As DIY’ers, we are just that, Do-It-Yourselfer’s! Depending on your woodworking skill level or experience in building large structures sometimes the job is better left to the professionals. Hiring a contractor to build any or all of these outdoor structures:  pergola, gazebo, fire-pit  and outdoor TV cabinet and can use a bit of coaching if you aren’t experienced in hiring a contractor.

Get Recommendations

Ask around the neighbor or connect with family and friends to see about any recommendations of a contractor that they used on a similar project and of course had a great experience with and would hands down recommend . If you don’t get any recommendations, go to your friend Google and look for a local contractor with a credible looking website and raving reviews. Follow the next 5 tips to make sure you are approaching selecting  a contractor smart.

Get at least 2, maybe 3 bids

Each time you meet with a new contractor you’ll likely get ideas to enhance your project. To find a contractor and or handyman Angie’s List is a great online database to connect you with a local reputable company. Each contractor brings a different perspective on how to approach the project. Plus, you can get an idea of the range of prices out there. If one bid is extremely low, you should second guess their experience in building that type of project. It could also be a strategy that the contractor is doing to get the job then increase the price once he/she is selected.

Tip #1: When you agree to a price confirm that it is a firm price and point out that there are no change orders allowed.

Tip #2: Get the price and scope of work in writing with a signature

Tip #3: To compare bids, ask to have the price broken down by materials, labor, other expenses and profit.

Tip #4: Set a payment schedule. Don’t pay 100% upfront. A portion should be held back for final completion.

Pick Out or Better Yet, Buy Your Own Material

When it comes to a project like a pergola, gazebo or outdoor TV cabinet, you want to ensure your wood is top of the line – no un-even grain, split, warped or pieces with excess knots.  To make sure you get the best of the best go with the contractor or supply the material to the contractor. If you have a set of plans with the material list this task isn’t that complicated. Plus, you can save yourself some money because sometimes contractors will mark- up the material price to make a profit.

Eliminate Surprises

Once you agree to a price and let the contractor go to work make sure you are aware of exactly what you are getting. The contractor should be able to show you similar finish project pictures or a 3-D Illustration of exactly how the finished project will look like. To be in full control of the outcome you can provide the contractor with the plans to build your project. is an example of a website where you can purchase for an affordable price, step-by-step building plans which can be downloaded and printed on the spot to hand to your contractor. You don’t want to find yourself requesting the contractor to redo or modify the project after its been completed.

Ask Good Questions

Having a conversation upfront and asking good questions will help you determine the contractor’s experience, reliability and how much attention they’re willing to give you and your project.

  • How long have they worked in your area of expertise?
  • Have you done similar projects in the area that you can visit? Can you supply me with references? Can you show me pictures? — Don’t skip on this step. Go see finished projects!
  • How long do you expect the job to take? How often are you going to work till the project is finished? What hours do you plan on working? How many people are needed for this job? Do you have any other large project going on at this time?
  • Are you a licensed contractor? Do you have insurance?
  • Do you foresee any big setbacks or potential hick-ups with this project?
  • Do you offer a workmanship warranty?
  • Does my project require a permit? If so, do you plan to acquire the permit?

A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and puts you at ease. To go the extra yard of making sure you are comfortable with your contractor check with your local Better Business Bureau to make sure contractors don’t have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.

DIY Backyard Planning provides downloadable building plans to create pergolas, gazebosoutdoor TV cabinets, fire pits and outdoor kitchens.

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