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NCHPO Disaster Preparedness and Response

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE INFORMATION FOR OWNERS OF HISTORIC PROPERTIES
-and properties over 50 years of age-

In recent years hurricanes, tornados, and other natural disasters have inflicted enormous suffering and property damage across many parts of North Carolina. The State Historic Preservation Office offers the following information sheets to assist historic property owners in recovering from a natural disaster.

The Importance of Planning for Disaster and Recovery: Lessons Learned from Irene (PDF). A paper by Reid Thomas, Restoration Specialist with the Eastern Office of Archives and History, presented to the Connecting to Collections Workshop, Hatteras, NC, February 6, 2012

Reporting Damage to Your Historic Property

HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS: ARE YOU READY?

HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS: ARE YOU READY?

Hurricanes have the potential to cause substantial damage to historic properties in our state. With little time to prepare for a threatening storm, we recommend that you review our checklist below and consider taking immediate action to protect your property.

I. EXTERIOR
Doors & Windows:

Secure all doors and windows. Windows and doors are extremely vulnerable to flying projectiles. Shutters and plywood provide additional protection. If a window is broken out, water can spray across the room damaging collections.

Loose Objects: 

Trash cans, signs, lawn furniture, water hoses, childrens' and pets' toys, and other loose objects can become dangerous projectiles during a storm. It is essential to move loose objects to a secure location.

Gutters, downspouts, and drains:

If there is time, clear gutters and downspouts of leaves and debris. If downspouts empty around the foundation of the building, consider adding temporary extension pipes to carry water away from the building. Be sure to secure the extension pipes.

II. INTERIOR

Move objects away from windows, doors, and fireplaces.
The areas in a building most likely to fail during a severe storm are windows, doors, roofs, and chimneys. Be sure to remove hanging decor from above fireplaces

Protect fragile objects from potential moisture or wind damage. 
Consider moving items such as glassware, prints, pottery, etc. into safe containers, chests, or boxes to protect from storm damage.

Shut off gas to building.
LP Gas should be cut off at tank; Natural Gas should be shut off at exterlor valve. Gas lines can be damaged during a storm. Better to play it safe.

Shut off partial/full power.
If a building will not be occupied during a storm, consider turning the main power breaker off. It the building has a security & fire system, consider leaving the breaker on for the system. Breakers should be shut off for exterior outlets and any which are vulnerable to moisture. Hurricane force winds can blow moisture into exterior frame wall cavities.

III. SUPPLY LIST

We recommend that you have the following items on hand for emergency repairs and to protect objects from moisture:

  • Buckets: Several large and small ones to collect water
  • Towels, Blankets, Rags, Mop: For water clean-up
  • Roll of Plasic: May need to cover objects or windows following the storm. 
  • Tarps and ropes: Necessary for emergency roof repairs. Roll roofing and sheet tim are also helpful.
  • Plywood and lumber: Essential for temporary window, door, and roof patches
  • Camera or video camera to document property. It helps to document the building and contents before the event.
IV. RESPONSIBILITY CHECKLIST AND CONTACTS

Know who will check your site if we have a severe storm. Consider the difficultly that individuals may have accessing the site or leaving home with their own serious problems. More than one person should have a responsibility to assist in checking on the site.

CONTACT US: In the event that your site suffers storm damage, please report the damage by filling out our online reporting form. Contact your county's assigned Restoration Branch staff member for questions about repairs and reporting. 

NCHPO Historic Property Damage Reporting Form

NCHPO Restoration Branch Staff by County

Owners of Historic or Older Properties Affected by a Natural Disaster

Owners of Historic or Older Properties Affected by a Natural Disaster

If a natural disaster damages your historic property or buildings you own that are more than fifty years old, the State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) may be able to provide guidance and technical assistance as you begin the rebuilding process.
IS YOUR PROPERTY HISTORIC?

A property is considered historic if it is listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the nation's official list of buildings, sites, objects, and districts that warrant special preservation consideration. Approximately 45,000 historic properties in North Carolina are listed in the National Register either individually (more than 2,000) or as contributing properties within nearly 375 historic districts. In addition to National Register listed and eligible properties, the HPO's Survey and Planning Branch maintains a roster of almost 4,700 older properties that are likely to be eligible for the National Register, including properties that have been designated as historic by local historic preservation commissions. Inclusion in this roster is not a guarantee of National Register eligibility because properties may have been altered or deteriorated since they were recorded, but it is probable that the vast majority are eligible for the register.

