Leo Martineau, LCM Remodeling, Merrimack, N.H., Big 50 1996

Ten years ago, I had a two- or three-page contract. Now a contract for a $100,000 project might be 25 pages. With the advent of computer technology and automated estimates, we can put in all the specifics in microscopic detail, without having to spend money to do it. So the bulk of those 25 pages is detail on the project, from demolition costs to clean-up, and what they're paying for it. It cuts down on a lot of questions from the client and from my lead carpenters. By giving clients all that information, they know exactly what they're getting.

Paul Miller, Paul Miller Building and Design, Hartville, Ohio, Big 50 1996

We've had problems in the past because of unclear contracts. But recently we had a situation where the client had her attorney go over the contract. That made me wise up. So I went to my attorney to have him put together a legal document that standardizes what we're doing. It includes paragraphs on lien releases, change orders, concealed conditions, and the like. We now include the scope of work. And the scope of work is the only thing that changes from contract to contract.

Mark Scott, Mark IV Builders, Cabin John, Md., Big 50 1996

About the only real change is one to my design contract: a clause on copyright laws, which states that designs and drawings are protected by copyright. It keeps my drawings from being shopped.

Sue McDowell, McDowell Exteriors and Remodeling, St. Charles, Ill., Big 50 1999

Last year we inserted some wording in the payment schedule area about the balance due. It has to do with the punch list, and it specifies what percent of dollars could be held back, based on punch list items that remain unfinished. People were holding back $5,000 for something that had a value of maybe $100. So we're putting a value on the punch list items -- let's say it's $2,000 -- and you can withhold up to 150% of the value of the punch list items. In those cases where people were holding back the final payment for a few punch list items, we felt we were being penalized for the reputation of the industry.

Roger Friedell, Friedell Construction Co., St. Louis Park, Minn., Big 50 1997

The most recent change is the clause I inserted concerning identifying molds. What we're running into now fairly commonly are homes that already have mold in place. My concern was for my employees' health and for our company's liability. So I went to my insurance company to get some guidance, and they provided me with some clauses that essentially say I'm not responsible for the identification of the mold. This follows clauses that indicate our ability to cease work if mold is found and to bring in someone to abate the problem. There's also a clause that requires the homeowner to go along with that procedure.

George Christiansen, Pequot Remodeling, Fairfield, Conn., Big 50 1999

The pertinent one has to do with clients who have kids under 6. I ask them to have the kids tested for lead, so if there's an issue afterwards, there's a system we can check against. Also, several years ago, after an unpleasant experience and at the suggestion of an association lawyer, we struck the arbitration clause from our contract.