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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Denver
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    How to choose a contractor?

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    I'm considering having a tankless water heater installed in my home (if possible) and I have no idea where to start on picking someone to do it, besides knowing that I don't particularly trust the Lowes/Home Depot installation staff.

    I don't even know what brand of heater I want (most of them seem the same to me!) so I can't even pick from their dealer list! Where to begin?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    6,043
    My husband and I use of Angie's List--at least in terms of finding a contractor. For big jobs, we get multiple quotes. We just went through this with replacement windows.

    The Internet is your friend as well. It's rare that I can't learn what I need to learn online. It does take a lot of digging and some patience, however, to sift through all the info. There are forums on just about every topic under the sun, buying guides, reviews, etc. Consumer Reports can be helpful, too, depending on the topic. They offer online subscriptions.

    Just in case you hadn't already seen it, here's a buying guide for tankless water heaters:
    http://www.tanklesswaterheaterguide.com/

    In researching replacement windows, I came across the gardenweb.com forums. Notwithstanding the name, there are subforums specific to the home, including one on plumbing. You might check there.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Marin County CA
    Posts
    5,936
    I suspect Colorado has a state contractor's license board, like California does. You need to make sure the contractor is properly licensed, bonded and insured and has no pending complaints against their license (which should be reflected by the state). It doesn't hurt to interview several, and ask for references.
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Posts
    2,704
    Ask around. Every contractor that we've ever liked has been recommended by friends/family/neighbors. The licensing thing is definitely important too.

    Also, I wouldn't necessarily write off Lowes or Home Depot. Find out who's actually doing the installation, and go from there... Lowes qualifies installers and contracts with them on your behalf, and they have much more leverage with a contractor than an individual homeowner often does. I don't know how Home Depot does it.

    We did a front door project through Lowes, and were happy with the outcome.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    northern Virginia
    Posts
    5,897
    There's a yahoo group for my neighborhood that is a good place for contractor recommendations. So I would look for something like that in your area. It's a good way to ask neighbors for help even if you don't know them personally.

    Another place I would look for advice here in the DC area is a small hardware store that only sells merchandise that is good for the enviroment -- stuff like VOC-free paint, building products made from recycled materials, LED light fixtures. They're very knowledgeable and happy to share info that will help the enviroment. So if there are any stores like that near you, it might be helpful to stop in and get to know them.

    But first I would do some research on tankless water heaters. It's not always possible or a good idea, depending on your home. And there could be issues -- a contractor who lives in my 'hood installed one in his house and later took it out and replaced it with a regular tank-style water heater because he had problems with sediment build-up. And once you determine you don't have barriers to having one installed, you can learn about different brands.

    I've found this site to be helpful for learning about and researching appliances:

    http://www.consumersearch.com/water-heaters

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  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    1,944
    Wow, thanks everyone! I hadn't thought of Angie's list. When I tried googling for Denver I had so many responses it was a little overwhelming.

    A tankless heater would be ideal IF it would work with my home, but I need to find out if the gas supply to my house could take it (and if it will fit where I want it). I was hoping to get someone to do a consultation first. If nothing else, the water heater I have is 15 years old and needs replaced so I can repair the drywall from the last hose explosion...but I'd love to turn half of that closet into a pantry instead!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Location
    the dry side
    Posts
    4,367
    One of my first criteria is "do they return phone calls?

    We were looking for a contractor to do a bathroom. Our number one pick was a guy we know who's reputed to do decent work. We get a return call back NINE MONTHS LATER. wtf? We were already done with it by then.
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  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Between the Blue Ridge and the Chesapeake Bay
    Posts
    5,203
    Rinnai on demand hot water heaters seem to be the standard; at least that's what the contractors use on the projects for my work (housing development). They make units with other brand names, so ask the plumbing contractor for their recommendation.

    I investigated on-demand HW, but it would have required re-routing the gas lines and costing $4k. This was in 2008; there were no tax incentives that year. A good, well-insulated 50-gallon tank heater is very efficient, and cost $800, so I went with that.

    My parents recently had two on-demand hw heaters installed, at $3k each. Each is eligible for a $1500 credit, so they ended up getting both for $3k (or they will when they file their taxes).

    FWIW, my plumber explained to me that new traditional hw heaters are very, very efficient, particularly the electric ones. The gas ones require venting, which increases heat loss. The electric ones are like huge thermoses. You could do even better by installing solar thermal system to heat up the water by the sun before it goes into the hot water heater, making less work for the hw heater.

    Just some info in case on-demand doesn't work out for you for whatever reason. In either case, if you can do it by the end of the year, you can get a tax credit, so start calling. Contractors are pretty busy with people trying to get their efficient appliances installed by the end of the year for tax purposes.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    DE
    Posts
    1,209
    Quote Originally Posted by Irulan View Post
    One of my first criteria is "do they return phone calls?

    We were looking for a contractor to do a bathroom. Our number one pick was a guy we know who's reputed to do decent work. We get a return call back NINE MONTHS LATER. wtf? We were already done with it by then.
    Well, it's kind of a catch-22 situation. The GOOD contractors are busy, and booked up for weeks or months at a time. The contractors that are really cheap, or less reliable, don't have so much work - so they will return your calls, cause they are really hungry.

    For a long term project, you want a contractor who is recommended by your friends or neighbors. You need to be comfortable with him/her and you need to be able to trust him. (Yes there are lots of women in contracting but for simplicity I'll use the masculine.) He and his people will be in your house, and in your face, for a long time. You really don't want the low-ball guy who may not know what he's doing cause you may not figure it out until you have given him lots of $ and have no recourse to get it back, or get the work completed properly.

