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Hiring a Contractor

Where can I find a qualified contractor that is right for the job, and what should I know before hiring them?

When hiring a contractor, it’s important that you are choosing them for the quality of their work and for their training and credentials rather than solely on price. There are a variety of consequences to hiring someone that is going to do a poor job installing your equipment. We recommend calling around to different installers in your area to ensure that they can meet your time frame, the scope of the project, and are well qualified for the job.

Before you hire a contractor, clearly establish the scale of the project and a clear budget to work within. Write a complete description of the work you want done on your home. By doing so you will understand the scope of your project and you can find a contractor that will be the most suitable for the job. This detailed description should be given to potential contractors when you ask for a bid or proposal for your project.

Go through a proper screening process before hiring a contractor: Check the Better Business Bureau for reputable contractors in your area. For tips on hiring a contractor, visit the Canadian Home Builders' Association. For tips on hiring a gas contractor, visit FortisBC.

What accreditations do I look for when hiring contractors/installers?

When hiring an installer for your energy efficiency upgrades and renovations, it’s a good practice to look for an installer’s certifications and credentials.

Accreditations you should look for include:
  • A business license that ensures they have met the licensing requirements for British Columbia.
  • Trade membership with trade associations such as the Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), the National Energy Conservation Association (NECA), and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA). Association memberships are often an indication that contractors are concerned about the quality of work in the industry.
  • Better Business Bureau records to see if they are accredited, how long they’ve been in business and if there are complaints filed against them.
  • Technical qualifications specific to the work you would like a contractor to complete. Ask prospective installers what technical education and qualifications they possess and how regularly they update them.

What questions should I ask a contractor during the interview process?

During your first interview with a potential contractor it’s important to obtain as much information as possible. This will help you determine the contractor’s credibility and capacity to carry out your home-building or renovation project. Below are a list of key questions to ask contractors:
  • What is the history of your company?
  • What services do you offer?
  • What work are you, and/or your subcontractors licensed to do?
  • Have you done a job similar to ours before?
  • Can we talk to some of your past clients?
  • Can we visit one of your current projects?
  • Do you carry Workers' Compensation and business liability insurance?
  • What kind of warranty do you offer and what does it cover?
  • Will you take out all required permits for the job?
  • Will we get a written contract?
  • How would you deal with our project?
It will be useful to record the answers during each interview because it allows you to compare the contractors and help you choose the right one for the job.

How do I ensure that I am getting a fair price for my requested services from a contractor?

Obtain at least three estimates, quotes, or proposals from different contractors. In order to receive accurate estimates from a contractor, you need to give a description of the work that needs to be done on your home. Give contractors a detailed description of the job and any specifications you have for equipment or materials.

Assess each bid or proposal. After you have at least three bids or proposals, compare them carefully to ensure that everything you asked for is in the estimate. Always assume that anything not listed in the proposal is not included in the price given.

Do not automatically choose the contractor who gives you the lowest bid. Estimates that are significantly lower than their competitors may indicate that the contractor misunderstood the scope of the project. They may have also lowered costs by substituting lower quality materials or by having a lower quality installation of the product. You can follow-up with contractors if there is any information that is missing or unclear.

Check contractor references. Get in touch with each of the contractor’s references and check their Better Business Bureau rating to help you make an informed decision. This will help you get a better sense of a contractor’s work performance and quality of materials used. Overall, you should choose the contractor that you feel will give you the best overall value for your money.

What should be included in my written contract with a contractor?

When hiring a contractor for a larger home renovation, it’s important to get everything in writing. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association recommends that your written contract should include the following:
  • The parties to the contract (e.g. you and the contractor), including street addresses, telephone and fax numbers, email addresses and the contractor’s business or GST number.
  • Addendums. The main contract must also identify all attachments that are part of the contract, such as:
    • Drawings/blueprints/plans
    • Specifications: description of work and a precise list of materials and products (e.g. types, brands, grades, thickness, colour, model)
    • Other documents signed by both parties in the course of the contract (e.g. change order forms)
  • Description of work to be done by the contractor, as well as work not to be done under the contract, or to be done by you or others outside the terms of the contract.
  • Start and completion dates often include a statement indicating that the contractor cannot be responsible for delays due to circumstances beyond the contractor's control (changes to the work, adverse weather conditions, etc.).
  • Terms of payment set out the total amount of the contract and a payment schedule: deposit upon signing the contract; how and when the remainder will be paid (at regular intervals or specific milestones), and the treatment of taxes.
  • Holdbacks are a provincial legislative requirement that protects you against subcontractors who may place a lien on your property in the event the contractor doesn't pay them. On each payment you make to your contractor, you must hold back a certain percentage for a specified length of time.
  • Changes in work once the building or renovation project is in progress (also called extras and deletions) must be written up as "change orders," signed by both parties and attached to the contract. Any change to the contract price and schedule should be clearly noted on the order.
  • Allowances refer to a lump sum in the contract price, allocated for items to be selected directly by the homeowners, such as flooring, fixtures or cabinets.
  • Contingencies refer to an amount set aside to deal with the unexpected or items that the contractor cannot gauge accurately until work is in progress. If not needed, you won't be invoiced for it.
  • Standards of work describe the contractor's commitment to performing the work in accordance with the contract documents and in a diligent and workmanlike manner with minimum inconvenience to your household, to protect your property as well as neighbouring properties and to comply with regulatory requirements. Includes responsibility for daily clean-up.
  • The contractor's liability insurance and workers' compensation coverage must be paid up to date and proof of coverage provided and attached to the contract.
  • Municipal and/or utility permits, inspections and approvals are usually arranged by professional contractors as part of their service (note that homeowners are ultimately responsible for complying with these regulations). The contract should specify who is going to obtain them.
  • The contractor's warranty describes what is covered and for how long. It should include a statement of the contractor's intent to hand over manufacturers' product warranties to you upon completion of work.
  • Subcontractors scheduled to work on your home may be listed.
  • Use of facilities and utilities should be outlined-water, electricity, washroom and storage for materials.
  • Signage. A statement that you will permit the contractor to display a promotional sign on your property during the project.
  • Dispute resolution in the event of a conflict – may include the name of a third party arbitrator, or state that both parties agree to binding arbitration.
Fill in any blank spaces on the contract with N/A (not applicable), strike out anything you don't agree with, and make sure that you and the contractor initial any changes. Don’t sign the contract until you have reviewed it and are fully satisfied. You may wish to consider having the contract reviewed by your lawyer. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it might be.

