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Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Building Contractor

  • Posted: 06.23.2020
house framing
Image: Nick Sesker

Last month, home builder Nick Sesker, Ogden, provided a list of best practices every consumer should expect from the contractor chosen for their project. This month, Nick provides some concepts to consider and important questions to ask potential builders before hiring their company.

Nick’s comments assume that you want a well-built, energy-efficient, safe and healthy home (and who doesn’t?).

How well-built and energy-efficient are the homes you build?
In follow-up questioning, Nick says it helps to understand a few important terms. If your builder indicates that the company “builds to Code,” understand this isn’t a good thing. “As Bill McAnally, one of my college instructors, says, ‘a house that is built to Iowa Code is really a D-rated home, not worthy of an A. That’s because meeting Code is the bare minimum needed to pass the class.’”

Instead, your builder should be telling you about testing performed to ensure the home is built to energy-efficient standards. These standards may be to meet HERS (home energy rating system) standards, Energy Star or other high standards. HERS ratings are the gold standard for energy efficiency. Testing is conducted by an independent third party, not by your builder (although the builder should contract with the HERS rater to get the job done for you).

Links he recommends for learning more about home energy ratings:

Questions Nick suggests you ask builders about the building process and energy efficiency include:

  • How do you determine energy efficiency in the homes you build (which methods do you use to test, who makes the determination)?
  • Can you explain the processes and procedures that make the homes you build better than a Code-built home?
  • How long have you been building energy-efficient homes? Follow up with a request for references from other homeowners so you can check out whether their home has met their needs for energy efficiency, comfort and more.
  • Why do you build energy efficient homes? Nick says, “A good builder should be passionate about building a quality, high-performance, healthy home, and should always be looking for new research, new products and new ways to achieve their goals.”

How do you control the building process to ensure quality control?
Even if the builder you are talking with believes in building energy-efficient construction, the process needs careful attention to ensure the home is built correctly. Monitoring all subcontractors and every step along the way is necessary to ensure that when the final testing (HERS or other) is completed, all standards will be met.

Questions to ask include:

  • How often will you be on site? Or do you have a manager or someone else who will be present at the site?
  • How do you ensure your subcontractors understand—and follow—proper steps and procedures?
  • Who is keeping track of the steps in the workflow to make sure nothing is skipped or forgotten along the way?
  • What resources do you use to keep up on the latest building science research and recommendations?
  • How often will you check in with me, explain the process, show me the energy-efficient procedures you are incorporating and generally, keep me in the loop about what is going on?

Nick stresses it’s also important to educate yourself on the building process. You should:

  • Ask questions and request further explanations on anything you don’t understand before, during and after the building process, and even do some additional research to confirm any claims the builder makes.
  • Talk with your electric cooperative about options available, including energy-efficient HVAC options, water heaters, rebates, best practices and more.
  • Research the International Building Code, International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation Code, all of which are Iowa-adopted codes. In addition, find out more about HERS ratings, best-practice building science options and more.
  • Ensure that your contract with the builder includes specifics on the energy-efficient practices you set as requirements for your home, as well as any testing, documentation and specific products you request be used.

More Reputable Resources

Source: Nick Sesker, Nick Sesker Construction. Contact Nick through his Facebook page at Nick Sesker Construction LLC