Jobsite Etiquette for Subcontractors: 8 Rules from the Pros
A construction project is a patience-testing process for any homeowner to endure, and being respectful of their time and property is important. Here are some great tips that will keep you in your customer’s good graces. And a happy customer is a customer willing to pass along that all-important referral to their friends and family.
Subcontractor Code of Conduct
When customers pay a lot of money, they expect special treatment. For many years, I was a lead carpenter for high-end remodel companies, and it was my job to communicate that message to the subcontractors. One way I did that was to post a “Subcontractor Code of Conduct” on the door of every house we worked on.
Along with a list of rules, I added important information like the location of the electric panel and the water and gas shut offs. I also included the names of the homeowners, their children and pets. This simple piece of paper told our customers that we intended to respect their homes. If subcontractors ignored the rules, they would be warned and in some cases fined. Repeat offenders would be replaced, sometimes in the middle of a job.
Following are more examples of my subcontractor code of conduct.
Take Breaks Off Premises
It goes without saying that no one was allowed to smoke in an occupied home, but some of our guys were smoking right outside open windows and the smoke would waft into the house. If subs wanted to smoke, it had to be off premises.
Lunch breaks needed to be taken elsewhere as well. I could tell that homeowners were irritated when they saw a stranger sprawled out, taking a lunch break, on their expensive patio furniture.
Keep Tools Off Finished Surfaces
This was the one finable offense. If a subcontractor left a wrench, drill, tool box, or anything of the sort resting on a countertop, coffee table, end table, speaker, or any other piece of furniture, they would be fined $50—it would be deducted right from their invoice.
I did my best to cover finished surfaces in work areas with drop cloths or cardboard, but it’s not possible to cover every surface in the house. If a homeowner saw a pipe wrench sitting on a bare counter, and a new scratch or nick was discovered in that area, guess who paid for the repair, regardless of how the damage actually happened.
No Loud/Raunchy Radio Stations
I understand that music makes the day go faster, but I insisted that music shouldn’t be heard outside the work area, and radio stations featuring politics or raunchy subject matter were banned altogether. I didn’t want a client, who just wanted to pop in to check on the progress, exposed to that. I encouraged the use of headphones. And of course foul language from the subs was also never tolerated.
Bathrooms Are Off Limits
Nothing is more personal than a bathroom. Some people are horrified by the idea of a stranger nosing around their most personal space. And no one wants to be subjected to the mess, smells and noises created by a bathroom break. I always had a portable toilet onsite for the subs to use.
Observe Start and Stop Times
Our clients liked to see that there was progress being made on their project, but I noticed that many of them were irritated if there was a crew in their house both when they left for work in the morning and when they got home at night. Before starting any job, I would ask about all the resident’s work schedules and tried to arrange an acceptable start/stop time around that.
Leave It the Way Your Found It
Forgetting to reset the thermostat was one of the most common complaints I dealt with. I required the HVAC system be shut down whenever there was dusty work taking place, so the filth wouldn’t’ spread all over the house. Too many times, a worker would forget to turn the heat back on when they left, or they would set the thermostat to a different temperature. Nothing makes a worse impression than having your client waking up freezing in the middle of the night.
Locking doors was another problem area. Subs would sometimes forget to lock a door or set an alarm, especially if they just left for a lunch break. Posting these rules on the door didn’t eliminate these problems, but it made them much less common.
Dress Like a Professional
I didn’t enforce a formal dress code, but I knew that our clients expected professionals who looked the part working on their house. And while I know that working in extreme heat is no fun, I would not allow sleeveless tank tops, and working shirtless was out of the question. I also encouraged the guys to cover up explicit tattoos.