What to Ask Contractors
Finding the right contractor for your home energy project isn't an easy job. But unless you have residential construction experience and a desire to climb around in the darkest and dirtiest corners of your crawlspace, you'll have to interview some home performance contractors to help you get the work done. How do you know you've got the right one?
Why do you want a home performance contractor? Well, since a house is essentially a system of interconnected components, changes to any one part often affect the others. For instance, air sealing your walls, ceiling and basement is great to reduce loss of hot and cold air — but if you seal too tightly without properly ventilating, the air quality in your home is often made worse and serious safety issues are created if there is insufficient air supply for your oil and gas appliances.
Finding a good home performance contractor isn't easy. We've established a prescreened directory of knowledgeable contractors on EnergySavvy.com, but you should be ready to ask them the hard questions when you talk with them. These questions represent a great way to identify the quality home performance contractors that are out there.
- Are they licensed, bonded and insured? The correct answer is: yes, yes and yes. These are essential qualifications for any professional you hire to work on your home.
- How many years of experience do they have doing energy retrofits? How many do they do per month? Experience matters. And with so many newcomers to the field, don't be afraid to ask them directly.
- How did they learn their trade? Although home performance contracting is a relatively new field, low-income weatherization work has been going on for quite some time. Many of today's home performance contractors have gained valuable experience working for low-income weatherization agencies or other weatherization contractors. If not, what is their background and where did they get their training?
- What professional certifications do they hold? We recommend looking for a contractor that is a BPI Certified Professional or BPI Accredited Company. BPI is short for the Building Performance Institute, a nationally recognized training and certification organization. Obtaining a BPI certification reflects training in the "house-as-a-system" approach and an emphasis on addressing health, safety, comfort and energy efficiency issues at the same time.
- What's their plan for making your home more comfortable, healthier and reducing your energy bills at the same time? You shouldn't have to choose between these three goals. If they are not able to do this, they don't understand good home performance practices.
- Will the contractor be doing the work themself? If they have a crew who do the work, ask if their crew leads are BPI Certified Professionals. If they work with sub-contractors, ask them what certifications the sub-contractors hold and how they'll be overseeing and quality-checking the work their sub-contractors do.
- Do they have training in sustainable building practices? If being "green" is just as important to you as saving money on your utility bills, this is important to consider. You'll want to make sure that the way that the contractor does your project is as environmentally friendly as the outcome. You might ask if they have worked for a Built Green Program.
- Can you provide me with contact information for a few reference customers? As with hiring any home contractor, past customers can verify the contractor's credentials and often add valuable information about what they're like to work with.
- In their proposal to you, are they recommending the installation of particular products — like a new furnace or new windows — or are they talking with you about how your house functions as an interconnected system? There's a big difference between the motivations of someone who is trying to sell you a particular product and someone who is committed to finding the best overall methods to reduce your house's energy usage. Be wary of a contractor who tries to sell you on insulation without talking to you about air sealing at the same time. Or a contractor who wants to put in a new heating system without talking to you about improving the effectiveness of your existing distribution system by sealing ducts or insulating hot water pipes in order to maximize performance.
Remember: everything is connected.
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