How do I protect myself against fraud and deception?

  • Go through the proper screening process before hiring a contractor. Look for reputable contractors, interview potential contractors, learn about their credentials and certifications, obtain at least three written bids or proposals from potential contractors, and follow-up with their references. (See: ‘Where can I find a qualified contractor that is right for the job, and what should I know before hiring them?’)
  • Avoid cash deals. A cash deal is when a contractor offers a lower price for their services in exchange for a cash payment and no written contract or receipts. Cash deals can result in incomplete or poor-quality work, accidents or injuries in your home, injured workers and no warranty.
  • Take precaution with door-to-door contractors. Be wary of businesses that rely on door-to-door sales because they may be unreliable and lack a permanent office location or phone number that you can call if problems occur with products or installations. Always insist on seeing the sales representative’s business card. Door-to-door sales contractors have also been implicated in fraudulent activities.
  • Have a written contract. Once you hire a contractor, make sure that the contract includes detailed instructions of the project and clear expectations for the contractors. Have it checked by your lawyer and carefully read the fine print. (See: ‘What should be included in my written contract with a contractor?’)
  • Follow up with your contractor throughout the building and renovation process. As a homeowner it’s your responsibility to make sure that the job is done on time and on budget.
For more information on fraud and deception, visit Natural Resources Canada’s Consumer Caution webpage.

How do I locate someone to remove my oil tank safely?

Oil tanks can represent a hazard to the local environment and a significant financial liability for you if they leak or spill. Cleanup costs for oil tank leaks are the responsibility of the homeowner, and your private home insurance likely does not cover these costs. Check with your local government whether they require you to obtain a permit for removing your oil tank. Whether or not a permit is required, in order to access the Oil to Heat Pump Incentives program you must:
  • Remove and dispose of, or decommission, your oil tank in accordance with all relevant regulations, including the BC Fire Code.
  • Provide required documentation (see samples of acceptable documentation).
Your private house insurance provider may also require oil tank removal documentation, which may be different than what the Oil to Heat Pump Program requires. Please check directly with your insurance company before removing your oil tank. Similarly, if removal of an oil tank is a condition of sale for your home, please also ensure you have adequate documentation for those purposes, which may be different than the documentation requirements for this incentive program. The person that removes your oil tank can be a local contractor or handyperson, however it is important to ensure that it is done safely, and with the appropriate permit if required. If you are located within the Capital Regional District, visit their website to learn how to safely dispose of your oil tank.

What are some of the consequences of hiring a contractor who doesn’t sell quality products or provide a professional installation?

If you don’t take the time to select a professional contractor with the expertise to complete your home renovation or installation, you may have to deal with unforeseen consequences. Below is a partial list of problems that can arise if a contractor uses lower-quality products and/or does not complete a professional installation:
  • Paying a higher or lower price for a lower quality product and installation resulting in higher annual energy bills and potentially a shorter lifespan requiring another upgrade sooner than anticipated.
  • Installation of a heating system that is not working effectively causing comfort issues, higher noise levels in the home, higher energy bills and other issues.
  • Installation of a poorly designed heating system resulting in uneven heating, oversized or undersized system, comfort issues, higher energy bills, and/or louder operation.
  • Installation of insulation without adequate draftproofing prior to installation potentially causing issues with moisture and mould in your home.
  • Installation of insulation that is compressed or with gaps, reducing the effect of the insulation in slowing down heat transfer, resulting in home comfort issues and higher utility bills than anticipated.
  • Installation of upgrades without resolving underlying issues first (e.g. water leaks), resulting in more expenses later to correct the issues and redo the upgrades.
  • Installing products that improve the air tightness of your home without improving ventilation, causing condensation on windows, issues with mould and negatively impacting indoor air quality.
  • Installation of the wrong type of South and West facing windows, resulting in overheating, comfort issues and potentially extra energy consumption for air conditioning.

What if I’m not satisfied with my contractor’s service?

Discuss why you're not satisfied with your contractor and if the issue or problem is unresolved contact the Better Business Bureau.

Get solutions for common problems & learn about energy efficient upgrades.