This is the year you're going all out. You're going to build a deck, add a porch, erect a gazebo or lay a patio. You've done the research. It's well within your capability and you're looking forward to the satisfaction of creating a structure of beauty.
Or not. Yes -- you'd like to proceed with an outdoor structure but for you, it isn't a do-it-yourself project. How can you find the right person to do it for you? Here are 10 tips for hiring and working with a contractor.
1. Plan your project carefully. Clip pictures, make sketches, write a description. This will help you accurately convey to the contractor what you want the finished product to be.
2. Make a list of contractors. Ask your neighbors or friends for the names of reputable tradesmen. Contact material suppliers -- lumberyards, for example -- and ask for recommendations.
3. Get at least three written bids for the project, but don't give in to the temptation to automatically accept the lowest bid. A higher bid may be worth the price in better materials, workmanship and reliability.
If you get a very low bid, the contractor may have made a mistake or forgotten to bid on everything you wanted. If they have deliberately low-bid, they may use cheaper materials or take shortcuts to make a profit.
4. Many states and provinces require registration and/or licensing. For the USA, www.nationalcontractors.com provides a starting point for your state and type of construction. Click on Verify Contractors License. If licences are required in your jurisdiction, be certain to ask to see your contractor's licences and be sure that it's not expired.
5. Ask for references and then check them out. Look at the projects and ask the previous clients if they are satisfied with the quality of work done, if it was started and completed on schedule and if it is complete.
6. Get a signed, written contract and be sure you understand it. The Construction Contractors Board of Oregon claims that the single biggest cause of homeowner-contractor disputes is the written contract: not having one, having a poor one, or having one everyone ignores. A good contract should include:
7. Make any changes to the project in writing with a work order change to avoid misunderstandings and surprises.
8. Keep pets and children away from the construction site. This will ensure not only their safety, but also that of the workers. In addition, it helps keep the project on schedule.
9. Inspect the work regularly.
10. Pay directly and promptly according to the contract.
Above all, you should feel comfortable communicating with your contractor. If you sense he is being evasive when you are getting a quote, it won't get any better during the construction period. Find someone you understand and who understands you, and who is open and forthright.
Working with a contractor takes a little preparation, but following these steps is well worth it. Are you looking forward to your new outdoor space?
Debbie Rodgers, the haven maven, owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Her latest how-to guide ''Attracting Butterflies to Your Home and Garden'' is now available on her web site.
Visit her at www.paradiseporch.com and get a free report on ''Eight easy ways to create privacy in your outdoor space''. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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