The Contracting Nightmare
How Choosing The Wrong Contractor Could Cost You More Than Just Money
One of the most significant decisions you could ever make is choosing the right contractor to make alterations or repairs to your home. We understand that in today’s world, every penny counts, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of saving a buck by going with the lowest bidder. Value for money can be much more than merely paying the least, however. Shoddy quality work can not only impact your financial situation in the long run but also risk your family’s health, comfort, and safety. In this latest in our survival guide blog series, our service experts will reveal the secret to choosing the perfect contractor, and the risks of giving in to the urge to go with the lowest bid.
In a perfect world, the most experienced Master Electrician/Plumber/Carpenter/HVAC guy in the world would always be the one walking through your door, charging you peanuts to provide the most fantastic work standards imaginable.
Sadly, the perfect world doesn’t exist. When it comes to the service industry, there is an alarming lack of standards applied by federal, state, and local regulators. In Illinois, a competency license is not required for electricians, handymen, general contractors, heating and cooling technicians, or mold remediation and cleanup. Plumbers are the only traditional service industry that is licensed in Illinois and requires a demonstrated educational background and experience.
What that means is that anyone with the money for a business permit can start a service company and begin claiming to be a contractor. It is essential that any contractor doing business in your home be ready and willing to discuss their training and experience.
Having said that, there are some counties and cities in Illinois which DO require individual licensing for specific service industries. It’s always a good idea to check with your local county or city clerk to find out if your contractor requires a license.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
At the beginning of the article, we talked about there being dangers to your finances, comfort, health, and safety in choosing the wrong contractor – what are these dangers, though?
The obvious consequence of shoddy quality work is the need to have it fixed. Our service experts are frequently called to homes to repair poor quality work performed by other companies. Some of our more shocking stories involve customers whose electrical or heating and cooling work has led to the need to replace entire electrical panels and main services, and has destroyed brand new air conditioners and furnaces. There have been occasions where the cost to repair the damage has exceeded the price of the original work itself.
Health & Comfort
When it comes to heating and cooling, we have written extensively about the dangers that indoor air pollution poses to you and your family, and about our six-stage Breathe Better initiative designed to provide clean and healthy air quality.
Our service experts have worked in homes whose owners have been charged huge sums of money for work that was either done poorly or not done at all. In some extreme cases, the ‘work’ undertaken by these so-called contractors has created more problems than it could have solved.
Our service experts recently replaced an entire heating and cooling system, and in the process, discovered that poor duct cleaning from another company had caused dangerous mold build-ups that were actively releasing potentially lethal spores into the home’s air. Not only did that customer then have to shoulder the burden of replacing their entire contaminated duct system, but also the cost of a professional mold remediation company to remove buildups that had spread throughout the home.
There are a great many electrical companies throughout the nation, but there are always far more in states without licensing requirements. Many people don’t start electrical companies with a deliberate desire or intent to cheat customers, but it’s all too easy for people to believe that they’re capable of performing electrical work without apprentice and journeyman training. Ignorant of national code requirements, the use of cheap sub-standard parts installed poorly without regard to the overall state of a home’s electrical system can pose a terrible danger.
One of our service experts’ most frequent electrical calls is to repair poorly functioning panels or circuits that have been installed by inexperienced electrical contractors.
Improperly grounded circuits, unshielded components, incorrectly seated breakers, sockets not protected by GFCI/AFCI, and sub-standard outlets and switches that are not up to code can cause devastating surges, overloads, and fires.
What’s The Code?
We hear a great deal about things being not ‘up to code,’ but there’s never much explanation of what this magical code is. The code in use can vary wildly from state to state and even city to city. Each state and city has the option of deciding what their standard building code is. Essentially the code is a set of minimum standards to which contractors must adhere. Some states and cities have very lax codes that only specify some small requirements for larger equipment like electrical panels, construction frames, foundation pads, and the like.
For electricians, there is a national standard code called the National Electrical Code (NEC), which is set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA encourages all state and local bodies to adopt the NEC, as it exceeds most current standards in terms of safety. Many states do adopt the NEC as their standard code, but Illinois is unfortunately not among them. Contractors working safely and ethically will adhere to building codes regardless of the state’s lower standards. It’s important to specifically ask your contractor if their work complies with the NEC or similar code for other industries.