The HPO's Survey and Planning Branch can tell you if your property is listed in the National Register or appears to be eligible for listing. For properties that are not already in the register, staff can provide upon request a written evaluation of National Register eligibility for you to use in making insurance claims and applying for other forms of assistance. The more information you provide about a property, the better. Although the branch has files on more than 70,000 older properties, it is likely that additional information such as historical background and photographs of the property before and after the disaster-caused damage, will be needed when you request a determination of National Register eligibility. In certain cases, it may be necessary for staff to visit the property to determine its eligibility.

WHAT ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE FOR HISTORIC PROPERTIES?

The HPO's Restoration Branch can provide technical restoration services to owners of historic properties and cemeteries affected by a natural disaster. Staff will consult, free of charge, with local governments, nonprofit organizations, churches, and private citizens about damage and recommend repairs to historic properties. Services include telephone consultations, copies of technical articles and sample specifications, on-site inspections and evaluations, and referrals to specialty architects, contractors, and other restoration or rehabilitation experts. Photographs of storm related damage can greatly facilitate telephone consultations about your historic property's needs.

Information is also available on methods and materials to repair storm related damage and to best preserve the historic integrity of your property. A property does not have to be listed in the National Register for you to request a consultation, but due to staff limitations, priority will be given to listed and eligible properties.

The federal and state tax codes each provide a twenty percent tax credit for the substantial rehabilitation of income-producing historic buildings that meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Non- income-producing historic structures, such as private residences, may be eligible for a thirty percent state tax credit if the work exceeds $25,000 and also meets the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation work on non-income-producing structures must be approved by the HPO prior to commencement of work.

Although there are no special federal or state grants available to owners of historic properties affected by natural disasters, historic properties may be entitled to additional consideration from private insurers and state and federal relief agencies. Be sure to indicate on all claims or requests for assistance that your property is or may be historic.

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED BURIED REMAINS OR RESOURCES AFFECTED BY A NATURAL DISASTER?

Damaged historic properties may contain or may be significant themselves for archaeological resources. Once- buried features such as old wells, privies, cellar holes, foundations, and artifacts which are important to the history or understanding of an older property may have been exposed by uprooted trees, flood erosion, post- hurricane cleanup efforts, and other ground disturbances caused by a natural disaster. Historic watercraft may have been dislodged or damaged by wave action or erosion. In addition to damaging headstones and boundary markers in historic cemeteries, a storm also may have uncovered human burials. Redefining cemetery boundaries once markers or trees are gone is often difficult. The Office of State Archaeology can assist with the identification of significant historic, prehistoric, or maritime resources. Written or verbal reports of suspected archaeological artifacts or features are helpful. Our archaeologists will make efforts to visit damaged properties, and may accompany other HPO staff on inspections of damaged buildings or cemetery sites.

WHO CAN YOU CONTACT FOR ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR HISTORIC OR OLDER PROPERTY?

For a determination of your property's National Register status, contact: 
Survey and Planning Branch
4617 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4617
Telephone 919-814-6587, FAX 919-807-6599
email jenn.brosz@ncdcr.gov

For restoration or rehabilitation assistance, contact:
Restoration Branch
4617 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4617
FAX 919-807-6599
See Restoration page for staff contact information

For assistance with archaeological sites or remains, contact:
Office of State Archaeology
4619 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4619
email archaeology@ncdcr.gov
For assistance with complexities of the bureaucracy, contact: 
Environmental Review Coordinator
4617 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4617
Telephone 919-814-6579, FAX 919-807-6599
email renee.gledhill-earley@ncdcr.gov

If you are located in a county or municipality with a historic preservation, landmark, or district commission, be sure to contact your local commission or preservation planner for assistance and information about specific ordinances which may affect your historic property.

Tips for Drying Out a Water Damaged Building

Tips for Drying Out a Water Damaged Building

F. Mitchener Wilds, Senior Restoration Specialist

Once a building has been exposed to a large volume of water, either floodwater or rainwater, steps must be taken to dry the building out, assess damage, and plan for repairs and restoration. This information sheet discusses concerns and procedures for helping structures to dry out.
Flooding may be quick, but drying out a building is a time consuming effort. Allowing natural ventilation and evaporation to work is better for the building than the using heated forced-air or air conditioning systems. The rapid drying out of a historic building using hot air power drying systems can cause irreparable harm to significant features of the building.