    For the Rinnai - that is almost best left to be designed into new construction projects. Retrofitting into an older house is very expensive, and the system is expensive to begin with. Even with tax incentives, you are hard pressed to get your payback on the system.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    1,944
    Thanks

    Irulan, I have one too - I was calling local restoration companies about weird Victorian-sized doors, and I had one company pick up the phone and immediately hang up on me three times. I wrote a nice little email to their customer service department, not that they care!

    The Rinnai could maybe work here - my main concern is the size of the gas line. The 4k they quoted Tulip is way outside of my limits, too. Fortunately since electricity, gas, and running water were added long after my house was built a lot of the utilities are much more easily accessible than in most houses. As in, all 12 feet of my intake plumbing run along the baseboard of my bathroom and kitchen

    I'm just hoping that regardless of the system I go with, I find someone reliable to do this for me. Because sooner or later that 50-year-old furnace is going to need replaced too.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Between the Blue Ridge and the Chesapeake Bay
    Posts
    5,203
    I replaced my hot water heater because I had to. The old one stpped working the week after I closed on the house! I had to replace my furnace a few months later because, unbeknownst to me and apparently the useless house inspector, the old furnace was improperly installed so that CO could easily be vented into the house through the ducts. Jeepers! So I had to replace both, along with a big chunk of plumbing and upgrade the electrical to handle the new HVAC. All this is to say that one thing can lead to another, so you might want to budget for the worst.

    (then my roof failed and I had to get a new roof...but that's another story)

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    Location
    the dry side
    Posts
    4,367
    Quote Originally Posted by withm View Post
    Well, it's kind of a catch-22 situation. The GOOD contractors are busy, and booked up for weeks or months at a time. The contractors that are really cheap, or less reliable, don't have so much work - so they will return your calls, cause they are really hungry.
    Eh, I don't buy that at all, in fact I think that is a bunch of BS: the part about not returning calls because you are too busy. A smart business owner will return a call no matter what... even if to say, "We are booked for the next six months. Can I call you when I have an opening?" It only takes a minute, and lays the groundwork for filling up the schedule down the road. My neighbor who is a super busy contractor, will always return a call within three days.

    Both DH and I own small businesses. Regularly I hear, "wow, thanks for returning my call!!". As in, surprised that I did. Returning calls is called customer service. It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in.
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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    DE
    Posts
    1,209
    Quote Originally Posted by Irulan View Post
    Eh, I don't buy that at all, in fact I think that is a bunch of BS: the part about not returning calls because you are too busy. A smart business owner will return a call no matter what... even if to say, "We are booked for the next six months. Can I call you when I have an opening?" It only takes a minute, and lays the groundwork for filling up the schedule down the road. My neighbor who is a super busy contractor, will always return a call within three days.

    Both DH and I own small businesses. Regularly I hear, "wow, thanks for returning my call!!". As in, surprised that I did. Returning calls is called customer service. It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in.
    Yes, Irulan, you are absolutely right. Phone calls should be returned in a timely fashion. And in a perfect world they are.

    In a less than perfect world there may be any number of reasons that a contractor may not return a call: overbooked, reduced staff due to injury, proposed work incompatible with abilities, location too far... well I could go on. Or maybe he just didn't like the tone of the message(s). The reasons are immaterial.

    It all comes back to hiring a contractor with whom you feel comfortable. Someone whom you can stand to have working in your house several days a week for the life of the project. You want to have a good relationship with your contractor. If you have to fight him from the beginning, then he is not the right one for you. Good contractors can pick their clients the same way.

    I'm not saying it's right not to return calls. I'm saying you have to like the guy you hire to build your bathroom. If he can't return calls, that's a big red flag that you've called the wrong guy.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    6,043
    Quote Originally Posted by tulip View Post
    I replaced my hot water heater because I had to. The old one stpped working the week after I closed on the house! I had to replace my furnace a few months later because, unbeknownst to me and apparently the useless house inspector, the old furnace was improperly installed so that CO could easily be vented into the house through the ducts. Jeepers! So I had to replace both, along with a big chunk of plumbing and upgrade the electrical to handle the new HVAC. All this is to say that one thing can lead to another, so you might want to budget for the worst.

    (then my roof failed and I had to get a new roof...but that's another story)
    That all sounds vaguely familar.
    Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.

    --Mary Anne Radmacher

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Central Indiana
    Posts
    6,043
    Quote Originally Posted by Irulan View Post
    Eh, I don't buy that at all, in fact I think that is a bunch of BS: the part about not returning calls because you are too busy. A smart business owner will return a call no matter what... even if to say, "We are booked for the next six months. Can I call you when I have an opening?" It only takes a minute, and lays the groundwork for filling up the schedule down the road. My neighbor who is a super busy contractor, will always return a call within three days.

    Both DH and I own small businesses. Regularly I hear, "wow, thanks for returning my call!!". As in, surprised that I did. Returning calls is called customer service. It doesn't matter what kind of business you are in.
    I'm with you. Certainly, I'm willing to give somebody a reasonable amount of time to return my call, but after that, I start to suspect bigger issues. Showing up relatively on time for appointments is another issue for me. Again, I get the exigencies of this line of business, but the good ones understand the importance of being prompt.
    Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.

    --Mary Anne Radmacher

 

 

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