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How to hire a healthier home contractor



Many homeowners often wonder, "How can I find a contractor who understands toxin-free materials and products?" It's true, locating such a contractor can be challenging, especially in areas with smaller populations where options may be limited.


However, it's not impossible. Even if you can't find a contractor well-versed in healthy homes, you can still hire someone open-minded to working with new materials and products.


Starting a home project requiring professional assistance can be daunting. The task of hiring a reliable contractor comes with numerous considerations that can stall your project's timeline and leave you feeling frustrated.


I'm excited to share some of my top secrets for hiring a contractor for a healthy home project. We'll discuss effective search terms, questions to ask potential contractors, and what to do if you can't find a contractor specialising in low-toxin materials.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Finding the right contractor for your project begins with effective search terms. While Google is a common starting point, using specific keywords can narrow down your options significantly., use terms such as:


Eco-Friendly

Green

Sustainable

Healthy

Toxin-Free

Passivhaus

Chemically sensitive

Non-Toxic


Keep in mind that not all contractors may advertise their use of low-toxin materials, so reading reviews and ratings can also provide valuable insights.


If you're struggling to find a contractor specialising in healthy materials, consider hiring one open to using your preferred products. Many contractors are adaptable and willing to work with alternative materials, ultimately prioritising your preferences for a healthier home.


Passivehaus specialists will mean they have a specific interest in sustainable


WHAT TO ASK

To find a contractor who is receptive to using toxin-free materials, start by asking key questions during your initial interviews. Keep your questions concise and relevant, respecting both your time and theirs. For a full list of questions you can download my handy 'Building a Home? Ask a Builder; guide here:



Some questions to ask include:


Experience

Before you hire any builder, you will want to get an overview of their past projects and feedback from past clients. Ask to tour any past homes and speak with past clients. In terms of healthy homes, it’s important you ask specifically about their experience on such projects and / or their openness to learn. 

1. Can you showcase past projects where you've prioritised healthy home features?

2. Have you worked with clients emphasising non-toxic materials and indoor air quality?

3. What's your experience with non-toxic materials, and are you open to exploring new products I may suggest?

4. Can you provide references from clients focused on creating a healthy living environment?


Sustainability

When discussing sustainable building practices, understanding a builders experience with energy-efficient features and eco-friendly materials and finishes are prioritised is crucial. 

1. How do you integrate sustainable building practices into your construction projects, particularly concerning healthy home features?

2. Can you provide examples of past projects where you've prioritised sustainability and environmental responsibility?

3. What steps do you take to minimise energy consumption and promote energy efficiency in your construction projects?

4. Do you have experience working with eco-friendly materials and incorporating them into your designs?

5. How do you handle waste management and recycling on your construction sites to minimise environmental impact?

6. Are you familiar with green building certifications or standards, and do you strive to meet or exceed them in your projects?


Site Hygiene

How a builder keeps a job site can tell you a lot. Ones that keep it clean, tidy and swept obviously take pride in their work and like to keep things organised. As a minimum, all job sites should be broom swept daily, and kept clean and accessible. 

1. How do you ensure cleanliness and hygiene on your construction sites?

2. What measures do you take to control dust and debris during construction?

3. Do you have waste disposal protocols in place to maintain site cleanliness?

4. How do you handle materials and equipment to prevent the spread of germs?

5. Have you implemented any health protocols in response to COVID-19?

6. Can you provide references demonstrating your commitment to site hygiene?


Contract

Having a standard form contract with the builder is crucial for clarity, legal protection, risk management, and efficiency in a home build project.  

When reviewing a residential building contract in Australia, it's crucial to ask the following questions to ensure clarity and understanding:

1. What's the contract price breakdown, covering materials, labor, and additional fees?

2. What's the payment schedule, including deposit requirements and payment deadlines?

3. How are contract variations handled, and what are the associated costs?

4. What's the project timeline, including start date, duration, and potential delays?

5. What warranties and guarantees does the builder offer?

6. What insurance coverage does the builder have, including liability and home warranty insurance?

7. What are the contract's termination and dispute resolution procedures? Clarify your rights and obligations in case of contract termination or disputes.

8. Are there any notable clauses or conditions in the contract I should know about? Review the contract carefully for any terms or clauses that could affect your rights or responsibilities.


