The following resources should get you on the way to making energy-saving improvements in your home. Remember, whether doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor, it is important that you have a good understanding of the options and opportunities available. This checklist will help you make the best choices for your home and budget:
Prework inspection. An independent energy assessment or home performance review is an essential first step to evaluating how your house is currently operating. Proper diagnosis (from someone who is not selling specific products or services) can lead to energy-saving suggestions based on actual measurements and analysis—not on speculation or exaggerated claims.
Education and research. Once you have a report in hand with specific recommendations, it is time to learn a little more about your options. Information is available from many sources—the task is finding what is trustworthy and useful.
Selecting a contractor. Choosing a contractor is much like a job interview—and you are the employer. The state of Minnesota, through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), establishes standards and safeguards to help homeowners avoid hiring disreputable or unqualified contractors, and to protect them against sloppy or poor quality construction.
Bids and contracts. Get at least three bids that meet your minimum requirements:
Only review bids that are in writing and include detailed information about the job: scope of the work, materials to be used (manufacturer’s numbers, models, colors, sizes, anything else that specifies exactly what you are buying), prices, cleanup and debris removal, and names of subcontractors and suppliers.
Be sure you are getting what you are expecting. The lowest bid may not be the best; incomplete or vague bids may not protect your interests. Reconsider bids from contractors who hesitate to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.
Don’t be misled by “sales” or “deals” that are available “for a limited time only.” If you feel pressured to sign a contract, you should be cautious. Although there are sometimes time limits on rebates or some materials or equipment, be sure it is not simply a tactic to get you to commit before you are ready. And remember that sometimes “sales” are opportunities to move products that are not selling well.
The contractor should apply for permits and is responsible for meeting all building codes and arranging inspections. Also in the bid should be information about timeframes and what will happen if deadlines are not met, as well as the schedule of payments and any holdback clauses for incomplete or substandard work.
Contracts are negotiable, legally binding agreements. This means that you have the right to request additions, deletions, or changes in the terms prior to signing. It also means that the contractor can do the same. Both parties have the right to enter into a satisfactory agreement.
Learn about the “Three-Day Cooling Off Law” that gives you the right to cancel within 72 hours of signing a contract for work to be done on your home. Don’t provide a check or down-payment until this period has ended and you have had the opportunity to review details, check references, or make other evaluations of the contract or the contractor. Learn more at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office: ag.state.mn.us.
The final contract should list everything that was included on the initial bid. Over the course of the project, any additional work done (not part of the original contract) must be approved by you with a “change order” that specifies the work and any additional costs to you. If you have not signed the change order, it is not an enforceable part of the contract.
Require lien waivers from all suppliers and subcontractors. Anyone who works on your home has the right to attach a lien against your property if they are not paid for their work or materials—regardless of whether you paid the primary contractor. Make delivery of signed lien waivers part of the initial contract, and do not make any final payments until you receive them from all subcontractors and suppliers.
Before making final payment, make sure everything is completed, including all inspections and cleanup. If you are unsure that everything is done to your satisfaction, ask for a day or so to inspect before making the final payment.