Before starting to dry out your building, make certain to address health and safety concerns. Safety must come first; do not endanger yourself, your family, or other occupants. Assume all power lines are live. Do not trust the fact that power may be off all over the neighborhood; turn off the power to your house. Check for the odor of leaking LP or natural gas and turn off these services. Be aware that floodwaters may be contaminated with sewage or animal waste and present a health hazard. During clean up, protect eyes, mouth, and hands, and use disinfectants to wash hands before eating. If you are uncomfortable when entering your house and have any question regarding personal safety, do not go inside, but have a professional make an assessment.

Make a photographic record before you begin to clean up the damage. Documentation of the damages will be beneficial when negotiating with insurance adjusters.

Make temporary repairs to roofs and windows to prevent additional water from entering the building as you work to dry it out. Plan on temporary repairs lasting a minimum of six months. Temporary repair options include the use of tarpaulin, 30- or 90-pound felt paper, or plywood covered with tarpaper.

Water saturation affects a building in three ways:

Water causes direct damage to materials. Wallboard disintegrates; wood can swell, warp, or rot; electrical parts can short out, malfunction, and cause fires or shock.
Mud, silt, and unknown contaminants in the water get everything dirty and are unhealthy. Floodwater is more damaging than rainwater.
Dampness promotes the growth of moisture-related mold, mildew, and fungus that leads to dry rot.
Efforts to promote natural and controlled drying out of the building should start at the attic. If the insulation is wet, remove it and dispose of properly. After being wet, most insulation is ineffective, but it will continue to hold moisture for a long time and will create high moisture conditions which will damage metal, masonry, and wood.

Remove any water soaked items stored in the attic for treatment. The weight of water soaked boxes can cause cracking in the plaster ceilings of the floor below. Open windows and vents to allow fresh air to circulate. If your electrical system is safe and you have an attic fan, turn it on.

As you enter rooms, inspect ceilings carefully. Wet plaster and sheetrock are very heavy and can be a hazard. Be aware of bulging ceilings that may hold trapped water. If rainwater has collected in the ceiling, the rainwater will find it own route into the floors below. Collect water in buckets by poking holes at the edge of the bulging ceiling to release the water.

Plaster responds to drying out much better than sheetrock; however, durability depends on the plaster mix, the original application, the degree of water saturation, placement, and the type of lath used. Plaster over metal lath is likely to require replacement. Wood lath may expand if saturated, causing the plaster keys to break. Check for loose plaster and plan to reattach it using plaster washers. Plaster ceilings can be temporarily shored by using 2x4s nailed together to form a "T", then wedging the top of the "T" to press plywood against the ceiling.

Most plaster walls can be saved if damaged by clean rainwater. Drain water that may be held within the wall cavity by removing the baseboard and drilling holes through the plaster or sheetrock several inches above the floor. Use cordless or hand drills to avoid electrical shock and be careful to avoid wiring within the walls. Remove any insulation if wet via the baseboard removal and allow the wall cavity to dry out thoroughly.

If sheetrock has been exposed to water for less than two hours, it can probably be repaired. If the sheetrock was exposed to floodwater for more than two hours, it will be saturated by contaminated water and require complete replacement.

Open windows in all rooms, even if there is no evidence of moisture retention. If the windows are swollen shut, remove the inside stop bead to free window sash. The use of window fans will help draw fresh air through the building, helping to dry out wall cavities between interior and exterior walls.

Wash down wood features, including trim, doors, mantels, and stairs, to remove mud and silt. Mold and mildew can be cleaned off using a weak solution of Clorox and water or commercially available disinfectant. Historic wallpapers require specialized treatment. Any features removed during the clean up should be labeled and saved for later reinstallation. Many significant features, such as trim, have been lost due to owners or contractors acting in haste to clean up.

Remove wet carpets and furniture from the house. Drying out these items in the house only adds to the moisture level within the house. Remove sheet vinyl or linoleum flooring to allow for maximum evaporation.

