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Make Sure you are Comparing Apples to Apples in Contractor Bids

Just because the cost at the bottom of the form is similar doesn’t mean that the number represents the same results.


Posted by George Lonergan , July 19, 2013 at 01:53 PM--Framingham Patch



Very often two different contractors can come in to your home, look at the same project and deliver bids that look similar but, in reality represent completely different things.  This article is going to discuss what you should look for to make sure that you are comparing the same work and materials when evaluating different home improvement contractor bids.  Just because the cost at the bottom of the form is similar doesn’t mean that the number represents the same results.


Materials:  One of the ways some contractors keep their bids low is to quote the lowest grade materials possible.  Rarely is this level of quality something one would want use in a home renovation.

For example there are differences between using sheetrock vs. blue board and plaster.  Paint comes in multiple brands and multiple grades of quality.  There are different types of support beams that can be used on projects; some provide longer term stability than others.  Different floor finishes can include vinyl, laminated or natural products all have their pros and cons.


If you’re having a deck built will the quote be for a natural product like mahogany or will it be pressure treated lumber, PVC plastic or a composite product.  Additionally, what brands or grades of these materials will be used?  Each of these factors affects the end result, the long-term maintenance of the deck and the cost of the project. You can research the attributes and costs of various materials on the Internet and that should help you specify upfront which materials you want your prospective contractors to quote.


Every bid should have a list of the specific materials and the grade of those materials being proposed.


Workmanship:  The best way to evaluate the quality of the workmanship you will receive is to speak with references.  You also want to ask the contractor if the person who will actually be doing the work is licensed.  Is the contractor using employees or sub-contractors?

It is not uncommon for the person doing the quote not to be the one doing the work.  You will want to ask questions about the workers, what they have done before and check their references if they are not employees.  Another thing to ask is how often the licensed person is going to be on the job site.


Building Codes:  Currently there are two building code books in Massachusetts.  One is general and the other is residential.  While the state has been contemplating going to one set of codes for the past decade, it has yet to do so.


If you are doing a project that requires a permit with your city or town there will be inspectors who visit on-site and inspect the work to verify that it is code compliant.  Building inspectors can protect you from shoddy workmanship or inappropriate materials that could lead to significant problems in the future.


If you’re not sure that your type of project requires a permit, just call your local building inspector’s office to ask.


Permits:  If the project is going to expose the studs or framing, you will need a building permit.

Despite the cost associated with them, permits are a good thing.  The cost is usually $12.00 or $14.00 per thousand of the construction total.


Projects can require a variety of inspections ranging from electrical, plumbing, mechanical, Board of Health, excavation and others to assure safety and compliance with building codes.  It is in the homeowner’s best interest to make sure that these inspections take place.  There have been numerous instances when failure to meet building code has led to fire or flood where insurance companies have refused to pay the associated claims.


Licensed and Insured Sub-Contractors:  When a licensed contractor applies for a permit, they need to show their certificate of insurance for workers compensation in order to obtain that permit.  It is permissible for the applicant to hire sub-contractors but it is required to list the sub-contractors on the permit application and produce their certificates of insurance as well.


While the municipality requires proof of worker’s compensation insurance they do not require proof of liability insurance.  It is up to the homeowner to make sure that people working on their property have the necessary liability insurance.


One way to underbid another contractor is to use uninsured labor or sub-contractors.  This willful omission places the homeowner in jeopardy and should never be allowed to happen.  If anything were to happen on the premises and the contractor or sub did have the proper insurance, the liability then would fall upon the homeowner.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and lost wages is not anything a homeowner should willing risk.


When you are comparing bids between different contractors, make sure that every necessary party has liability insurance and that there is a workers compensation policy on each person who will be working on the premises.  Saving a few hundred dollars on a job isn’t worth taking on hundreds of thousands in unknown liability.



Since 1996, George Lonergan, has been President of Lonergan Construction, Inc., a full-service, fully licensed and insured general contracting firm serving eastern and central Massachusetts. He can be reached 508-875-0052 or


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation.

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