BY PAT KEEGAN AND BRAD THIESSEN
Last month, we offered tips on how to hire a good contractor, but it’s smart to realize that afterthe hiring is complete, contractors need to be managed.
First decide who will be the main contact with your contractor. Clear communication is critical, because a renovation that includes energy efficiency improvements comes with extra challenges. A single point of contact will help avoid confusion, conflicts and cost overruns.
Second – and before the work starts – have a discussion with your contractor about quality. You want the contractor to know you’ll be carefully overseeing the work and that there may be others involved in this oversight, such as building inspectors, your electric cooperative or an independent energy auditor.
You can discuss your perception of the standards of a professional, high-quality job. And you can agree on the points at which the contractor will pause, so you or someone you designate can review the work. At a minimum, an inspection should take place before you make any interim payments.
Here are a few examples of interim review points:
- The building envelope should be properly sealed before insulation is installed, because air leaks increase energy use and reduce comfort.
- Replacement windows should be properly flashed and sealed before siding and trim are installed, which prevents moisture problems and air leaks.
- Some insulation installations can be inspected before they’re sealed behind walls or ceilings.
Almost all efficiency measures require some kind of final inspection. For example, infrared thermometers can show voids in blown insulation, and you can visually inspect fiberglass batts to ensure there are no air gaps and the batts are not compressed.
Projects involving heating and cooling require special attention. According to Energy Star®, nearly half of all heating and cooling systems are not installed correctly, which often causes uneven temperature distribution throughout a home and higher energy bills. Forced-air systems typically have poorly balanced supply and return air delivery that can often be improved. The installer can show you the airflow measurement at each register, and a duct blaster test can identify and quantify duct leakage.
When you review the work, it may be helpful to take photos or to bring in an energy auditor. Be sure to have these inspections outlined in the contract and discussed beforehand, so the contractor is comfortable.
It will be tempting to add “just one more thing” along the way, and your contractor may agree a change is simple and possible within the agreed-upon timeframe and original bid. However, contractors and customers often miscommunicate about change orders and end up disagreeing about additional costs when the project is completed. So, before you make any changes, be sure to get a written cost quote. If it’s significant, you can weigh the cost against the benefit of the change.
It’s also a good idea to maintain good records as the project progresses. These records could be helpful for building inspectors or to qualify for rebates or tax credits.
When the renovation is complete, it may be tempting to sign the check, shake hands and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it may be worth the extra step of having a final inspection by a licensed energy auditor.
Once you confirm that the work is 100 percent complete, you can write a check for the final payment – and then sit back and enjoy your revitalized, more energy-efficient home!
Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen work for Collaborative Efficiency. For more details on managing a renovation contractor, visit www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.