Many construction disputes, large and small, concern the quality of work. The expectations of the homeowner may be out of sync the expectations of the contractor. At the end of the job, the paint job seems sloppy, the gaps in the wood flooring are too wide, or the drywall joints too visible. Without specific quality standards defined in the contract, it is difficult to establish whether the completed work is has met a reasonable level of quality — or is substandard.
What contractor does not advertise “quality workmanship” or “fine craftsmanship”? Unfortunately, such claims have little meaning legally or otherwise. If you want high-quality work, hire a contractor with a good reputation, look closely at some recent jobs they have completed, and there’s a good chance your job will look similar. If you want premium work, you can expect to pay somewhat more than you would to the lowest bidder. Some people think that the building code requires work to meet certain quality standards.
However, building inspectors are looking only at minimum standards of safety, not the quality of the workmanship. Nor will you get much help from the loan officer at the bank – they will generally approve payment once a phase of work is completed, regardless of the quality of the work.
Beyond that, it’s important to establish some quality standards in the contract, as part of the specifications. This is not addressed in many residential contracts, but is a frequent area of disagreement. One advantage of using a professional architect or construction manager is that they will know the relevant industry specifications to cite for various materials and systems.
Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions
An important clause to include in any contract is:
Install all products and materials according to manufacturer’s written instructions and construction industry standards.
This is important because nearly all manufacturers provide detailed installation instructions for their products and materials. Manufacturers tend to publish stringent standards as they have a strong incentive to have their products installed correctly
A Workmanlike Manner
Another phrase that’s worth including is “workmanlike manner,” as in the clause: All work shall be performed in a workmanlike manner.
States vary in their definition of “workmanlike manner,” but most cite something like “how work is customarily done by other contractors in the community.” In court, the opposing parties typically bring in opposing experts who will testify that the work was or was not done in such a manner, depending on who hired them (yet another reason you don’t ever want to go to court!).
To some extent, the term has evolved in the courts and in some state statutes to a slightly higher standard of “using the degree of skill, efficiency and knowledge that is possessed by those of ordinary skill, competency, and standing in the particular trade for which the contractor is employed.”
This still leaves room for argument. Nonetheless the phrase gives you a leg to stand on, especially if the contractor’s work was clearly substandard.
Construction Industry Standards
In addition to manufacturer’s instructions, many construction products have widely accepted industry standards published by trade associations or standards-writing organizations such as ASTM (see list of trade associations). For example, you can find extensive standards and guidelines for concrete, drywall, roofing, wood siding, and many other building materials. These standards tend to be rigorous as the trade associations, in general, are working to improve the quality and reputation of their industry.
Building industry organizations such as the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB)also publish quality standards in an effort to professionalize the industry. While these are minimum standards, they offer a useful starting point for establishing objective measures of quality. Learn more about Quality Standards in Construction Specifications.
Bottom line: Look for a contractor with a reputation for quality workmanship and for taking care of problems that show up after the job is complete. Written quality standards can also help. They do not guarantee high-quality work, but if well written, they give you a leg to stand on in a dispute over substandard work.