Brighten Up Your Life: How to Pick the Right Contractor for Your Window Replacement Project

Sometimes the toughest part of any home remodeling project is finding the right person for the job. Here’s how to take the fear out of fixing your windows.

Pick a Number, Any Number

Insist on an estimate that itemizes the materials, labor and time involved – and make sure that that estimate is based on reality. The estimate should take into account your actual window sizes and types (single, double-glazed, storm, etc.). An estimate will be meaningless without specifics because you won’t be able to compare it with other contractors’ estimates. If the estimates you get from different contractors are based on different assumptions, it’s like comparing apples to oranges – and you’re likely to get a nasty surprise.

Once you’ve got your estimates from a few contractors, don’t immediately zero in on the lowest bid. It may be the most expensive choice in the end.

Conversational Gambits

Don’t stop at the estimate – while you’ve got the contractor in front of you, here are some important questions to ask:
“How long have you been in business?”
“What licenses do you hold? What are your license numbers?” (Note: the exact license requirements vary from state to state, but in many areas contractors need two separate licenses for window installation: a Construction Supervisor’s License and a Home Improvement Contractor’s License.)
“How many window replacements have you done in the past year?”
“Do you offer warranties / refunds?”
“What’s the time frame for starting my project?”
“Have you had any special training in remodeling?”
“Are you a member of any national trade associations?”

Background is Crucial

Don’t be afraid to ask for recent references (recent meaning within the past 30 days or so) and follow up. Some questions to ask a reference are:
“Were you satisfied with the project?”
“Was it finished on time and within the specified budget?”
“Did the workers arrive on time? Did the contractor manage them well?”
“Were you able to communicate with the contractor? Did he/she seem receptive and willing to answer questions?”
“How did the contractor handle any problems that arose?” (Note: on a substantial project there are almost certainly going to be SOME problems. If something goes wrong that’s not necessarily a mark against the contractor – what’s more important is how he/she addressed the problem.)
“Did the workers clean up after themselves? Was the work completed in a safe manner?”
“The next time you have a major project, will you call this contractor again?”

It’s a good idea to contact your state’s licensing board and confirm that his/her licenses are valid (you DID get those license numbers, right?). You can also find out if the contractor has had any disciplinary action levied against them. Other good places to check are the local Better Business Bureau, Builder’s Association and Consumer Protection Office.

How’s Your Liability?

A reputable contractor will carry several kinds of insurance to protect both you and them. At a minimum, a contractor should have automobile insurance on whatever vehicle(s) they will use for your project, personal liability insurance, property damage coverage, and workers compensation. Ask the contractor to have the insurance agency mail copies of these certificates to you. If something goes wrong and your contractor is not carrying the appropriate insurance, YOU could be held liable!

It’s also wise to confirm that, when the job is completed, the contractor will give you an affidavit stating that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid. This is important because some subcontractors will place a lien on your house that allows them to file a claim against you if your contractor doesn’t pay them!

Warning Signs

Watch out for any of the following behaviors:

  • Refusal to provide references
  • Pressure to make an immediate decision (your immediate decision should be “Thanks, I’ll go with someone else.”)
  • Offers of a discount for referring the contractor to other customers
  • A request for you to get any required building permits – this usually means that the contractor is not licensed and can’t get them himself
  • Door-to door solicitation
  • Offers to use materials that the contractor “just happens” to have left over from another job
  • Requests for payment up front or payment in cash

Yes, going through all the above steps will be additional and time-consuming work on your part. Just keep in mind that the right contractor can make your window replacement job run smoothly and deliver the results you hoped for. The wrong contractor can cost a great deal of money and turn your home into a disaster area. So do your contractor homework, and you can have the windows you always wanted!