Establishing the Ground Rules

Jim Snyder
May 1, 2013
COLUMN : From the Field | Methods & Techniques

The grey tabby was perched in the rough opening as I returned to the room carrying the new window. Unaware of a house cat I asked it, “Do you live here?” His only reply was a blank stare. He had no collar ID, and I couldn’t reach the homeowner to ask if the cat was a resident or just a visitor. This dilemma quickly turned into a vision of a panicked homeowner quizzing me, “Have you seen my prized indoor-only cat?” A little bit panicked myself, I pleaded with Morris, “In or out?”, trusting him to make the correct decision. Either decision could have been very wrong.

The homeowner should be prepared for unforeseen circtumstances such as a missing header.  Such issues add to both the the time and cost of a replacement job.   

Trivial or not, this is a true story of a predicament I faced during an installation because I hadn’t discussed ground rules with the homeowner. Since an installer is in an unfamiliar place, and a client is experiencing an unfamiliar process, there are unknowns for both. Sharing information before the start date is invaluable.

Do you remember your first day on a new job? While eager to start, you’re full of questions about your new surroundings: "Where do I set up? What areas are off limits? Where’s the bathroom?" This is true for installers as well; they are in a new workplace almost every day.

The homeowner has a different perspective, but is also full of questions. After all, strangers will be entering their personal space carrying tools and material across finished floors to almost every room of their home. “Will they track mud in? Where will they start?” Without some reassurance, this can cause some anxiety.

In both cases, a preliminary conversation can reduce uncertainty and help the job go smoothly.

Explain the process
If you’re about to go through an unfamiliar medical procedure, isn’t it more comforting to know what to expect? The same is true with home improvement. This conversation involves more than just how long the job will take; it should clarify the disruption of the home. And remember, what’s obvious to us in the industry, is not obvious to homeowners.

For example, in years' past, homeowners would often ask me, “Will you leave any windows removed at the end of the work day?” They were worried they’d be exposed to the weather during the night. Now, before they even have a chance to ask, I explain, “Your home will be secured each evening. You will not be exposed.” I’ll then add, “Our normal process is to do one room at a time, keeping that room’s door closed to minimize draft. The interior trim will/will not be disturbed. We’ll remove and reinstall window treatments and move furniture as needed. We use floor mats and drop cloths, and clean as we go. Once we are finished, code enforcement will make a final inspection. Are you comfortable with all of that?”

Prepare the homeowner for the unforeseen.
It can be awkward when an installer uncovers an unexpected issue, such as rotted framing, and has to report it to the homeowner.

Since you’ve specified what’s included in the job, also explain that the “normal process” could expose non-included issues. Give a couple of realistic examples so the homeowner can relate and be prepared. For example, perhaps the security wiring will need modifying to fit the new unit. Be clear that these unforeseen issues could result in extra expense.

Coordinate the logistics with the homeowner.


Though not directly related to the installation, coordinating the logistics is as important as the installation itself when it comes to maintaining the homeowner’s satisfaction.

  • Homeowner’s responsibilities: Just as a pilot needs clearance to land, installers need clearance to work. Do bushes need to be trimmed? Will homeowners’ cars need to be parked somewhere else? Will the homeowners remove fragile home d├ęcor?
  • House rules: Do we need to remove our shoes? What bathroom can we use? Is there anywhere I can’t go? If there are pets, will they be an issue? How is the house locked up?
  • Work Areas: Where can the delivery of windows be staged? Where can the dumpster be placed? Where can we set up?

Finally, ask about any "special concerns.” Being proactive with this conversation will demonstrate preparedness and benefit everyone.



Jim Snyder is an AAMA-certified FenestrationMaster and InstallationMaster who shares his years of installation field experience as an industry writer, speaker, trainer and project/product consultant for dealers and manufacturers. A member of various industry organizations, Snyder also is involved in instructional document creation and revision. Contact him at