Most of your work comes in at this stage. You have a lot of questions you need to ask yourself and your potential contractor. You also need to think about how to prepare your house so you can more easily live in it while the work is being done. Let's dig in.
- Questions to Ask Yourself About Window & Door Installation
- Selecting a Contractor: Questions to Ask
- Questions to Ask Contractors on Your Short List
- The Contract
- Preparing your Home for the Installation Project
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What improvements am I trying to make to my home? Am I just replacing the windows and doors? Or is this part of a larger remodeling effort? Your answer to these questions will help determine the scope of the project. Obviously, remodeling is a bigger and longer project than window replacement.
- How do I want to live differently in my home? This is a classic remodeling question to get ideas rolling, but it also can apply to replacement windows and patio doors. What kinds of things do you want to change about your home in terms of natural light, ventilation, energy efficiency, maximizing views, adding privacy and increasing curb appeal? These are all things in which windows and doors play a major role.
- Realistically, how much can I afford? Money always plays a role in how much we can do. Try to come up with a range of what you're willing to spend that includes an absolute maximum.
- How involved do I want to be in the design? Some people want to be involved in every single choice. Others want their contractor to explain the options and simply choose. It will be important to let your contractor know how involved you want to be—it will help them determine how they should work with you.
- What are my "must-haves?" What are the "nice-to-haves?" Working out a budget with your contractor will be easier if you can give your contractor an idea of what things you're flexible with. For instance, having at least a single hung window in a particular spot might be a "must-have," while having a double-hung might be a "nice-to-have." If you and your contractor need to trim the budget, such flexibility will give you a good place to start.
- Do I need this done by a certain time? Or, can I afford to have the work done in the off season? Everyone tends to want work done on their homes in times of good weather. But often you can have more flexibility and the work done more quickly in off-season times.
Selecting a Contractor: Questions to Ask
- How long have you been in business? A contractor who has been in business a long time isn't necessarily better than one who's been in business just a year, but it does show they've been able to make a living at it.
- Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job? This is a good question to ask, because often the person who works with you on the bid for the project is not the person you work with once the project begins. You might ask to meet the project supervisor.
- Who will be working on the window / door installation project? Are they employees or subcontractors? It's good to get an idea of how big of a crew will be doing the job. Contractors work in different ways. Some have full-time employees, which is an indication they like the workers well enough that they hire them and that they have enough business to keep their employees busy. On the other hand, some contractors like to work lean and depend on subcontractors. If so, find out if they have long-term relationships with their subcontractors. The best contractors have dependable subcontractors they call on, job after job.
- Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance? Is your company licensed? Always verify this information by calling the insurance agency. A copy of an insurance certificate does not let you know if the policy is still current. Even if the certificate has an expiration date, you cannot tell if the insurance has been canceled by either party. If licensing is required in your state, also ask if the contractor is licensed and call to verify compliance. Not all states offer or require licensing.
- What is your approach to a project such as this? This is a good question to ask a contractor, because it's somewhat open-ended and gives them a chance to explain their working process.
- How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year? Everyone likes to hire experience. After all, we all learn from experience. The more you have, the more competent a person or firm is. So be upfront and ask.
- May I have a list of references from those projects? It's a good idea to check recent references. After all, any contractor is only as good as the last project he or she has completed. You want to know recent performance, not what a customer five years ago thinks who might have had an entirely different crew do the work than the crew you'll see.
- What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business? This is a good question to ask a contractor who specializes in replacement windows. Often people have a portion of their windows replaced and then more at a later date. Hiring the same contractor for the second half of the work indicates they were satisfied with the initial work.
- Are you a member of a national trade association? This is not a make or break question, but it does show commitment to the craft to be a member of a national trade association or other trade organization.
- Have you or your employees been certified in remodeling? Have you had any special training or education, such as Installation Masters™ training, or do you have a Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC) or Certified Kitchen & Bath Remodeler (CKBR) designation? Certification can be an important indication that a person takes pride in their work and wants to be recognized for their capabilities. It's an indication of true professional caliber and concern for excelling in their field.
Questions to Ask Contractors on Your Short List
- When can you start the installation? When will you be finished? Don't be shy about asking for a start and finish date. In fact, you might want to ask for extra assurance on both and what type of things might prevent the contractor from starting and finishing on the specified dates. If you're hoping to have the windows installed and the project finished before a family event or vacation, be very clear with the contractor why this date is important to you.
- What time will you knock on my door each morning? What time will you quit for the day? Most people like a regular schedule they can plan on. See if your contractor has a particular start and finish time each day. It will help you adjust your daily routine.
- Will you be working consecutive days until the job is done? This can be an important question. Sometimes contractors work on several jobs at once, returning to one when the materials are ready, while the other one is in a waiting mode for their materials or a particular subcontractor. Some contractors, however, are very focused and get a job done 1, 2, 3. Find out how a particular contractor likes to work and decide if that will work for you.
- Do you clean up daily? If you're going to be living through the project, you don't want to deal with a messy work site—after all, it's your home. So let your expectations be known in terms of keeping the work areas tidy and contained.
- Do you take care of everything? Or will I have to do some touching up or painting? This is an important question to ask with a window replacement project. At a minimum, a contractor should remove the existing windows, install the new ones, clean up and dispose of the old windows and wash the new windows. Be forewarned, though, that replacing windows can require removing and reinstalling trim and can sometimes even impact the wall paint around the window opening. Don't assume a contractor is going to leave your trim and walls exactly as they were when the project was started. Ask and make sure. Also, if you have any of the names and sources of the original paint colors, that can be extremely helpful to a contractor. Even better is having some of the original paint on hand.
- How much will it cost? Obviously, you want a bid. Be careful to make item-by-item decisions based on value and quality, not just price. Be sure to ask if there are any contingencies in the bid and what type of things might result in cost overruns. Contractors installing windows can't anticipate everything they might run into but you can ask for a ballpark estimate should they find dry rot when removing old windows.
- A well-written contract is essential to preventing costly mistakes or additions to the scope of your project. It is also a critical step in maintaining your budget. Many contractors require a signed contract before starting work.
- Be sure the contract covers everything you have talked about with your contractor. Pay careful attention to how unexpected circumstances, such as dry rot, will be handled and priced.
Preparing Your Home for the Project
- You may be living in your home while the project is being done, so you should prepare accordingly. If windows are being replaced in a kitchen or your only bathroom, you might want to ask if these rooms could be done quickly (perhaps in a day), so that you can continue to use them. If windows are part of a larger remodel, you will want to know how many days your kitchen, or another room, will be out of commission so that you can plan around it. For instance, you might want to move your appliances elsewhere so you can still make meals for yourself. Or simply plan to eat out.
- Think about your daily routine and how it involves the part of the house being worked on. Prepare yourself for a break in that routine for the duration of the project. You might ask the contractor the order the windows in the various rooms will be done. If one is a home office you use daily, perhaps you can arrange for it to be done quickly while you're out on errands or working from another room.
- Remove all necessities and valuables from wherever the work is being done so you have better access to them. It's a good idea to remove items that could get broken (such as a valuable vase) from the immediate area where windows are being replaced. Contractors are used to working around furnishings, but it never hurts to give them more space and take extra precautions.
- Make plans to keep pets and children as isolated as possible from the work area. While contractors are used to working around people, distractions such as children and pets will only slow the job down and could even prove dangerous. You don't want children and pets running around in rooms where people are carrying windows with large panes of glass.