illustration of general contractor with many arms
Illustration: Catherine Meurisse
While You're at It…
Seven requests you should never make and seven you can—and should

What you can't ask for
1. I ran out of time. Can you move all this stuff before you paint?
2. I have to run some errands. Could you keep an eye on the kids?
3. Since you're going out anyway, would you mind walking the dog?
4. Darn—my computer just crashed! Can you fix it?
5. FedEx is coming by to pick up this envelope. Could you make sure to be here?
6. I just blew another fuse. Mind replacing it? (If he's a plumber.)
7. The drain's backed up again. Could you fix it? (If he's an electrician.)

What you can ask for
1. Could you replace the pressure-balance valve in the shower? Older baths often lack this safety feature, which keeps the showerhead from scalding when cold water is drawn elsewhere in the house. A plumber who's already on the job should be willing to make this fix. "Expect to pay for the valve itself, of course," says architect Darren Hegelsen, who specializes in older-house redos in the Amagansett, New York, area.
2. Could you take a look at the insulation? If your contractor is opening up walls anyway, it's okay to ask him to patch holes in the insulation, says Andrew Black, a general contractor in Columbus, Wisconsin. Expect to pay for time and materials.
3. Could you touch this up? If a painter is on the job already, it's fine to ask for free touch-ups in other rooms, says Kara O'Brien, a general contractor in Atlanta. "Just don't ask for anything larger than a handkerchief."
4. Could you upgrade the wiring in another room? An electrician who is already working in the house may offer a deal to do work in other rooms, especially if he doesn't have to open the walls himself, says Black.
5. Could you replace the smoke and CO detectors? An electrician who is already on the job may be willing to waive the fee for replacing or augmenting smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors. Read up ahead of time on where they should go.
6. Could you flag any weak framing? If crew members are already poking into the walls and floors, it's okay to ask them to watch for signs of rotting wood. You'll be charged for time and materials to replace it, but meanwhile a pro has helped prevent more expensive fixes down the road.
7. Could you advise me on another project? Tradesmen are often a font of free design advice, and that's a good thing. Prompted by a client's query, O'Brien once volunteered a tip for giving exposed brick a faux-aged look (scrub it down with muriatic acid).
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