If wood floors are coated with mud, wash down with fresh water. Floorboards may begin to warp as they dry, but further drying may bring the boards back to their original shape. The use of weights or shoring on the wood floors during the drying process may lessen the occurrence of severe warping and buckling. Remove vapor barriers and insulation from beneath the floor to allow for complete air circulation. Do not use heating, air conditioning, or other forced air to promote drying of wood floors. Rapid drying can promote cupping of the floorboards as the top surface dries out faster. Drying out floorboards may take several months.

If the duct work has standing water, wash it out with clean water. Replace electrical receptacles if water levels reached high enough to cover them.

If your basement is flooded, do not rush to pump it out. Draining the basement while the surrounding ground is saturated may create uneven pressure on the basement walls and floor resulting in cracking or collapse. Once water surrounding the house has drained off, lower the water level in the basement by two or three feet, mark the water line, and wait overnight. If the basement water level rises, then it is too early to fully pump out the basement. If the water level is stable or lower, then pump out another two or three feet and again check the water level overnight.

Water-damaged household furnishings including textiles, books, photographs, paintings, and furniture should receive proper treatment to minimize damage and ease repair and restoration. In general, wet mud should be rinsed off objects with clean water before air drying, but consultation with a conservator for specific guidance on the treatment of historic objects is strongly recommended.

Remember that air circulation is the key to completely drying out a structure. Heaters or air conditioners should not force the drying process. If you force your building to dry too quickly, additional damage to the building elements will occur.

For further information regarding water-damaged buildings, consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office and reference to the following publications are recommended:

Treatment of Flood Damaged Older and Historic Buildings, National Trust for Historic Preservation Information Booklet No. 82, 1993.
Repairing Your Flooded Home, Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross, ARC publication 4477, FEMA publication 234, August 1992. 
After the Flood: Water Damage and Your Historic Building (videotape), Historic Preservation Information Service, University of South Dakota, 1994. 

As the Floodwaters Recede -- A Checklist of Things To Do

As the Floodwaters Recede -- A Checklist of Things To Do

The following checklist will help you respond to flood damage in historic and older buildings. Read the steps through carefully and take time to plan. While it is tempting to wade right in with a shovel and mop, it is very important to develop a plan for cleanup and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, overly zealous cleanup efforts can result in historic materials being carted away, excessively rough cleaning methods, and the unnecessary loss of historic fabric. The best way to prevent additional damage to historic structures and materials during a time of duress is to use caution and plan ahead.
Follow all emergency rules, laws, and regulations
Turn off all utilities
Document building damage
Wear protective clothing
Stabilize any unstable structures with temporary bracing
Use caution when pumping basement water
Keep building properly ventilated
Clean everything that got wet with a disinfectant
Allow saturated materials to dry using natural ventilation
Check for foundation damage
Replace soil around foundation
Save historic materials if possible
Use caution when removing lead-based paint or any products containing asbestos
Clean and repair roof and roof drainage systems to protect building from future damage
Adapted from: INFORMATION, National Trust for Historic Preservation Booklet No. 82, 1993, Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings, and provided courtesy of the New Bern Historic Preservation Commission.

Additional Helpful Tips for Historic Properties

Additional Helpful Tips for Historic Properties

ADDITIONAL HELPFUL TIPS FOR HISTORIC PROPERTIES

Dry-in a roof with a temporary repair that will last six months or longer. This allows the old house owner time to carefully figure out what work needs to be done and to avoid paying a premium for repairs. An instant weatherproof patch can be made by draping large tarps over the roof ridge. Tightly fasten at edges. Use heavy duty tarp from agricultural supply house. Use exterior-grade plywood of same thickness to patch missing roof sheathing.
If outer-most roof material is missing, install 30-to 90-pound asphalt impregnated roofing felt. Nail it every 6 inches along seams with felting nails. The 90-pound felt will last up to two years. If only 90-pound roll roofing with mineral face is available, install with mineral face against the sheathing. Heavy felt is a good base for fiberglass shingle roofs. It must be removed for tin roofs.
Wire or tie up loose- or damaged gutters and downspouts to help carry water away from the house.
Remove trees from house before repairs begin.
Save architectural fragments and building materials, even if they are not from your house. These may prove valuable in restoration efforts.
If wood floors receive water, wash down with fresh water. Next, apply paper towels to absorb any salt water. Do not use newspaper as ink will stain the floor. Floorboards may warp as floors dry. Do not use heating, air conditioning, or other forced drying measures. Be patient. It can take several months of drying before a floor is ready for refinishing.
If interior wall insulation is damp, take it out via removal of the baseboard. Let interior wall dry thoroughly. Clean mold and mildew off walls by scrubbing with a weak solution of Clorox bleach and water.
Check for loose plaster and either remove or resecure in place with screws. Mark and save decorative plaster pieces that have fallen.

