To the homeowner, it seems harmless to ask the tile setter to re-caulk the tub. Fine, thinks the tile setter. I'll just bill it to the remodeler.

You know the rest. The tile setter bills you for $150 in extra work. You present it to the homeowner, who figured that such a tiny job would be gratis. The situation is awkward and sometimes contentious, and it can be avoided.

At Mark IV Builders, we follow a series of steps that keep our jobsites completely under our control. No work is done without our approval; no extra bills undermine relationships. The key ingredient is communication. Examples:

At our pre-construction meeting, we stress to clients that if they want to do anything outside the scope of work, they should arrange it through their superintendent (lead carpenter). It's not that we don't want to help them, we explain, but that we want to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. We also spell out this policy in our subcontractor agreement, as well as orally with subs.

In weekly client meetings, we come prepared with a written agenda that notes (among other things) requests for extra work and any effect on pricing or scheduling.

We use forms for everything, including change orders (which the client and super must sign), schedules (noting payments due, client decisions to make, etc.), a paint selection chart, and a job log that provides a daily record of events and promotes accountability. —Andy Hannan is the production manager of Mark IV Builders, Bethesda, Md.