Hoping to save money on building materials by buying online or at the big box? Lowest-cost thinking can get you in trouble if the quantity, quality, or installation is flawed, says Craig Coleman, co-owner of Hamilton Building Supply, in Hamilton Township, N.J. To save money and work more efficiently, he advises leveraging your relationship with your local materials dealer.

Ryan Snook
  • Know what you’re getting. Ask your dealer to be vigilant about look-alike products (many of them Chinese imports) that won’t hold up over time. Realize that lower prices at some big box stores reflect quality and power variations within the same product line. Your dealer should be able to educate you about why products are priced differently.
  • Don’t take risks with weak brands. These are trying times for manufacturers, and if you specify a window or roofing material that is not from a strong company, you might not be able to count on the warranty three or four years from now.
  • Read the instructions. Many of today’s materials are completely different from what you learned on. Most products fail not because of product flaws but because of the installation, Coleman says. Ask your dealer to warn you of installation issues or to make recommendations.
  • Be more businesslike. In this economy, remodelers need a higher level of formality than the norm, Coleman says. Have strong written contracts that will protect you against contingencies.
  • Order in advance and carefully. With several weeks’ notice, your dealer may be able to pool your order with others and get you a better price. Also, ask your rep to review your orders with you, no matter how simple, and be sure you’re in agreement. Be similarly precise with clients. It may slow the process down a bit, but it pays in the end, Coleman says.
    Be especially careful with special orders. Cancellation fees are often high.
  • Ask for more, such as the specific products you want and free delivery. “Remodelers need to value their time, and having the supplier deliver the material is one way to do this,” Coleman says. Ask if your dealer has on-site workshops and demonstrations, as Hamilton Building Supply does, and take advantage of them.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.

Click here  to read a Q&A with Coleman.