You’ve decided to bring more eco-friendly products into your renovation or design but you’re worried about talking to your contractor about your decision. If you’re new to the renovating or home-building game, don’t laugh — this is a more common problem than you might think.
Whenever you discuss using any new product outside a contractor’s comfort zone, be prepared for a “discussion.” The discussion could be as simple as a one-way conversation where he says “No.” There is the occasional contractor who’s willing to work with you when you ask for certain things, but generally you’re lucky if you’re able to convince him to use low VOC paint.
Here’s the thing: you and I look at it from an end-result point of view. We want to use materials that are safer for our kids to be around. We don’t want them to breathe toxic fumes from formaldehyde-laced particle board, or put their little barefeet on chemical laden carpets, or sleep in rooms painted with high VOC paints. But from the contractor’s perspective it’s a whole new can of worms involving a potentially huge learning curve and possibly a significant time investment, if not monetary investment too.
Let’s face it, time is money and somebody has to pay for something a contractor’s never tried before. For example, if you tell your contractor you want to use no added urea-formaldehyde plywood, you’re asking them to track it down, because not everyone carries this kind of plywood, so they either have to charge you for the hours they spend looking for it or they’ll decide to “eat the cost” or bury it in one of the other project charges. Further, contractors usually work with preferred suppliers who give them a contractor’s discount for being a steady customer. Asking to use materials that their regular supplier doesn’t stock can mean that a new supplier likely won’t give them a contractor’s discount for a small one-off job as they don’t have a credit history. Further, they’ll probably have to pay for the material up front.
Another problem is familiarity with materials. New materials they’ve never used before could result in a slower installation time (reading instructions, making mistakes in installation, calling the manufacturer for direction), which again will cost someone more money. And then there’s the liability if it isn’t installed properly. Finally, sometimes contractors are just not convinced that some products will do what they say and they want to protect you from throwing your money away. Part of their job is being your adviser and part of their job is making sure they finish on time so they can move onto the next project.
So, how do you resolve your desire for using green building materials with your contractor’s needs for finishing the job on time and keeping his costs in order?
1. If you’re new to the renovation game and you don’t have a contractor already lined up, find one that advertises “green.” That is, one who has already worked with a variety of green materials, has his suppliers ready to go, and is not afraid of the challenge. A good place to start is the Canada Green Building Council. The general contractors listed there are all LEED accredited, green building professionals. Unfortunately, the directory does not distinguish between residential and commercial builders so a little digging is required. Another good place to check is a local contractor’s website. Many contractors, like Tony’s Roofing Services LLC, include information about the kind of “green” options they provide on their website or blog.
2. If you already have a contractor with whom you’re comfortable — and personality fit is key to a successful renovation — before the project even begins ask him if he’s willing to use some green materials in this renovation. If he’s resistant then ask him what his concerns are. You can be prepared to assume the extra time and money cost involved, and you can help him out by locating and purchasing the materials for the job. Note though that many contractors are uncomfortable with you purchasing materials because if they over-estimate how much they need, they can just use the rest of the material on the next job. If they under-estimate and it’s their regular supplier, they usually can call them up and get more but not if you’re doing the ordering. You have to be flexible when trying to incorporate green building materials into your job and willing to be a little more active in the green building project.
3. If you want to incorporate something significant into your green build, like geo-thermal heating, and your contractor is trying to convince you otherwise, you can either stay firm and tell him you’re doing it and then work with him to schedule in the job, or you can use his HVAC company and see what energy efficient measures you can accomplish with them. When you work outside of his trades while he’s still on the job, be prepared to be on the job site to handle any problems. Also stay in constant communication with the contractor about when the best time to schedule the installation will be. The last thing you want to do is throw the rest of his schedule off.