How to Save Money on Home Energy

Hiring Contractors

Any type of contact with a professional you hire to do work in your home is likely to create stress. You are concerned about getting the best value for your money, you don't know whom to call first or whom to hire to do a certain type of work, and you're nervous about opening up your home to someone who is likely a complete stranger. Also at risk is the integrity of the house itself. If you hire someone who does the work incompetently, what are the consequences? At stake are money, time, and your sense of security in your own home.

It is generally recommended that you get at least three estimates from contractors to do any type of work on your home. In some areas that is a tough mission to accomplish. Either there aren't many contractors around who do the particular type of work you want done, or if there are, you may have a difficult time deciding exactly whom to call from a long list. Consequently, many homeowners ask around at their workplaces, churches, schools, or at social gatherings for the names of contractors who have done similar work for their neighbors, friends, or colleagues.

Recommendations from others are often successful because you can ask them about the manner in which the contractor conducted himself or herself while on the job. Was the contractor on time for appointments? Did the project come in on budget -- and, equally important -- on time? Were the workers respectful and did they clean up after themselves? Did the quality of the job meet your expectations? But keep in mind: A contractor who did satisfactory work for one client might not perform as well for another, and the perception of that contractor might also vary from client to client.

Hiring out contracting work is in many ways risky. You don't know exactly what you're getting until the job is complete. The scope and timing of the job can change along the way; you might have personality conflicts with the people hired to do the work; the workers might find something that was not anticipated in the job that costs more money to remedy. Really, anything can happen between signing the initial contact and the final billing.

But you can increase the odds of a successful encounter with someone you hire if you do a little homework first.

Your initial task is to find out from your local building department or state building regulation office what licenses and qualifications are necessary for a contractor to do the type of work you want done in your home. Also ask about insurance requirements. It comes as a surprise to many homeowners to learn that if a worker is injured on a job site and is not covered under a contractor's Worker's Compensation policy, the homeowner -- or the home-owner's insurance -- is responsible for the injured party.

Be sure any contractor you hire has the proper regulatory qualifications, licenses, and insurance in place before you consider him for the job. Because contractors are used to being asked for documentary paperwork, those who have their bases covered with respect to these questions will have the necessary documents on hand.

After you've narrowed the search down to three or four candidates, try to meet with each to determine if you'll be able to work well together. Long projects or disruptive ones require very close contact between the homeowner and contractor. There are other contractors around with whom you might be able to forge a working relationship.

If you're comfortable with a contractor, be sure any estimates for the work you want done are written down, along with a comprehensive summary of the scope of the work, material specifications, and a timetable. Some homeowners request clauses in a contract that penalize the contractor for each day the job is unfinished after a set date -- though these are usually reserved for larger projects that might take months to complete. Be sure each party understands the part he or she will play in the work process. Communication between a contractor and a homeowner is vital for work to proceed smoothly toward a successful conclusion.

There should be a payment schedule included in the final contract. It is not unusual for a contractor to ask for a portion of the money up front in order to get started on the job. Such payments are negotiable, though the contractor might have a set percentage that he or she always works with. Be sure the contract reserves your right to withhold final payment until you are satisfied that the job has been completed as specified.

Hiring someone to work on your home might seem daunting at first. But the more time and effort you put into it -- and the better prepared you are with information you obtained up front and by asking pertinent questions -- the better your project will turn out. Millions of homeowners hire contractors to do work on their homes each year, and the majority of those jobs turn out satisfactorily for both parties. The ones that do not, however, often make headlines -- much to the detriment of the bulk of honest, hardworking, and knowledgeable contractors.

When you upgrade your home's heating and cooling systems, major appliances, and windows, you are investing in energy efficiency. If the job is too big for you, there's nothing wrong with getting some professional help as long as you know how to find the right contractor. By following the tips in this article, you will be able to make better decisions to ultimately save money on home energy.

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