How to Hire a Contractor
Questions to ask so you get your money’s worth when you hire a contractor.
Know when it’s time to HIY
Exterior painting projects
How do you plan to prepare the surface for painting?
Will you prime before caulking and painting?
What areas are you planning to caulk?
Do you plan to tear off the old shingles and pull the nails?
How will you charge for extra work, like replacing rotted wood?
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Will you replace damaged or rusted flashing?
Will you replace the roof vents and valley flashing?
Asphalt driveway projects
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How are you planning to prepare the base for the asphalt?
What equipment will you use to compact the driveway?
How thick will the asphalt be once it’s compacted?
In most areas of the country, a 2- to 3-in. layer of asphalt is sufficient if it’s installed over a stable base.
Will you slope the driveway to avoid standing water?
Water pooling on or at the edges of an asphalt driveway can cause damage and shorten the life of the asphalt. Make sure your contractor plans to slope the driveway and surrounding area for good drainage.
How do you plan to finish the edges of the asphalt?
A top-notch asphalt job includes beveling the edges at a 45-degree angle and packing the asphalt with a hand tamper for durability.
Concrete driveway projects
A concrete driveway is a big investment that will last a long time if it’s done right. But choose your contractor carefully. Poorly installed concrete can crack, buckle and heave, leaving you wishing you’d spent a little extra up front for a first-class job.
Will you provide a sketch showing the dimensions of the driveway?
To make sure you know what you’re getting and to prevent any misunderstandings, ask for a sketch of the proposed driveway showing all the dimensions and how it intersects with existing structures like the garage, house or street.
How do you plan to prepare the base for the concrete?
The type of soil under your driveway determines how much preparation is needed before the concrete is poured. It’s important to find a contractor who’s familiar with the local soil conditions and can recommend a course of action. Typically the best base for a concrete driveway is a 4- to 6-in. layer of compacted gravel.
How thick will the finished concrete slab be?
While 4-in.-thick slabs are the norm, adding an inch of concrete is a great investment. The extra inch adds only 25 percent to the amount of concrete needed but increases the strength by about 50 percent.
What are the specifications of the concrete you intend to use?
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Do you plan to add rebar to reinforce the concrete?
How many control joints will you cut into the concrete?
Will you apply curing compound after you finish the driveway?
Concrete needs to cure for about a week to approach full strength. During this time, evaporation of the water in the concrete has to be slowed to allow proper curing. Misting the slab or covering it with wet burlap or plastic sheeting are two methods of slowing evaporation. But applying a liquid, membrane forming curing compound to just-finished concrete is better because it doesn’t require constant vigilance to succeed.
Gutters and downspouts
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How will you slope the gutters so they drain?
It may look nicer to have level gutters, but it’s better if they slope slightly downhill toward the downspouts. Just a little slope, about 1/16 in. per foot, is all that’s needed. Long gutter runs may require downspouts on each end and a gutter that slopes both directions from the center.
How thick is the metal on the gutters you’re planning to install?
There are two common thicknesses of aluminum used for gutters, .027 and .032 in. If you’re getting bids on aluminum gutters, make sure the contractor is planning to install the thicker, .032-gauge gutters.
What size downspouts are you going to install?
Ask for oversized, 3 x 4-in. downspouts. They don’t cost much more but have the advantages of carrying more water and clogging less.
Does your bid include downspout extensions?
One of the main purposes of gutters is to keep water from accumulating near the foundation. Adding horizontal extensions to the bottom of the downspouts helps move the water farther from the house. Usually the extensions are just another length of downspout material attached to an elbow at the house. But flip up or roll-out versions are available for areas where downspout extensions might interfere with mowing or other activities.
How close together will the gutter hangers be spaced?
The contractor will attach the gutters to your house with screws through the back of the gutter, and then add gutter hangers to support the front edge. Since aluminum gutters will bend if they’re not well supported, it’s important to have plenty of hangers to reinforce the outside edge. Be sure your contractor is planning to install a hanger at least every 3 ft. In climates where snow and ice remain on the roof over the winter, ask for 2-ft. spacing.
Are you going to install new gutter apron?
Water running behind the gutters can stain or otherwise damage the fascia board and soffit. To avoid this problem, the gutter installer should install metal flashing, also called gutter apron. Gutter apron slips under the shingles and over the edge of the gutter to direct the water into the gutter.
Ceramic tile floor projects
Photo: Anna Maloverjan/Shutterstock
What material do you plan to install as a base for the tile?
Will you use latex mastic or thin-set adhesive to install the tile?
Do you plan to apply a grout sealer to protect the grout?
Grout sealers help keep grout clean and seal out water. Applying grout sealer is an easy job that you can do yourself. But when you’re comparing bids, it’s good to know whether it’s included.
How are you planning to deal with transitions to other flooring?
A well-planned and attractive transition is the mark of a top-quality tile job. Adding an adequate base often raises the floor level and creates a height difference at transition areas. In many situations, marble or solid surface (one brand is Corian) thresholds make attractive transitions to other floors. Ask tile contractors how much height difference there will be between transition areas and how they plan to deal with it.
Do you understand our house rules?
If you have pets, determine where they will be during the project and what your expecations are regarding the workers. You don’t want your pets or workers stressed out.
And finally, once you start, will you stay on the job until it’s done?
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