Jobsite Etiquette Tips for Subcontractors

Here are some great tips that will keep you and your subcontractors in your customer’s good graces.

Josh Risberg, Editor for Construction Pro Tips | Construction Pro Tips
CONSTRUCTION PRO TIPS

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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.

Here are more examples of my subcontractor code of conduct:

Man taking a break on the premises | Construction Pro Tips
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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.

Tools laying on a surface that is finished | Construction Pro Tips
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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?

Working next to a large radio | Construction Pro Tips
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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 also encouraged the use of headphones.

A portable bathroom on a jobsite | Construction Pro Tips
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Bathrooms are off limits

I always had a portable toilet onsite for the subs to use. Nothing is more personal than a bathroom. Some people are horrified by the idea of a stranger nosing around their most personal space. Also, no one wants to be subjected to the mess, smells and noises created by a bathroom break. 

A clock on a red wall | Construction Pro Tips
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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.

Someone typing in an alarm code | Construction Pro Tips
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Leave it the way you 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.

Improperly dressed construction worker | Construction Pro Tips
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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.