Choosing paint colors, managing your budget, and communicating with your contractor: Navigating a home remodeling project is an exercise in patience. Safety is one factor that’s often overlooked. Here’s how to keep your house safe for your family and construction workers while the project is underway.
Safety isn’t anything to take for granted. The list of accidents that happen at home building and remodeling sites can be frightening. According to reports listed at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the most frequent mishaps include: . workers falling from ladders and roofs, injuries from equipment and flying debris, broken bones from collapsing walls or floors– and the list goes on.
Keeping your family safe while your home is being remodeled involves two tactics:
- Choosing a contractor with a strong record of safety and accountability
- Working closely with that contractor to ensure proper safety precautions are taken during the project.
Most builders will hand you a few referrals from prior customers, but it’s smart to validate their claims independently. The Maine attorney general’s office recommends reviewing the code history of the last five projects completed by that contractor in your town. Don’t just take your neighbor’s word for it.
Look for evidence that the contractor gets projects approved by the local buildings department at each required stage, including the final sign off – the occupancy permit. Without the occupancy permit, the work is not officially finished, which can cause legal problems down the road.
The attorney general’s office of most states compiles and pursues complaints about home building project safety violations. The website of your state’s attorney general is the first place to check for complaints, lawsuits and scams.
The more specific you can be in the contract, the better. The Illinois Attorney General’s office, for instance, warns that “if the company won’t put its promises in writing, look for a company that will.”
Run a check through the county court system to see the contractor’s legal history. One thing to look out for: that the contractor’s company has been in business for as long as the contractor has. If the contractor claims to have 20 years of experience but has started and closed several companies over that time, he might be using legal tactics to avoid paying bills and/or subcontractors and to avoid responsibilities to customers.
Make sure the remodeling contract includes the entire scope of work, in specific terms. Don’t accept general descriptions of the work to be done such as, “replace porch.” Instead, spell out the specifics of the work, the quality of materials and the contractor’s obligation to comply with all insurance company, state and local safety regulations in the process.
Ask for a current copy of the contractor’s liability insurance. The policy should cover personal liability, property damage and worker’s compensation for both the general contractor and for all subcontractors.
Get and keep a copy of the contractor’s proof of insurance. A smart place to store this is with your mortgage and other title documents. If a contractor puts a lien on your property stemming from an injury that occurred during a project, it will likely appear on a title search when you try to sell your house. Proof of the contractor’s insurance will be invaluable evidence as you clear the title.
Be sure to check with your own property insurance company to see what construction-related accidents are and aren’t covered in your existing policy. You might have to consider a rider that covers just the upcoming project. Once the project is complete, you should review your coverage with your insurance company to be sure it is still adequate.
Collaborate on safety
Once you’ve found a reliable contractor, talk about safety early and often, recommends David Pekel, president of Pekel Construction and Remodeling Inc. in Wauwatosa, Wisc., a Milwaukee suburb, and secretary of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
The most important rule is to draw a “safety zone” around the job site, not allowing children, pets, neighbors, family or friends to step into that zone. Equipment is the most obvious hazard, but you will want to be cognizant of the danger that stems from toxic materials getting stirred up, such as lead from plumbing or sanding. These can be transferred to other parts of the house when family and pets walk back and forth through the construction zone.
Pekel says it’s best to create new family traffic patterns in advance – including emergency exit routes – so household routines are re-routed around the safety zone. Professionals are familiar with navigating construction sites, but most families aren’t as cognizant of the potential dangers, he adds. Close collaboration about how and when to enter the work zone can ensure safety for all.
Remodeling is stressful at best. Plotting safety tactics in advance and coaching family members to respect the construction zone can be a positive strategy for coping with the daily chaos – and helps ensure that your contractors can translate your vision for your house to reality.