Should homeowner pay for contractor’s construction tools?
Question: My contractor submits bills for labor andmaterials, and I reimburse him. However, I’m noticing items such as $50 “diamond blade” and other tools on the bills. What is the usual practice? Does the contractor or the homeowner pay for a special tool or blade that he chooses to buy to use for the project?
Answer: Let me start by saying that you, as a homeowner, should pay for construction tools and equipment that are completely consumed on your job. However, there is a massive gray area, and I hope that the written contract you have with your contractor spells out what’s to happen in certain situations. Believe me, it’s easy for you to get taken advantage of in a laborand-materials or cost-plus deal like you describe.
If I were working for you, this is how I would have negotiated the contract. First, I would have a small multiplier, similar to a sales tax, that gets added to every bill I submit to you.
This small percentage — say, 1 percent — covers wear and tear on the tools I already own and will use on your job. This would even include wear and tear on my truck that I drive to your job. All of these things eventually wear out, and the cost needs to be spread out proportionately over all the jobs where they are used.
This financial arrangement takes care of pre-owned tools pretty nicely. The multiplier that’s used can seem like fuzzy math, because some tools have a much longer life-span than others. A truck might last 10 years or more, whereas a circular saw that’s used each day for hours may fail after three years. You’ll have to trust that the contractor is not charging you an excessive amount for the use of his tools.
When it comes to new construction tools that have to be purchased for your job, I would have written into my contract with you that either you get the tool at the end of the job — after all, you paid for it — or I can buy it from you at a slightly discounted price (after deducting for the wear and tear on it during your job).
If neither party wants the tool, it can be donated to a local charity that uses tools, or it can be sold in the open marketplace. It’s easy to sell tools using free online classified-ad websites.
You can sometimes skirt this issue entirely by renting the needed tool. Why buy a tool if it’s needed only one day? The problem is that tool-rental costs can soar if a tool is needed for a long time. In that case, it makes sense to buy the tool, but the ownership of the tool needs to be spelled out before it’s purchased.
In your case, the $50 diamond blade gets a little tricky. The contractor might not have owned one and, in fact, needed it for your job.
However, the entire blade might not be used up after he’s finished with it. It could have lots of cutting time left on it. In this case, I would have offered to buy it fromyou at a discounted price. If not, I’d leave the blade at your home for you to decide what to do with it.
Replacement parts for construction tools are another fuzzy area. Let’s say that while the contractor is at your house, the motor on his electric concrete mixer fails. The part might cost hundreds of dollars.
There is no way that you should have to pay for the cost of the new motor — because it has been wearing out for years when it was used on other jobs. It’s reasonable for you to pay a small part of the part cost, as the mixer, once up and running again, will be used for your benefit. (I say this while assuming that the motor will last for several years after it leaves your job site.)
I have some advice for you. In the future, try to minimize the number of situations where you use a costplus system of paying for a job. They are fraught with uncertainty and can cause all sorts of anxiety about what the final bill will be. Whenever possible, always work with a fixed-sum contract where the contractor agrees to one price no matter what happens.
There are certain jobs where there are unknowns.
For example, a contractor digging a foundationmight have a rock clause in case he hits bedrock and has to blast or to use special equipment that digs more slowly. In roofing work, there might be a clause to pay for rotted wood under shingles, because the problemcan’t be seen until the roof is stripped off.
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Blades, sandpaper, chalk, masking tape, etc. are tools that can get totally consumed on a job and should be paid for by the homeowner.