How to Negotiate With a Contractor for Green Building Projects
If you’re planning a green renovation or remodeling project, you now have more green-friendly products and contractors available than ever before.
Although there are many important details to consider, finding the right contractor for completing the project is essential. Contractors with experience in making energy efficiency upgrades, using natural and local materials, and conserving resources will bring a lot to the table. Ideally, they will add synergy to your green home project and to make it a reality. Here are some tips for negotiating with contractors for green home projects.
Dream Green From the Start
To achieve the best results, we recommend you keep green features in mind from the project’s beginning, not merely as an afterthought. Look for contractors with an established track record of building using sustainable and recyclable materials, deep awareness of the insulation and natural lighting opportunities when remodeling, and the customer roster to prove they deliver. When you need to hire an architect or other design professionals for your project, make sure they are aware of your green project goals and that they are experienced.
If you are building an addition to your home, for example, strategically placing windows and doors can help save energy. If this isn’t planned early on, it can drive up project costs and create delays. During your walk-through with the contractor, listen to whether they make these suggestions or have to be asked. Make clear from the start you want a healthy and environmentally friendly outcome.
Do Your Homework
Although many experienced contractors will have ideas and suggestions, it is also helpful to conceptualize your project before meeting with them. Conduct research about the type of project and the materials, such as doors, window frames, or appliances involved before even the first planning session. This will help you bring specific goals to the table for the first meeting, making it more productive.
Take the time to meet several contractors, no matter how good the first one appears. Asking three contractors about the same project will produce three different approaches that may bring important issues to the surface. With those meetings behind you, pick the contractor with the best reputation who provides the most complete estimate and covers all, or at least most, of the concerns raised by the other contractors.
Consider the Long-Term Costs
Keep in mind that the upfront cost may be greater for green projects but will often save you money over time. For example, if you add insulation to the attic when finishing it out, it can reduce your heating and cooling costs for decades. Metal roofs cost more than their asphalt counterparts but are far more durable.
Consider both the project cost and potential cost savings to understand the big picture financially.
Find a Contractor With Green Renovation Experience
There are now many builders, electricians, carpenters, and even plumbers with vast knowledge and experience in completing green projects. Find a building professional with experience in the given type of project.
For example, if you want to add a graywater system to your home, find a plumber who has done this work before. Look at examples or at least photos of their work; speak with past clients and read online reviews to learn about their experience. Make sure they are licensed and insured to complete the work and that they will take care of any needed permits. There are several national certification programs that can be helpful in your search:
- National Association of Home Builders (NAHB): — Certified Green Professional (CGP)
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) — LEED Accredited Professional
- Green Advantage (GA) — Green Advantage Certified Practitioner (GACP)
Always Get Multiple Bids
It is typically recommended to get at least three bids for your project. It is hard to know if you are getting a fair price without shopping around. Some contractors will take different approaches to the same project, resulting in a different finished product.
The initial meeting is a great opportunity to pick their brains and get ideas. If your preferred contractor has a higher bid than others, you can ask him or her to match the price of a lower bid. Your goal is to get the best result for you, the planet, and your wallet.
Flesh Out the Details
The details can be extremely important, especially for green products.
Ask the contractor to specify what materials they will use. Whenever possible, use formaldehyde-free and recycled materials, locally and sustainably harvested wood products, nontoxic insulation, and low-VOC or no VOC finishes or adhesives. Buying these products yourself is a possible way to cut costs and ensure they have the green features you want.
Also, find out if the contractor will subcontract out some of the work. If so, research the reputation of the subcontractors as well. It’s the person doing the work who has to live up to the environmental expectations you set.
Have a Clear Contract
Make sure that the contract specifies all the important details, starting with a clear project description. Hold your contractor to their estimate, requiring they ask you before over-spending on materials or labor. The final cost of your project is your responsibility to manage and the contractor’s business to increase as much as you will allow.
Here are a few of the common questions to answer in the contract:
- Who will purchase the materials and apply for needed permits?
- What products will be used?
- How long will it take the complete the project and is there a penalty if the project goes past the deadline?
- What are the payment schedule and terms?
- Is there a warranty on the work and for how long?
Make sure you get any promises the contractor makes in writing and don’t just rely on just a firm handshake. Keep your estimates, contract, and any receipts provided together both for your security and to share with a future home buyer.
Originally published on August 22, 2019, this article was updated in January 2022.