Contracts and Contractors: "Pre-nuptials" - Your Contract with the Contractor

"Pre-nuptials"-- Your Contract with the Contractor

When it comes to renovations, alterations, additions, or building a new house, the best endings are “…and they lived happily ever after.” The best way to get to “Happily Ever After” is to clearly and concisely define expectations and to make sure that your expectations are in alignment with that of Mr. Right, the Contractor, before you say “I do.”

The best way to do this is have a Contract. When building a residential project, you really need a set of Construction Documents, which are Architectural Design Drawings and Specifications that communicate your expectations to the Contractor. I recommend this approach even if you are “just remodeling your powder room.”

The Architectural Drawings may include the following:
  1. A survey of the site showing the footprint of your house and any additions.
  2. Existing conditions drawings that represent your “as-built” house.
  3. A Scope of Work defined in words and drawings.
  4. Demolition plans if the project is a renovation.
  5. Dimensioned floor plans, elevations, and reflected ceiling plans illustrating the Scope of Work.
  6. Wall Sections and Construction Details are technical drawings required by the Building Department that provide information pertaining to the structural, environmental and other components of the house.
  7. Electrical Plans that specify and locate: lighting fixtures, electrical receptacles, lighting switches and dimmers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, as required by code.
  8. Structural Drawings representing the foundation and framing of the house.
  9. Mechanical Systems Drawings that specify systems and coordinate locations, color, size and models for supply and return registers as well as radiators and thermostats.
  10. Plumbing and Gas Riser Diagrams. These are single line drawings that schematically represent the fixtures and fittings for each system.
  11. Details for the project that articulate what will happen where two materials come together.
  12. Material Specifications. Larger projects have specifications in book form. Smaller projects can simply incorporate the material and fixture selections by notes on the drawings.
  13. A Professional Seal from a licensed architect and/or engineer certifying and insuring that the drawings and calculations are correct and meet national, state and local building codes.
Additional concerns to discuss and include in your contract are:
  1. Schedule for the work and hours of work permitted by your Township.
  2. Emergency contact numbers for Contractor
  3. A Payment Schedule clearly showing milestones for the project and the corresponding payments.
If you plan to live in a home that is being renovated, these are additional items to discuss with the Contractor:
  1. Notification prior to electrical, water and heating shut downs and provision of temporary service if more than one day.
  2. Protection of areas not in Scope of Work, especially protection from dust migration.
  3. Introduction to the Contractor’s superintendent who will be your daily contact on the job.
  4. Schedule for weekly progress meetings.
The drawings and specifications serve as Construction Documents and appear as an “Exhibit” to the formal Contract between the Client and the Contractor. By defining your expectations in the Construction Documents, you are:
  1. Clearly defining the desired Scope of Work.
  2. Protecting the investment in your house.
  3. Protecting the structural and material integrity of your house.
  4. Minimizing the length of time that you will spend “working on your project.”
Following the process described above provides you with a guide for a successful project. It is a less stressful and more enjoyable approach to what is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If a potential Contractor hands you a one to two page document that does not reference the Construction Documents by title and date of issue, overlooks the construction schedule, and focuses only a payment schedule, think twice.

Because when we are talking about your house…there is only one good ending and that is Happily Ever After.