Licensed, Bonded, Insured?
TV and movies are full of commercials and references to being licensed, bonded, and insured, but what does it actually mean?
If someone is licensed, it means that they have provided suitable evidence of education or experience sufficient to pass examination and receive a license from a federal, state, or local body to perform specific work. While there are no state licensing requirements in Illinois, a number of counties and cities have licensing requirements. Our service experts at Service Detectives are licensed to work in all required cities and counties within our service area.
Many people are confused by the difference between being bonded and being insured. Bonds are an extra level of coverage paid by a contractor that covers issues arising from contract breaches or other problems not covered by a general liability insurance plan. It’s essential to understand what your contractor’s bond covers if something goes wrong.
Every contractor should carry a liability insurance plan that covers their parts and labor in the event of damage occurring after work has been completed, which is the result of that work. In Illinois, some contractors are required to carry general liability insurance before working on specific projects: construction contractors, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters, house and carpet cleaners, and general repair people (handymen) are all required to carry at least a basic general liability insurance plan.
Any contractor should be eager to show you that they are licensed, bonded, and insured, and the best will provide a copy of their status to every customer without even being asked.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
We’ve blogged about this before, but it’s so important we’re saying it three times. Reviews. Reviews. Reviews! Every small business in the country lives and dies according to their reputation in the community, and for service companies, in particular, that reputation depends upon the quantity and quality of their online reviews. It takes time to sit down, log in, write a review and post it, so online reviews are generally a very accurate way of judging a business’s ability.
Don’t just judge a company by its positive reviews either; how they handle negative reviews will tell you far more about a companies attitude towards its customers in general. If a negative review is received with scorn, anger, and ridicule, it’s a relatively safe bet that you have not come across a good company that will treat you well. Responses that seek to make the situation right for the customer, even at the cost of the service company, are the best sign of a quality, responsible, and trustworthy contractor.
It’s How Much?!
Our service experts regularly handle very large and complex jobs, from total heating and cooling replacements to multi-story re-wires, new electrical services and meters, and more. Universally, these large projects are not as cheap as anyone would ever like.
Once you’ve established that your preferred service company is trustworthy, produces good quality work, is licensed, bonded, insured, and has a good reputation, you’ve now got to consider how to pay for your project. Many reputable service companies invest a great deal of time and money into ensuring that they’re able to make these projects affordable by offering good quality payment options through reputable finance companies.
Being able to finance a project by breaking it down into an affordable monthly payment can make the difference for many families, especially with work that’s necessary for safety as well as comfort.
It’s all in The Way They Tell ‘Em
Finally, your contractor should never withhold any information from you or seek to spin the truth. Our mission with this entire survival guide series has been to ensure that our families in Southern Illinois have all the information they need to make safe, sensible, and informed decisions in the best interests of their families.
When you’re discussing your project with your contractor, take note of the language they use and the ‘evidence’ they provide. A good contractor looking out for your best interest will always take the extra step of showing you directly the issues of concern (climbing up in the attic with you, pulling heating and cooling units partially apart, or letting you watch live camera footage, walking you through circuit checks as they are doing them, etc.)
Good contractors will want to show you the issues they discover and will explain your options, whether that be to wait a while, do part of the work to ensure safety and look further ahead to complete any comfort work, discuss a range of options from low to mid-range, to higher-end solutions that meet your budget while providing the best quality possible for your means.
If your contractor talks about apocalyptic consequences of not having their $30,000 solution completed, but doesn’t seem willing or able to show you exactly where the issues are, it’s a safe bet that you’re being sold up the river.
Whatever your project, always rely on facts and make sure that you feel confident that you have the information you need to decide whether your contractor is the right one for the job. Our service experts are licensed everywhere they’re able, bonded, insured, and experienced. With more than 50 years in the service industry, we are ready to help you with your next project, and with industry-leading warranties and guarantees, we stand behind everything we do.
Reach out to one of our friendly team by voice or text at 618.993.HELP , book online, or reach out with our handy dandy contact form!
We care more because your family is our family too