Landscape Restoration Following a Natural Disaster

Landscape Restoration Following a Natural Disaster

Landscape Restoration Following a Natural Disaster

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, as many trees and shrubs as possible need to be salvaged. Here are some helpful hints adapted from a flier prepared by the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office following Hurricane Hugo in 1996:
Do not act without first checking with your insurance company. Some may not cover debris removal. Also, keep in mind that any lost tree will adversely affect your property value. Do not be pressured into any tree removals. Removal should not be considered before you are sure the tree cannot be saved. Save anything you can!
Remedy all safety hazards by removing downed limbs and branches. Use care in removing branches still attached as they may kick back while being detached.
Straighten uprooted shrubs and small trees as soon as possible, and get their roots back into the ground. This will save them from dehydration. Stake small trees with guy wires, adding a piece of rubber hose for protection where any wire comes into contact with the trunk.
Even with the assistance of a certified arborist, efforts to save large uprooted trees often are unsuccessful. To enhance the possibility of saving a large tree that has been uprooted, it must be stabilized by covering exposed roots with straw, burlap, or soil and keeping the roots moist.
Some trees and shrubs may dry out and defoliate in the few weeks following a natural disaster, but you should not assume the plant has been lost. It may re-foliate next spring.
Prune broken wood to the next "fork." Pruning cuts should be made 1/4" to 1/2" back from the fork. Look for a swollen area, the branch collar, near this junction and make the cut there. This area contains chemicals needed to help heal the new cut.
For assistance, contact a certified arborist.

Tips for Handling Insurance Claims for Historic Properties Following a Disaster

Tips for Handling Insurance Claims for Historic Properties Following a Disaster

The best defense in the protection of your real and personal property is an up-to-date inventory with photographs to document the condition of the property prior to the disaster. A copy of the inventory and photographs should be kept in a safety deposit box.
Once disaster strikes you should:

Protect your property from further damage, e.g., cover the roof, remove trees, and secure against trespass or vandalism. Keep all receipts for any temporary or emergency repairs. These costs should be covered by your insurance.
File a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. Call your local agent, the 1-800 number of the national or regional office, or the number shown in your policy package. In a major disaster the telephone lines may be out of order or constantly busy. Keep trying and be sure to leave a message once you do reach the insurance company. Give your name, policy number, a description of the damage (not the cost), and how you can be reached. Your claim should be recorded as soon as you make contact with the company.
If the event is declared a federal disaster, follow the instructions which appear in the local media and file a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), after filing with your insurance company.
Following a disaster, all insurance companies are swamped with claims. The large companies usually have well planned and executed disaster response plans and may provide emergency offices in tractor trailers. Smaller companies often have to depend on independent adjusters from outside the area. Usually, an adjuster is available within the week; but, depending on the size of the disaster, it could take several weeks

To prepare for the arrival of the adjuster, you should:

Make a copy of your inventory or develop an inventory of what was damaged or lost. This is especially important in cases of total destruction.
Get estimates from contractors, if possible. Although it may be difficult to get a contractor, most adjusters like to work from estimates. If the disaster is widespread, consideration should be given to a likely increase in material and labor costs.
Check your insurance policy. Does it provide for replacement of like construction or actual cash value? Owners of older or historic properties should have policies that include replacement cost or a special endorsement to cover the cost of unique or hard-to-find materials and features. Endorsements cost extra and not all insurance companies offer them.
If your property is considered "historic" (i.e., listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a contributing element in a listed, eligible, or locally designated historic district, or a locally designated landmark), obtain documentation of its historic status from the State Historic Preservation Office or local preservation commission. This may be important to establish the need for special materials or treatment of the property.

