At some point most of us will have to do business with a contractor of some type. A business relationship with a contractor can be very personal. At times a contractor will be almost living with you for a few days, maybe a few weeks, maybe more. These days people who go out on just a lunch date (that may or may not last more than an hour) will sometimes get complete background checks and spend hours, maybe days researching their potential lunch date! So what type of criteria are you using to choose your pond contractor who will be “living” with you for a few days or more, with access to your yard, exposure to your spouse, kids and pets; and installing a semi-permanent, major feature of your home’s landscape?
If you are a first timer considering a professional water feature installation you may not know what questions to ask. Even those people who spend days investigating their lunch date still find themselves at a loss for things to talk about when that first date actually takes place! So how would a first timer, second timer, or even a third time water feature customer know what to ask a pond and water feature contractor?
Here are some things that should be asked and considered by ALL customers when hiring a pond and water feature contractor to work with:
Start with the basics, is the contractor licensed and insured; or, is the contractor legal?
Most states require contractors of every type to be licensed, and this includes pond and water feature contractors. To become licensed the contractor needs to fulfill certain insurance obligations as well. Hopefully it would never be necessary, however; things can happen on a pond construction site even if it is a small hand dug project. If your project requires machinery it will be a comfort to know that your pond contractor is properly insured and licensed.
Now you know your pond pro is legal, are they specialists in water features?
When talking to pond and water feature contractors be sure to determine if water features are what they do, or if it is just one of a long list of things they do. Many landscape contractors are willing to try any type of landscape project, but a pond or water feature customer should only be dealing with a pond and water feature specialist. Water features are different than any other type of landscape project and should not be handled as “just another” landscape project. Be sure to work with a specialist, they are out there, just Google “pond installer “your state””, and see who shows up locally; “landscape” searches will be too overwhelming to sift through.
You found your pond and water feature specialist, what’s their experience?
Everybody pond and water feature contractor needs to start somewhere, but do you want them to be starting out in your yard? When choosing a pond and water feature professional installer, don’t be afraid to ask how many projects they have successfully installed. The seasoned and experienced pond professional will likely deliver the best results for your money. Nothing can beat experience when it comes to designing and installing amazing water features of any type, running a professional job site, and using heavy machinery at times. If possible look for a water feature installer with at least 20 projects under their belt, they have likely made and learned from all of the typical
mistakes; and have likely dealt with any type of issues that can happen with ponds and water features. Ask about certifications, experienced pond and water feature contractors have the opportunity to achieve certain levels of certification and recognition in their industry that can only come with experience. Go with experience every time!
Cool! You found a licensed, experienced, specialist. How are their designs?
A pond and water feature specialist usually takes great pride in their designs (um…good design, or bad). When creating any type of art, including water features, there is good art and bad art. We all know beauty is really in the eye of the beholder so what do YOU think of their designs? Take time on your own to look through their project portfolio. Pour a cup of coffee and check out their websites project portfolio and decide if their style appeals to you. If they have made it this far in your decision making process, they BETTER have a great portfolio. Do you see something you would want in your yard? Is the portfolio a hundred pictures of the same pond, or are you getting to see many photos of many projects? You will be the one to live with the design so make sure the creativity of the pond and water feature designer is appealing to your personal style and aesthetic. A water feature of any type is a long term installation that could possibly be at your home even longer than you! The design should be amazing enough to appeal to the future homeowners as well.
Designs are great, just what you want! Is the pricing what you want?
If you want a professional pond or water feature installation you have to accept that it will not be an inexpensive project. Just about any professional installation of ANY type is going to start around $3,000.00 and those are water feature projects that may not even require digging, so if you envision shovels or machinery as part of your water feature project you must know it will be greater than the $3K range. If you want a project for cheap, that’s what you’ll get. This is where experience from the contractor comes in handy again. A pond and water feature contractor with 10 years or more in the business has likely figured out where to price their projects that will be a fair and attractive price to their potential customers. Not many water feature contractors are getting rich doing what they do, so their pricing is usually what they need to charge to pay the bills and keep working. Be careful of newer contractors starting out that charge the same as the seasoned pros. New contractors often adopt their pricing structure from the pros who have been doing it a while, and then undercut just enough to get the project; however the new contractor will not bring the same value for your dollars that a seasoned pro will bring. Using the cheapest lowest bid approach for these types of projects would be a big mistake, with your up front savings soon to be lost in poor quality, craftsmanship, or service.
The stars are aligning! Your almost ready to commit and make that date. Now what?
Since things are looking good and your interested, its time to scratch deeper and check to see what type of business your might get involved with. Start with your first impressions. Did they answer the phone when you called? Did they have a great looking truck? Did they have a business logo on their shirt? This is a good time to use “lunch date” techniques! Go to their website, what does it tell you about them; is it fun, nice to look at, and informative or kinda of blah? Check out their social media; are they on Facebook Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest, YouTube? Businesses these days, especially pond and water feature professionals should have some sort of social presence where you can go to learn a lot more about them. Do they seem passionate about what they do? You might find tons of happy customers on their Facebook page and other media sites, or possibly find that this contractor is really not who they seem to be and their pages are filled with complaints or negative reviews. Using social media is a great way to learn about who you might hire to do your project and spend a bit of time “living at your house”.
You’re impressed! Time to make a date!
Your criteria has been met, and hopefully exceeded. You want to make that date and start that customer to contractor relationship. Let your contractor know as soon as you have made up your mind. Since in many areas there are seasonal windows of opportunity to handle pond and water garden projects the demand for a contractor’s time can be high so try to get your project on their calendar as soon as you can. Most projects would require a 2 week lead time or more so keep that in mind. If a contractor is ready to “start tomorrow” you should make sure they are well prepared to DO the project as opposed to setting up at your place and then waiting for materials and equipment to come in little by little which can make a 3 day project into a 10 day project if they are not fully prepared and equipped for the project. Keep in mind that rainy days will also set back project time lines, it your project is 10 days away and you experience 2 days of rain or other weather set backs, just figure your project will be set back 2 days as well.
If you made it through this intensive list of things to consider when hiring a pond and water garden contractor then you are well prepared to start the process. You now have the right questions and considerations for ANY pond pro you are considering. This is much more than just a lunch date! Making the right decision for pond and water feature projects is a huge time and money saver as well. It also helps to ensure you and your family have an enjoyable experience in the creation of a long term landscape feature that is sure to be the main focal point of your landscape. Good luck with your new project and enjoy it for many years to come!
All copy rights to this material is solely owned by Mike Gannon.
Very nice blog Mike. You hit all the important concerns when investing in a water feature.
I have seen more poorly built ponds than good ones. Take the time to do your homework and you will have a beautiful water feature that will give you years of enjoyment.
Thanks for your valuable post. I am looking for a contactor to install a water pond at my residence. I don’t have much idea about how to hire a contractor for this work. You article gave me a clear idea. Now I can follow all your specified guidelines before hiring a contractor for this purpose. Greta work.
Thanks for commenting Mary, and good luck finding a great contractor to build your pond! -Mike
All good and valid points to consider, but what about the most important–sufficient knowledge of limnology, fresh water biology and water chemistry.
Thanks Meyer for the added info, those are also some great qualities to consider when choosing a pond and water feature contractor.