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Having Work Done on Basement - Advice for Dealing with Contractors?


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georgiaredskin and I have a small leak in our basement.  Whenever we get a really heavy storm some water makes its way in through the crack in the wall.  Usually it's just a trickle, but during a particularly bad storm like Sandy we could end up with water slowly pooling across the entire basement floor if left unchecked.

Thankfully it's on the opposite side from the truly finished section (read: Redskins Room) so we haven't had any water damage to anything of note yet.


 We're having contractors come out next week to give us estimates. My expectation is that they'll be talking about putting in some kind of french drain or something like it.  I have a few questions as a fairly inexperienced homeowner.


1) How do I decide between several contractors who seem legit?


2) Are there any tips for weeding out contractors who might seem legit to someone who doesn't have construction experience, but who really aren't going to do the job right?


3) What questions should I be asking?


4) How much is reasonable to pay up front or as a "deposit"? 0? 10%? 25%?

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I have been a contractor for years so here are a few suggestions


1) Price and references. If they are all legit, the prices should be in the same ballpark. Throw out any outliers, either too high or too low. Anyone trying to "buy" the job will do shoddy quick work


2) Again references. Every legit contractor should have a decent amount of references that they can quickly give you. It is a pain, but for a basement leak you certainly want to take the time to check them out


3) Ask the specific way they will resolve your issue. What is the method that will be done. How invasive is it? What materials (brands, type, etc) will they use? How many people will be involved. How many days? A good contractor will tell you all of this up front.


4) I take a 1/3 deposit and collect the final 2/3 upon completion. I have in 11 years had 3 people not want to go along with that. 

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1. References

2. References

3. Ask about what the possible issue might be and the pros/cons of possible remedies. See if they are willing to talk to you about the process, and whether you can get along.

4. Dependent on the size of the job but more like 25% or higher, unless it's huge in scope

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First, write up a Request for Proposal for yourself. 


  1. Describe the problem (let the contractor define the solution). 
  3. Include a timetable for the work to be accomplished, like start date and end date.
  5. Include a penalty clause if the schedule isn't met.  You don't want to have work started and then the contractor goes off to another job leaving you without your job finished.
  7. Pay schedule.  If the contract is mostly labor, then you can see the upfront material costs.  I'd think that most of this type of work to be labor.  I'd do 25% up front, then 1 more payment of 25%, then a last payment of 50%.  Withhold the last payment until the work is finished and if necessary any inspections are completed.
  9. The contractors should come back with a written proposal.  The contractors' solutions should include the solution, materials, any permits and labor and rate.  I'd want a complete breakdown.  Firm fixed price puts the burden on you, the customer.  Time and materials is better and can still be broken out per the pay schedule.  Don't get the permits because you will have to do this instead of the contractor.  It will cost more but for this kind of job, you might not even need a permit.
  11. The contractors' proposal should include a warranty for the work.

I'm seeing good advice here.  If you do this you will protect yourself in dealing with any contractors.

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We had a contractor come out this week out to take a look at our basement leak and an erosion issue we've been having.


The contractor that came out not only explained what the source of our leak/erosion problem was, he also walked all the way around the house and pointed out other areas where there were screwups or corners were cut when the house was built. The good news is that the fixes are in most cases relatively minor, e.g. the landscapers covered the french drains in a couple of places when they installed the landscaping, no weep holes added to a retaining wall, etc. He was a really good guy. He gave his estimate vs. how much a landscaper would probably charge (he'd charge more) and drew up a plan for exactly what we'd need so that when we bring in landscapers they won't try to do a bigger fix than is necessary to pad the cost of the job.


All I have to say is Angie's List FTW! I'd highly recommend you start with contractors that specialize in waterproofing. Even if they're not as forthcoming as the guy that provided our estimate, at the very least you'll hopefully be able to figure out whether your problem is a relatively simple fix vs. something that really needs a good waterproofing contractor.


Good luck! 

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And remember. References aren't just names and such on paper. These are contacts. People that had work done by the contractor so call,call,call. Make sure to go back a few years too. Make sure of the longevity of the work. Don't be afraid to call the building department either. You can cross reference work the contractor said they did with them and as bonus,they can make sure the necessary permits were pulled and such. It's a bit time consuming,but this is an investment you're making,so take that time.  My guess,a  dig in the area,(at the very least),with a check of weeping tiles and waterproofing around the foundation along with checking the grade. 

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The house I grew up in was at the bottom of a hill and in the autumn leaves would sometimes collect in the drain and after a good storm would work to clog it and cause floods in the house.  Keeping that drain clean was important, and we tried a number of strategies, but the main thing was to have someone check it periodically and keep the area clear.  However, if the rain was significant enough was all the runoff down the hill water still sometimes got in.  Eventually, they wound up installing a second drain inside the house near the basement door.  This one was connected to an electric water pump that would activate when there was a certain amount of pressure.


They only have problems these days with the very worst of storms where in my childhood we'd have a flood probably two to five times a year.

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