Construction: Guidelines for Hiring A Contractor

Some of the most important decisions made on a church construction project take place before the first nail is driven.

Possibly the most crucial decision your church can make is to avoid the temptation to act as its own general contractor and use skilled church members for the labor. That approach can cost the church in the long run. Choose a competent commercial builder instead.

Choose a Qualified Builder

For a large project, hire an architectural firm with experience in church construction. The firm will design your project, and if needed, assign a construction manager who will ensure timely project completion. He or she will act as liaison between you and the workers, and will oversee important functions such as:

  • Hiring a general contractor and subcontractors.
  • Buying materials.
  • Investigating local zoning ordinances.
  • Obtaining the proper permits.

For a smaller project, hire a general contractor directly. The general contractor's responsibilities are similar to those of a construction manager, but the contractor reports directly to you. You have more responsibility to oversee the building process.

Check References

Make sure the contractor is qualified for the project.

  • Contact the Better Business Bureau. Information on the contractor should be available.
  • Verify proper licenses. Check with your local building contractors' association or building department. (The Associated General Contractors of America recommends choosing someone with at least five years' experience.)
  • Seek examples. Find out how many jobs like yours the contractor has completed.
  • Get references. Call at least three previous clients who've had similar work done and ask specific questions: Was the project completed on schedule? Was it completed within budget? Were there problems along the way? Were you pleased with the overall results?

Bid it Out

Compile a list of contractors. Identify your top three, then:

  • Ask for a bid on your project. Give all three the same specifications.
  • Compare bids. Remember that the lowest bid isn't always the best bid; it might entail lower-quality materials or less extensive work.
  • Consider bonding the project. A bond ensures that a contractor is financially prepared to assume responsibility if he's unable to complete the job. Never proceed with a contractor if he's unable or unwilling to back up his work financially.

Confirm Insurance

If your contractor doesn't carry proper insurance, you could end up having to pay for injuries or property damage caused by the contractor's negligence. Confirm that the contractor you've selected carries adequate insurance:

  • Workers' compensation
  • Vehicle
  • Liability

Require the general contractor and each subcontractor to furnish a certificate of insurance verifying that all workers are properly insured. In addition, either you or the contractor should carry builders' risk insurance covering damage to the structure or materials during construction.

Get it in Writing

Any agreement you make with your contractor should be in writing. Requiring a written contract will ensure that your church's project will be completed with the desired results, within the time frame specified, and within the price range your church expected to pay.

The contract package should include:

  • Description of work to be performed
  • Work schedule
  • Payment schedule
  • Warranty information
  • Statement of permits
  • Statement of insurance and bonds
  • Arbitration or mediation clause
  • Copies of the architectural plans (or drawings, including dimensions)
  • Complete list of building specifications clearly identifying the products and materials to be used.

Review Before Signing

Contract language may ask you to indemnify, defend, and hold a contractor harmless for injuries or damages that might happen during the course of construction, even if it they were caused by the contractor's negligence.

Have an attorney review the document before you sign, so you can understand exactly what you're signing. Don't hesitate to question any terms in the contract; failing to do so could have costly consequences.