor References

There is no such thing as a perfect contractor. All of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, their prior customers are the best ones to ask about the contractor’s ethics and reliability.

Even if your contractor is willing to provide you with references from these prior customers, it doesn’t automatically mean that they do good work. Don’t take the fact that they are willing to give you a list as an indication of the quality of their work or their integrity. Past customers, even satisfied ones, are the best place to learn a lot about the contractor. So, contact the people on the list and ask questions regarding your prospective contractor.

Only past customers can tell you if the project was kept within their budget, if it was completed on time, and if they were satisfied with the job. They can also tell you if there were any problems or delays and how the contractor dealt with these issues.

We want to reiterate here. If a contractor is not able or not willing to provide you with a list of customer references, you need to find a different contractor to do your job.

At first, it might be a little bit intimidating to call the contractor’s prior customers and quiz them about the contractor’s work ethics and integrity and their satisfaction with the job performed. But, you need to do this to ensure that you are getting the best contractor for the job and for your own safety and peace of mind.

Before you contact the contractor’s prior customers, have a list of questions made out that you want to ask them, so as not to waste their time or your own. Finally, ask them if they would hire this person again and why they would or wouldn’t do it. This will give you the best reasons to hire this contractor or not.

Before the Start of Your Project

Discuss the requirements of the contractor including access to electricity and water on a regular basis, waste disposal, and where and how to deliver and store building materials.

Discuss house rules with the work crew which clarify access to bathroom and/or eating and kitchen areas and which parts of the house are off limits to them. Make sure that the workers know if they can play music or smoke on your property as well as any other privileges that you are granting or denying them while they are working on your project.

Make sure that all necessary permits have been acquired. Even if the contract makes this part of the contractor’s responsibilities, the ultimate responsibility is yours as the homeowner.

During the Project

You should work as closely as possible with your contractor once your project gets underway to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Most of your responsibilities and those of the contractor will have already been spelled out in the contract; however, before the work begins, it is a good idea to sit down with them and review these responsibilities in detail. Having a good rapport with the contractor is often the key to having a successful project.

Your Final Contract

Your contract will vary according to the size and complexity of your project; however, most contracts will contain the standard information listed below.

Remember: If you have any questions or concerns about the contract being presented to you, make sure to discuss them with your contractor before you sign it. You may even want to get a lawyer to review your contract if it is very detailed.

Here is a list of some of the points that should be covered in your contract:

  • Your name and that of the contractor, which should include street addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and the contractor’s license number.
  • A complete description of the work that the contractor is supposed to complete and those things for which they are not responsible. This would include work that you or others not mentioned in the contract will do.
  • When the project is to be initiated and a projected completion date. This will generally include a statement indicating that the contractor cannot be held liable for delays due to delayed materials orders, changes to the work, and other delays due to circumstances beyond their control.
  • All attachments that are part of the contract such as:
    • Drawings, blueprints and plans.
    • Specifications such as a description of the work and a precise list of materials and products, including the types, brands, grades, thickness, color and/or model of the materials and products.
    • Other documents signed by both parties during the contract process such as change order forms.
  • Work Standards that describe the contractor’s commitment to do the work according to the contract requirements. This means work done in a conscientious manner with a minimum inconvenience to your routine, and in a manner that will protect your property and neighboring properties. This section also includes their commitment to take care of daily clean-up as well as compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Changes in the work once the project is underway, called extras and deletions which must be written up and signed by both parties and attached to the contract. Every change to the contract, including price and schedule, should be clearly noted on a change order.
  • Proof of workers’ compensation and liability insurance coverage provided and attached to the contract. The coverage must be paid up to date.
  • Contractor’s warranty delineating what work of theirs is covered and for how long, with an attached statement of their intent to hand over all product warranties to you upon completing the project.
  • A list of subcontractors hired to work on your home may also be listed.
  • An outline of how facilities and utilities will be used with regards to water, electricity, washroom and storage space for materials.
  • A statement about whether you will permit the contractor to display a sign that promotes their services while they are working on your project.
  • Specifications about who is going to obtain permits and inspections. Professional contractors usually obtain them; but, ultimately, they are your responsibility unless laid out as part of the contract.
  • Terms of payment that set out the total contracted price plus a payment schedule (whether in regular intervals or when certain milestones have been reached), how much deposit is required when the contract is signed, when the balance is due and who is responsible for any taxes.
  • A provision for holdbacks (a percentage of the payments that you hold back for a specified length of time) to guarantee that subcontractors are paid in case the contractor doesn’t pay them. This protects you against subcontractors who may place a lien on your property to recover their pay.
  • Lump-sum allowances in the contract price that are allocated for items selected directly by you such as flooring, fixtures or special materials.
  • The amount set aside for dealing with contingencies. These are unexpected items that the contractor won’t be able to gauge properly until the work is in progress. If this amount is not needed, you won’t be billed for it.
  • In the event of a conflict, a plan for dispute resolution should be laid out which names a third-party arbitrator or stating that both parties agree to binding arbitration.
  • Now that you have taken everything into consideration regarding your outdoor living space, it is safe to decide who is to do the job, whether that is you or a professional contractor. We hope that the information that we have provided will help you to make the best possible decision for the best possible outcome.
  • Even if you decide that you are going to hire a contractor or aren’t quite sure if you are going to do so, the next page, “Need a Contractor,” might be just the one to help you in your decision-making process. It will give you more information about whether to hire someone and, if so, who you should hire.

It’s Time to Decide Who to Hire

Once you have checked out contractors and their references and gotten price quotes, it is time to decide who you are going to hire to do your job.

You should allow contractors an adequate time frame to prepare a quote for your project and give each one of them the same plans and specifications. Each contractor should present their quotes in person so that they can answer any questions you might have and discuss each aspect of the project with you.

After meeting with all the contractors, you should carefully review each quote by comparing every aspect of them before deciding who to hire for your project. Compare the descriptions of the work entailed, materials and products specifications, pricing and allowances, deposits and payment schedules, projected time frames for the project as well as any additional recommendations or ideas regarding your job.

Note: As we have mentioned above, if any of the contractors suggest that they can provide you a better “cash” price or suggest that you skip the paperwork, find a different contractor because they are probably cheating on their taxes and lying to the government. You wouldn’t want a cheat working for you, because if they are willing to cheat on their taxes, they will more than likely cheat you.

After a careful review of the price quotes and initial interviews with the contractors and their prior customers, you need to decide the importance of each aspect of your evaluation. Of course, you will likely place a lot of emphasis on the price, but this is only one factor that you need to weigh when making the choice of who you are going to hire. You need to know that your chosen contractor is listening to you, and you need to be comfortable with them and confident in their ability and trustworthiness.

In the end, your choice will come down to trust and confidence. You need to trust that you have chosen the right contractor for the job and trust that you will get what you want. Therefore, if you have a particularly strong sense of confidence in one contractor over the others, it would be wise to choose that contractor to do your job for you even if they do not have the lowest price. Your sense of the overall value they can provide to you, which includes your peace of mind, is the best indicator of which contractor you should hire.

More on contracts, pricing and warranties.