If you’re considering a window or door installation, don’t rely on a contractor’s slick website or flyer to select someone to work on your home. Instead, take the time to interview potential contractors. A few well-chosen questions can help you separate true pros from the many fly-by-night operations that populate the construction world.
One little-known technique for finding the right pro for your job is to ask questions that not only have a “face value” answer, but that also provide tremendous insight into the way that contractor thinks about their craft and their customers.
What’s Your Lead Time?
Construction is a seasonal business, and the time from contract signing to start of work can vary greatly. In addition, material selections such as custom sizes or non-standard colours can dramatically affect a start date. But when potential contractors answer this question, they’re not just giving you a timeline, they’re telling you how in demand their services are.
As you talk to contractors, you’ll likely find that most companies can start around the same time. But sometimes there’s one exception who can fit you in immediately. While it’s possible that they just had a cancellation, it may be that they don’t have enough satisfied customers to generate repeat business.
Similarly, be wary of a contractor who offers to move you up in the schedule in an attempt to close a deal. Remember that they’re not just talking about moving you up in the queue, they’re also talking about pushing someone else back. Ask yourself if they’ll treat you the same way once they’ve got your deposit check.
Who are your References?
If a contractor is hesitant to provide references, that should be an immediate red flag. Any reputable contractor should be not only willing, but actually proud to give you references for their work. Don’t be afraid to follow up and call the references directly. Most people are glad to show off their homes and let you know what they thought of the workers involved.
When you talk to references, don’t just ask what went well. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong on a window or door job, and it’s often far more useful to find out how a contractor dealt with these inevitable speedbumps than to hear about a job that was all smooth sailing.
Is Your Crew Trained to Work with Lead Paint?
If you have an older home, especially one built before 1970, there’s a chance that there are still traces of lead-based paint on the walls. If so, talk to your contractor about whether their workers are trained in lead safety.
Controlling lead dust during a window or door replacement isn’t terribly complicated, but this little bit of additional work can keep lead dust from spreading throughout your home during the work. The industry standard for remodelling work done on a home with lead paint is AS43612:1998 Guide to Lead Paint Management. Ask potential contractors if they are familiar with these guidelines and whether or not they follow them.
What Homeowner Prep is Required?
It’s important to have a clear concept of what, if any, preparation you’ll be expected to do for the installation. Will you be expected to move furniture out of the way? Will you need to move your car to make room for a dumpster in the driveway? If so, does it stay overnight or get hauled away at the end of the day? If you have pets, do they need to be regulated to one area of the home?
Your contractor should be able to tell you what to expect, or have a process that ensures you won’t have any surprises the day work begins. Asking about it now not only helps to set expectations, but will reveal whether your contractor has thought through the entire installation process.
What Happens if You Discover Structural Issues?
One of the biggest headaches that remodelling contractors deal with is guessing what problems hide behind walls. Windows and doors that look sturdy may be sitting next to wood framing that’s been damaged by insects or water exposure. As a result, sometimes when a window or door is removed, serious structural issues are revealed.
What you’re looking for with this question is a contractor who acknowledges that the unexpected can happen, and has a procedure in place for just such occasions. It doesn’t need to be fancy – a common procedure is to stabilize the structure so that it’s not an immediate safety issue, then contact the homeowner to discuss options and any additional costs – but it has to exist.
What Kind of Clean-Up Should I Expect?
Construction is dusty work, and even the relatively clean jobs of window and door installation generates a fair amount of mess. Ask your contractor how much cleaning they’ll do. Different companies have different standards on the final clean. Some perform what’s called a “construction clean” which means they’ll remove all the debris and give the work area a good sweeping. Others perform a “deep clean”, which can often leave a work site looking nicer than before they arrived. Either answer is acceptable, but you should have a clear idea of what to expect.
If the project will span multiple days, ask what condition the work area will be left in overnight. Any construction site that’s in-progress has certain hazards, but a dusty room with tools boxed up is very different from one with saw blades and nails scattered over the floor.
How do you Handle Warranty Calls?
The obvious reason that you’re asking this question is to make sure you’re not dealing with the kind of contractor who has a “taillight warranty” — one that expires as soon as you lose sight of their trucks. But even the shadiest of contractors won’t admit to delivering that kind of sub-par service. Instead, be on the look-out for vague assurances and overly optimistic guarantees to fix any problems at all, without any kind of end date.
Look for a contractor with a clearly stated, easily understood warranty process. Smart pros build potential warranty costs into their pricing. You may pay a little more up front, but you’ll have the comfort of knowing that you’re working with someone who’ll stand by their work.
It might well be that no contractor answers all your questions to complete satisfaction. But by asking a number of questions, you can build up a sense for their professionalism and trustworthiness. If you’re going to allow a contractor into your home, you deserve to know that you’re making the best possible choice.