Following the adjuster's visit and appraisal, you may:

Find that the repairs cost more than the adjuster's estimate due to the use of special materials for a historic property. Insurers may pay the difference, if you can prove that the in-kind replacement for the historic property was more expensive than the adjuster's estimate that used standard or less expensive materials and methods.
Exercise the policy's "appraisal provision" that allows either party to request an appraisal of the damage and repair costs, and for hiring an "umpire," if there is a disagreement over the requested appraisal.
Request an extension of the repair period, if you can prove that you were unable to get the necessary estimates and complete the repairs in the time allotted by you insurer.
Normally, filing a claim should not cause your homeowners insurance premium to increase or your policy to be canceled. However, following a major disaster, policyholders who have a history of frequent claims could be canceled and find obtaining new coverage more difficult.

If you have trouble with a claim or feel that your insurance company is trying to rush you into a settlement, you may call the North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance's hotline at (855) 408-1212.

For additional information concerning the treatment of historic properties threatened or damaged by a natural disaster, contact the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (see Staff Roster for contact information).

Selecting a Contractor After a Natural Disaster Strikes

Selecting a Contractor After a Natural Disaster Strikes

Jeff Adolphsen, Restoration Specialist

The purpose of this brief is to assist the owners of historic properties in selecting a contractor after a natural disaster has damaged their property. The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) is frequently called upon to assist property owners locate contractors who are experienced in working with historic properties. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the requests for referrals greatly increase while the pool of competent contractors decreases as the most talented workmen quickly commit to projects. This leaves the bulk of historic property owners in a position where they often must settle for a contractor who has little experience with historic resources.
The Restoration Branch of the HPO often can refer property owners to contractors or tradesmen who have worked on historic properties. Other sources to consider when selecting a contractor are the Association for General Contractors, the local homebuilders association, trade organizations, the local historic preservation commission, and word-of-mouth.

To lessen their risk, owners should contact a minimum of three contractors. Each contractor should submit a written proposal that comprises a list of work items needed to repair the property. Each item should include prices for materials and labor and list the quantity of materials and any necessary preparatory work. The owner should compare all of the proposals to make sure the contractors are bidding on the same work items. Discrepancies between the proposals should be eliminated by seeking additional information from the contractor, manufacturer, or HPO.

All contractors under consideration should provide the owner with proof of disability and worker's compensation insurance, or the owner may be liable for accidents that occur on his or her property. The owner may also want to consider having the contractor purchase a performance bond and a labor and materials payment bond. Most small projects do not utilize these bonds because of the added costs. The performance bond will only guarantee funds to complete the project and not the quality of the project. The labor and materials payment bond will protect the owner from liens and suits that may arise if the original contractor fails to meet his financial obligations.

The owner should ask each contractor for a list of references of similar work that has been completed in the past. The reference list should include the project name, contact person, project address, and phone number of the contact person. It is imperative that each reference be contacted and asked if he or she would hire the contractor again. The owner should also consider looking at projects completed by each contractor.

A firm's reputation can also be investigated by calling the North Carolina State Licensing Board and the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, which are regulatory agencies. The local Better Business Bureau and homebuilders association can be contacted regarding outstanding complaints against the contractor. Thorough investigation by the owner can improve the chances of hiring a reputable contractor.

When a contractor is selected, his proposal or amended proposal should be attached to the contract and signed by all parties. This will help ensure that both parties understand exactly what is required of the contractor. The contract should include at least the following items: name, address, and phone number of both parties to the contract; the date of signing; contract amount; duration of contract; starting date; payment schedule (weekly, biweekly, monthly, or upon completion of acceptable work items). Other items to consider for inclusion are: amount to be withheld from each payment (if applicable); circumstances for extending the contract duration; under what circumstances liquidated damages apply; applicability of guarantees and who is responsible for the guarantees (dealer, contractor, or manufacturer); and whether a license or bond is required. The owner may also want to consider having his or her attorney look over the contract prior to all parties signing.

Some contractors may require a partial payment before work commences. All payments should be by check to the company; payments should not be in cash. Be wary of excessive prepayments, which may forewarn a property owner of a contractor's financial instability. It is reasonable to prepay for some administration fees and materials. Typical prepayments are in the range of five to fifteen percent. If a larger prepayment is requested, the contractor should provide a written explanation for the request.