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How to Hire an Irrigation Contractor

Adapted from materials created by the Carolinas Irrigation Association

Whether you are searching for a professional irrigation contractor to install a system or to service an existing system, any professional you consider should have certain qualifications to do your work. The bottom line is that you are not just buying an irrigation system, but you are also buying the services of a contractor. Your job is to find the professional to do the work that will satisfy you. Use this guide along with questions on the IA Irrigation Consumer Bill of Rights.

Insurance
Reputable irrigation professionals will carry appropriate insurance policies to protect you and your property. The insurance policies are critical to your future. You could lose your home or business if something happens and your contractor isn't insured. Expect these minimums from a professional irrigation contractor:

  A worker's compensation insurance policy. This protects you from potential liability if one of the contractor's workers is hurt on your property while on the job. Ask for a certificate of insurance before you sign a contract. This simple step will put you on the insurance company's notification list in case the contractor's insurance should be cancelled.

  A general liability insurance policy. As a general rule, liability policies should have limits of between $300,000 and $500,000 for residential work and at least $1 million for commercial work. This insurance helps protect you in case of unforeseen disasters such as flooding, landslides or other calamities caused by the contractor's work. Again, ask for a certificate of insurance.

  Automobile insurance. This provides another element of liability protection in case one of the contractor's vehicles is involved in an accident on your property. You may want to ask for a certificate of insurance.

Certification, Training, Memberships and Licensing
A contractor should readily provide information about professional certifications, training and required licensing. Licensed and certified professionals are likely to proudly display evidence of their professional activities. If not, you should ask.

  Certification through a reputable institution shows a contractor has demonstrated basic knowledge and skills required to do a job. Contractors with IA certification have taken training and/or passed exams that demonstrate in-depth knowledge of their field. Annual renewal and continuing education is required to maintain IA certification.

  Evidence of training. Contractors should provide evidence of valid training. Even without certification, you are looking for evidence that a contractor can do quality work. Training is offered through professional organizations, like the IA, through equipment manufacturers and colleges or trade schools. IA classes are widely recognized in the industry and are not brand-specific.

  Employee certifications and continuing education. The contractor should offer evidence that individuals in the contractor's employment have been properly trained in installation and maintenance. Look for certification appropriate to the work you will have done. The contractor should be able to assure you the work will be done by competent, trained individuals.

  Safety training and employee education programs. What programs does the contractor have to ensure a safe workplace and to train employees so they can improve their capabilities? Professional contractors will have programs like this to foster pride and company loyalty. Ask your contractor what the firm does to encourage employee education and safety.

  Business license. A contractor must at minimum have a basic business license to work in any jurisdiction.

  Other licenses. Some states and/or local governments require licensing for irrigation contractors, but many do not. Additional licenses may be required for irrigation contractors to do basic plumbing and electrical work required for the job. Check with your local government for contractor requirements and a list of contractors licensed to work in your community.

Note: Licensing and certification are different. Some jurisdictions require licensing, but licensing doesn't always involve training or certification. In some cases licenses are issued to contractors who simply pay a fee to the local government. In other areas, training and/or certification are required for licensing. Check with our local government. And ask your contractor specifically whether licenses held required passage of certification exams or training.

  Association and trade organization membership. Belonging to a professional organization implies a commitment to furthering the industry and keeping up with technological changes and standards for irrigation.

How to Spot a Nonprofessional Contractor

1.     A nonprofessional won't be listening to your needs.

2.     Nonprofessional telephone communications. Coarse telephone manners and failing to return calls indicate the type of response you will get on your project.

3.     Failure to show up for meetings on time. Maybe your work won't get done on time either.

4.     Unprofessional appearance. Inappropriate clothing and/or dirty or poorly maintained vehicles. Even smaller contractors who get out in the field regularly will take the time to tidy up before an appointment.

5.     Disorganized bids that fail to include specific details. Bids should be legible and easy to understand.

6.     Someone who gives you unrealistic prices. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

7.     Belittling another contractor's work. A professional should never belittle another contractor or his or her work.

8.     Suggesting that you don't need a permit. In the event a permit is needed for your project, sometimes nonprofessional operators will try to get your okay to forego obtaining the permit. Don't give your permission. Even though permit inspections are often lax, the contractor should obtain all required permits.

9.     Offering to do construction work that is outside of the scope of the work for which the contractor was hired.