Defects

It is important to check the contract conditions for defects concerning a healthy home, with a focus on ensuring adherence to indoor air quality, non-toxic materials, and sustainability standards. 

1. What steps do you take to prevent defects in constructing healthy homes, especially with eco-friendly materials and specialised systems?

2. Can you share examples of how you've managed defects in past projects, particularly those involving healthy home construction, and what was the resolution process?

3. What's your typical timeline for fixing defects found after completing a healthy home project?

4. Do you have a specific approach for handling defects related to sustainable features or technologies in a home?

5. How do you prioritise fixing defects in healthy home components to minimise disruption to occupants and their well-being?

6. Can you outline the defect reporting and resolution process during and after construction, specifically for healthy home projects?


Warranties

Warranties serve as a form of assurance and protection for homeowners, particularly in the context of a healthy home, where specialised materials and systems may be used. Warranties can provide coverage for defects or malfunctions in sustainable features, eco-friendly materials, and health-promoting technologies. 

1. What warranties are provided for the materials in a healthy home, especially for newer, eco-friendly materials?

2. How are warranties managed for specialised components like energy-efficient appliances or sustainable building materials?

3. Can you share examples of handling warranty claims for new materials or technologies in the past?

4. Do you have partnerships with manufacturers to assist with warranty claims for innovative products used in healthy home construction?

5. What is the duration of warranties for different aspects of the home, and how are warranty claims processed?


New Materials It is important to inquire about a builder's openness to new building materials, (particularly a non-toxic ones) if they lack prior experience with those materials, as it gauges their expertise and readiness to work with these materials, ensuring a smooth construction process.

1. Are you familiar with [specific healthy building material]?

2. Have you used this material in previous projects?

3. What testing procedures do you implement for new materials, and who bears the cost and responsibility for testing?

4. How much time do you typically allocate for testing new materials, and are you open to using innovative materials?

5. Can you provide examples of successfully integrating new materials into past projects, and what measures do you take to ensure their safety and efficacy?

6. Who warranties the effectiveness and performance of new materials, and what happens if they do not meet standards and need replacement?


Communication

It's imperative to discuss communication methods with the builder because clear and open communication ensures transparency, timely updates, and effective problem-solving throughout the construction process. 

1. What is your preferred mode of communication during the construction process?

2. Do you provide formal documentation summarizing important discussions for record-keeping?

3. What tools or platforms do you use for project communication and updates?

4. Can we expect regular progress reports or meetings, and how are minutes documented and distributed?

5. How promptly do you respond to client inquiries or concerns?

6. Are there designated contacts for specific project matters, and how do you handle communication in case of delays or changes?

7. What protocols do you have for addressing conflicts or resolving issues during the project?



HIRING A CONTRACTOR When hiring a contractor, it's crucial to get multiple bids (send contractors your working drawings to price from), ensure they provide a written bid for your project, and to understand the terms and validity of the estimate. Check the validity terms of the bid also. Take the time to discuss how the contractor charges for their services, whether through itemised breakdowns or flat rates, and don't hesitate to seek clarification if needed.


It is important to clarify access to your home and project, specifying any requirements such as the use of a lockbox to minimise disruption.

It is critically important to enter a signed contract (will vary depending on the type and scope of the job) and that it includes the scope and completion dates, a clause for extending completion dates, defined defects period, liquidates damages (if applicable) and the process for change orders.


Additionally, discuss the procurement of non-toxic materials, clarifying whether the homeowner or contractor will be responsible and who will warranty their installation (especially if the contractor is new to a product and doesn't know how it will perform).


Finally, ensure all necessary paperwork and waivers are signed to protect both parties in case of any issues during the project.


After obtaining answers to these questions, you'll gain insight into your contractor's suitability for working in your home. This will help you assess their knowledge and willingness to tailor the work to your preferences. As you move forward with hiring a contractor, expect to have further inquiries and tasks to complete, but starting with these questions provides an excellent foundation.


HERE TO HELP Finally, if this all feels too overwhelming, consider hiring me to assist with your project by providing a curated product list tailored to your family's needs and desires. With a quick consultation, I'll create a plan of materials and components for your contractor to use, ensuring a safe and healthy environment for your family.

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