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BUILDING CODES TOOLKIT
Checklist of Questions to Ask Your General Contractor
Purpose: This document equips property owners with basic knowledge, consumer protection, and questions to ask when
hiring a professional general contractor to perform new construction, remodeling, rebuilding, or mitigation work.
Target User: Property owners.
Are you licensed for the type of work proposed?
It is important that you verify that any individual or company you are considering is properly licensed. To verify they
are licensed, ask for a copy, check the expiration dates, and contact the issuing authority to verify their license is in
good standing. In some states, there is no state-wide licensing for certain trades such as general contractors; rather it is
done on a local level either by the county or the city. Some counties do not have licensing requirements; however, for
your safety it is recommended that you work with a verified licensed professional. In some jurisdictions, in addition
to being licensed, general contractors are also required to be bonded. Being bonded means a bonding company has
secured money that is available to anyone who files and wins a claim against the general contractor.
How many building permits have you obtained in this jurisdiction in the last two years?
This question is important because some general contractors are based outside of the property owner's jurisdiction.1
Make sure that your general contractor is familiar with your local building code requirements and permitting process,
is credible, and has worked with municipal jurisdictions in the past.
Can you help incorporate mitigation techniques as part of the construction project?
This question is important because most mitigation techniques are a lot cheaper to apply to structures if planned as
part of the property's scheduled maintenance and upgrade. Applying mitigation techniques would help reduce future
risks to the property from natural hazards and their effects. For example, in order to reduce or eliminate the damage to
exterior elements caused by earthquake forces, you could brace chimneys, secure wall panel anchors, and brace large
Have you performed any other repairs or rebuilds of properties damaged in a natural disaster such as this?
It is essential that your general contractor check with your local code official regarding permits before repairing
or rebuilding a structure damaged by natural disaster. There are often strict local requirements on how and where
structures can be renovated. Consulting your local code official will ensure your repairs or rebuild is compliant with
local standards. If you are in a federally designated disaster county, you can also visit Disaster Recovery Centers to
talk with FEMA Hazard Mitigation specialists about rebuilding advice. To find the Disaster Recovery Center nearest
you, see the Disaster Recovery Center Locator on FEMA.gov.
Have you used FEMA to get technical guidance on a project? If not, would you be willing to do so? Are you aware of
FEMA technical guidance?
It is essential that your general contractor be mindful of mitigation techniques to provide a means of protecting your
family and property from future devastating natural disasters. As the property owner, it is your responsibility to set the
scope of the project and if the scope includes mitigation, it is valuable for your general contractor to understand the
FEMA guidance pertaining to your project.
FEMA offers an array of technical guidance materials all focused on minimizing the damages that can occur as a
result of a natural disaster. To order FEMA technical guidance publications, please call 1-800-480-2520 or visit the
Protect Your Property or Business from Disaster: How-to Tips on various hazards section of FEMA.gov.
Can you provide proof of your general liability insurance before I sign a contract with you?
General liability insurance protects your home from damage or negligence of the general contractor, his employees,
1. This is particularly true following a disaster, when local resources are overwhelmed and out of State general contractors are needed to support rapid recovery.
FEMA Building Science Branch: Building Disaster Resilient Communities 1
and any sub-general contractors brought onto your property. For your
protection, verify that anyone you are considering has a general liability
insurance policy by asking for a copy of their insurance certificate,
checking the expiration dates, and calling the issuing authority to verify
their insurance is valid.
Do you carry workers' compensation insurance?
Workers' compensation insurance protects you from liability if a worker
is injured while on your property. It is always recommended to hire a fully
insured general contractor. Please note: if the general contractor does not It is critical for general contractors to know
have any employees, he may not need or have workers' compensation how to mitigate risk as part of the construction
insurance. process. To order FEMA guidance publications,
please call 1-800-480-2520 or visit http://www.
Will you provide me with a list of your past clients for whom you fema.gov/protecting-homes.
performed a similar job?
A credible general contractor should have no problem providing multiple
references. It is important to contact between three to five previous clients
for whom the general contractor performed a similar job. Only then will
you know the type of work they are capable of and the level of service you
Questions to ask the general contractor's references:
Were you satisfied with the results of the project?
Did the project come in according to budget and was it completed on a
timely basis? If not, what types of problems or delays affected the
Would you hire the general contractor again? If not, ask why?
Will you be hiring sub-contractors on this project?
If so, ask for the name of everyone who will be hired and the type of work Joe Barry, a volunteer from the United Methodist
they will be doing so that you can verify their credentials and ensure they Committee on Relief, helps a homeowner clean after
have the necessary insurance requirements (if applicable). A sub-contractor Hurricane Sandy washed away exterior walls and
is an individual or business that signs a contract to perform part or all of completely filled the basement.
the obligations of another's contract.
What kind of written warranty will you give me?
A credible general contractor should guarantee his or her work and provide
a written warranty agreement. The warranty should clearly spell out
what is covered, what is not and for how long. At a minimum, a general
contractor should guarantee a one year warranty; although, two years is
How will my project be supervised?
The general contractor or another lead individual should be assigned to
oversee your project from start to finish. It is extremely important that the
project manager is not only experienced, but very familiar with the details
of your plans and manages the daily operations of your project to ensure
the work is done correctly and is compliant with the local building code.
You should be given the contact information for this individual so you can
ask questions and resolve any issues that arise through the project.
What will the payment schedule be?
It is not unusual that a down payment is required for a contract; however,
you should never pay a general contractor in full before the project is
completed. If the project will extend over several months, ensure that the
payment schedule is determined and outlined in a written contract before
the work begins. Make payment in a way that they are traceable or get
receipts for each of your payments. House in Bay St. Louis, MS, was built to code and
survived Katrina; their neighbor's house was destroyed
Will you obtain all of the required building permits? by Katrina.
Although there is some cost and additional time required for obtaining
FEMA Building Science Branch: Building Disaster Resilient Communities 2
Photo Source Best Practices Portfolio/FEMA. Photo Source Liz Roll/FEMA
building permits, it is recommended that this be done by your general contractor because it is your only assurance that
your project will be done to code. By having your general contractor handle the permitting process/inspections, you
gain an independent third party in your corner who offers you protection that the job will be done in full compliance
with local building codes. If a general contractor requests that you obtain the permit yourself, it is likely that they are
unlicensed or unqualified for the job. See Basic Checklist to Acquire a Building Permit in the FEMA Building Codes
Who will coordinate the required inspections as part of the building permit process?
The general contractor should be willing to handle all aspects of the building permit process to include the required
and/or recommended inspections that will take place during the construction process. It is strongly recommended
that you are present for the inspection to ensure it takes place, you hear the feedback from the building department
regarding the work being done, and you are aware of any corrections notices issued to the general contractor.
Will you provide me with a written lien waiver at the end of the project?
At the end of your project, your general contractor should have no problem providing you with a written lien waiver
for both your original contract and any sub-general contractors that worked on your project. A lien waiver is a legal
document from the general contractor/sub-contractor that verifies you have paid the general contractor in full for the
services rendered. The lien waiver also ensures that the general contractor and/or any sub- contractors waive
their right to place a lien on your property.
FEMA Building Science Branch: Building Disaster Resilient Communities 3
What are the requirements for a general contractor?The following contractors and/or subcontractors are required to hold a current state license:ElectricianPlumberConditioned Air ContractorLow Voltage ContractorResidential ContractorResidential Basic ContractorResidential - Light Commercial ContractorGeneral Contractor
Title: FEMA: Checklist of Questions to Ask Your General Contractor
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