Energy Efficiency

Choosing and working with contractors

This is Lesson 13 of our informal online course: Home Energy 101All lessons by Philip Drader.

Low prices. Quality work. Timeliness.

When you are getting a contractor, you will rarely find one who can deliver all three. If you do, please contact me as I would like to use their service.

Managing expectations is a critical part of life. I’m here to tell you that you won’t find all three together. I recommend figuring out which two are most important to you. This lesson aims to help you make that decision.

Higher costs might be worth paying

Let’s take a professional company as an example.

This professional company has insurance and is registered with the WSIB in Ontario, so if someone gets injured on your property–not uncommon in construction, they will be covered through their own insurance and won’t be covered by yours (which would raise your premiums substantially). Because they are paying for their own insurance, they are covering the costs upfront and their fee will reflect that.

The professional company has trained their employees appropriately, and are paying for their skills. They will not be learning on the job, or if they are, they will be supervised appropriately. The quality should be higher, but because they are paying for good people and not teaching them on the job, their fees will reflect that, and so will their quality.

When unexpected things come up, which can be fairly common, the professional company will have other crews they can move around to help finish a job on time despite delays. As well, fewer unexpected things pop up when a contractor is very experienced. They should warn you of possible hidden problems ahead of time to manage your expectations regarding cost and time.

Always get quotes and references

Unfortunately, with contractors, you don’t always get what you pay for. Always get three quotes.

Contact people who have used that contractor’s services before and ask them what the experience was like. Ask the contractor for the contact info for a couple of customers that you can call to ask for references about their work.

Talk to your friends or neighbours to see who they would recommend. This “should” help you weed out those who charge high prices but who provide unsatisfactory work. It should also help you determine quality and timeliness.

Get a written contract

When you are building or renovating, you should have your contract in writing with the scope clearly laid out and the costs clearly delineated. If you have a time-sensitive project, or worry about your renovation taking a long time, add wording in your contract with clear penalties or incentives for achieving your goals.

While your scope of work may be clear, it’s possible that you’ll want to make changes after work has begun. Your contract needs to be clear on how change-orders are dealt with and how additional costs will be billed.

Is your contractor insured and licensed?

As the homeowner, it is your responsibility to confirm the contractor is insured and licensed so be sure to do so. If they don’t have insurance, you are their employer and unbeknownst to you, the fee may stay low (with no accidents) or might rise uncomfortably high (if they make a claim after injuring themselves on your property).

Never hire someone under the table

Do not give work to people under the table or without a written contract. You will have no recourse if and when things go wrong.

Good luck out there.

Learn more:

Hiring a contractor – A website with advice from the CMHC & Canadian Home Builders Association

Looking for contractors?

We provide a list of contractors who can help you with home energy upgrades such as we have been discussing in these lessons. Use it as a starting point for your research and which firms you would like to get written quotes from. It is NOT a recommendation by Reep Green Solutions.

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