Construction groups warn homeowners to get quotes, ask questions as building boom continues

Two P.E.I. associations in the home construction and renovation industry say they are receiving weekly calls from home owners who are dissatisfied with the contractors or builders they've hired.

Industry associations say there is more risk to hiring unskilled people than homeowners may realize

Both the Canadian Home Builders Association and Construction Association of P.E.I. say they are getting weekly calls from Islanders looking for solutions after being left in the lurch by their contractor. (Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock)

Two P.E.I. associations in the home construction and renovation industry say they are receiving weekly calls from home owners who are dissatisfied with the contractors or builders they've hired.

Construction demand throughout the pandemic has been high and shows no signs of slowing down. The industry is also struggling to meet labour demands, opening a gap in the market. 

"Cheaper is not always better and, you know, as an owner, you have to be a little bit accountable for who you hire because it's you that's actually doing the hiring," said Sam Sanderson, general manager of the Construction Association of P.E.I.

"It's more important today, more so than ever before, because of the business and the demand of the industry … there certainly are people out there that are taking advantage of current situations."

Sanderson said he's getting more calls from people seeking help after being left with poor or incomplete work than he was four or five years ago.

"You look on social media … everybody's looking for that carpenter or deck-builder or whatever. You know, everybody's trying to get that work done … we want to make sure it's done safely and we want to make sure you're getting quality work."

'An expensive lesson'

Sanderson said he recently spoke with a woman who was trying to build a new home and was having trouble finding labour. After advertising on social media, she found someone.

After sitting down to discuss details at her kitchen table, they told her they had actually never built a home.

As an industry, we're kind of pushing a little bit and looking at the possibility of contractor licensing.— Sam Sanderson, Construction Association of P.E.I.

Sanderson said another person who reached out to him explained they hired someone to re-shingle their roof. That individual instructed the owner to buy the materials themselves and have them delivered to the site, where the new roof was installed.

"A short period of time later, he was having substantial leaks and tried to contact the contractor to get some warranty work done and to stop the leaks in his house and was unable to get a call back or have anybody come by," Sanderson said.

"At the end of the day, he ended up with no warranty on his workmanship and no warranty on the shingles either, because, you know, the supplier certainly wouldn't warrant them because they were not put on by a certified installer."

The man ended up hiring a second contractor to strip and reinstall the roof according to Sanderson.

"Definitely an expensive lesson," he said.

Get quotes, do inspections

Alicia Packwood is the executive officer with the P.E.I. branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association, whose membership is open to anyone involved in the industry, but requires them to have a home warranty program.

Construction worker
P.E.I. has both compulsory and designated trades. The construction association is considering proposing another level of licensing. (Kuzmafoto/Shutterstock)

Like Sanderson, she also receives weekly calls from unhappy homeowners.

She said if the contractor does not have a warranty program or certifications, homeowners are left with little recourse.

"You could potentially enter small claims court, but most homeowners don't want to get into that. They just want the work to be finished," she said.

"That's why it's important to take the necessary steps before you get the work done to ensure that you're not going to end up in a scenario like that."

Packwood suggests anyone who hires people to work on their home to make sure there is a contract in place.

"If the business isn't able to do the contract for them, then the individual can write a contract, and as long as it's signed, at least you have something where everyone is agreeing to the terms," she said.

"What we're seeing a lot is that it's a lot of verbal agreements and then there may be miscommunication, but there's nothing to kind of back that."

Sanderson suggests homeowners get at least three quotes, ask for references and do drive-bys to visually inspect some of the builder's past work before hiring them.

He said there are also other questions you can ask your contractor.

"Does that potential contractor have experience under the National Building Code, which is province-wide now? Does that contractor or person have liability insurance? And do they have [workers compensation] coverage?," he said.

"If somebody gets hurt on your site with a contractor that's working for cash under the table and they're not carrying any liability or [workers compensation] insurance, you as a homeowner are 100 per cent accountable and liable because it's on your property."

Licensing, certification

P.E.I.'s only compulsory trades — where you are required to be a registered apprentice or have a certificate of qualification to legally work — are automotive service technician, construction electrician, plumber and steamfitter or pipefitter.

P.E.I. also recognizes a number of what are called designated Red Seal trades such as; roofer, carpenter, welder, bricklayer, drywall finisher or painter where a combination of coursework and 1000's of qualifying hours are required.

The associations recommend getting multiple quotes, asking for references, doing drive by visual inspections of past work and having a contract before hiring anyone to do work in your home. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Sanderson also said not all skilled builders have obtained an official certification.

"There's a lot of tremendously skilled and qualified people out there that maybe just don't have that designation but are very, very qualified to be doing a lot of the work," he said. 

"As an industry, we're kind of pushing a little bit and looking at the possibility of contractor licensing."

Sanderson said a licensing process or database that lists legitimate companies would be the first of its kind in the country, but may be something to pilot on the Island due to the small size and recent adoption of the National Building Code.

"It puts in place some credibility to any company, no matter how big or small, to show that they are registered with the province, they do carry liability insurance, they have a business number and they have coverage for their staff," he said.

"There may be some appetite down the road to look at something like this, you know, and help industry and help, you know, owners as well."

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Nicola currently produces Island Morning on CBC Radio. She is a graduate of St. Thomas University's journalism program and grew up on P.E.I., where she is happy to now be a multi-platform reporter and producer. Got a story? Email

With files from Wayne Thibodeau