I get to spend a good deal of time explaining to customers what you should ask for when choosing a contractor. We have all heard about the usual things. "Check the reviews", yes I agree that reviews are important but how many of the are legitimate? How many reviews are there because the contractor earned them and how many are there because he paid for them. How many are there because he has a disgruntled employee or a ruthless competitor and of course how many are there because they are real?
Further to the reviews here are a few things to notice when they are in your house. What are they looking at and what questions are they asking? My Dad tells me that I have 2 ears and one mouth so it should be 2/3 listening and 1/3 talking. What that means is the contractor should be asking questions about your home but also how you live in that home? How can he or she offer you a product or service without knowing how you intend on using that product or service? In the case of an air conditioner are they looking to ensure that the unit can be placed where you would like it? Or are they looking for the most direct route that would save them time and money? Are they just automatically going to the "best" option because well its the Mercedes who wouldn't want it? In reality most of us drive Chevy's or Fords.
I believe that there are a couple of documents that they should show you. You should see their contractor license. In the case of heating contractors they should show you their gas licence. So many times guys hang their shingle out and say I can put that water heater in for you and the never take out a permit so the inspector never knows to go see the job. They end up making a mistake when installing it that causes you to have no hot water at the most inopportune of times. Further to that if that contractor doesn't have a gas licence when the gas inspector issues a deficiency he has to issue it to the homeowner and if the homeowner does not correct it they could loose their gas service.
Another document you should ask to see is their Workman's Compensation Board letter of good standing. This lets you know that they have a commitment to safety and they pay there premiums to the WCB which gives you an indication of their financial status. You should also ask to see their insurance certificate. How much coverage do they have? Is it enough to cover the worst case scenario? Check the dates, is everything you are seeing current?
If you are going to get a job done and you are researching the job and the equipment on the Internet please be careful with where you are getting that information. Is it a trusted source such as a manufacturer or a professional group or is it just some blow hard on a message board. When you are planning on researching equipment or contract work I think the best place to start is the glossary. Learn what the terms used are and mean. In the heating business we use terms such as delta T. Sounds impressive right? All it means the the difference between the supply temperature and return temperature. I've heard many contractors say "if you can't dazzle them with knowledge baffle them with BS". This can't be farther from the truth. If he can't explain what he's doing or selling in terms that you will understand then he doesn't completely get it himself.
Now having said that sometimes in contracting there isn't absolutes, that is to say you never know what you'll find in a wall or under a cement floor. When dealing with new products the contractor will have to research it and get back to you. Don't be afraid if a contractor tells you this. This shows diligence and a commitment to getting it right the first time.
Every job isn't going to go perfectly the best contractors are the one's that have a game plan in place to deal with problems when they arise. Having a plan means the problem gets repaired quickly and with as little disruption to the homeowner as possible. Remember even Mike Homes makes mistakes, he just gets to edit them.
- Jeff Bolton