historic preservation

resources for homeowners:  finding contractors and trades

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Finding Contractors and Trades

One of the most critical choices you will make during the remodel process is which contractor or tradesperson to hire, if you are not doing the work yourself.

The following are some tips for finding the right fit (with helpful links to the right).

1. Seek Experience

Although the City cannot make recommendations regarding professional services, many local contracting companies have successfully presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the past.  

You may want to ask if your prospective company has presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the past, or has worked on a historically designated home.

Alternatively, you can check with the Historic Preservation Office. Though the City cannot provide recommendations for or against any company, the records of the Commission are public records, and you can check with the historic preservation office to see if a company has completed projects in your area, if this information was provided by the applicant.  

2. Ask Around

Companies that want your business often  put up a construction sign in the front of the building being worked on. If you like the way the project is turning out, give the company a call. If there is no sign, be neighborly and knock on the door to see if the owner can provide a reference. 

3. Check References

Don’t be tempted to hire someone without checking the company out first. Check with the Master Builders Association of Pierce County to verify whether the company is a member, as well as with the State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries to see if there have been problems in the past (you can also call 1-800-647-0982 or click on the Guide to Hiring a Contractor link on the upper right). Ask for references and make sure your contractor is registered, bonded and insured. 

4. Get What You Want

Remember that new is not necessarily better. The labor of repairing before replacing will lead many contractors to advise “tearing it off” instead of restoring, even if you request quotes for repair. This is why it is important to hire a company that is familiar with historic standards and respectful of past craftsmanship.

Moreover, don’t settle for “they don’t make ___ anymore.” Chances are that if it was available in 1906, you can get it today, with a little detective work:  salvage yards and specialty companies can provide a surprisingly large array of items.  You may have to do some footwork to find the right materials, but it will be worth the effort.  Several contractors in Pierce County also have their own shops that can do custom replication work for older homes - including hard to find moldings and window work.

Also, it is important to remember the difference between manufactured items or assemblies, such as insert replacement windows, that are sold as complete units, and things that can be crafted, repaired or replaced individually.  Some contractors are vendors whose business is installing pre-made products, not repairing existing components.  You may want to visit a local lumber yard to see what is available - and remember to take a photograph of your existing windows, or woodwork, or whatever else it is that you are trying to find.

If in doubt, call us!

5. Beware of Shortcuts 

If your contractor tells you that no permits are required, it is wise to check this for yourself. For example, changing even a single window affects energy code compliance and requires a permit.

Why get a permit?  Having a Stop Work Order placed on a project is not a happy outcome for anyone, and can result in costly delays.  You may also need to furnish proof of permits for future sale of your home - a permit shows that the work met the building and zoning regulations at the the time of the work (having to deal with a nonconforming nonpermitted addition on a house five years later that does not meet code can be difficult and costly).

The City's Building and Land Use Services division can answer questions about permits and zoning.

6. Trust Your Instincts 

You are the client, and it is your money.  If you don’t feel at ease with a potential contractor up front, the relationship is not likely to improve as the stress of a project increases. A contractor should respect your wishes and opinions, and not pressure a client into certain choices. Your contractor should serve as a valuable professional resource.

7. Resource List

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation has assembled lists of preservation contractors and suppliers.  Please note that the City of Tacoma does not represent or guarantee the quality of work or product from any consultants, contractors or suppliers.  Click below.

Preservation Trades and Consultants Directory

Note that there are many quality firms that may not be in the directory (for example, residential general contractors), so it is one of many resources to keep in mind.

Questions of suggestions?

Email landmarks@cityoftacoma.org