Finding the Right Contractor for your Cannabis Cultivation Facility

So, you’ve been working for months to get all your documentation together to get licensed, picked out a space for your facility, found investors, decided on your lighting, climate control, pest control and automation systems and you’re finally ready to start building. Well, hold on because the last-- and possibly one of the most important-- decision has yet to be made. Who will be your contractor?

December 15, 2016

So, you’ve been working for months to get all your documentation together to get licensed, picked out a space for your facility, found investors, decided on your lighting, climate control, pest control and automation systems and you’re finally ready to start building. Well, hold on because the last– and possibly one of the most important– decision has yet to be made. Who will be your contractor?

Choosing a contractor is a critical step in the process of getting your grow up and running. These are the people who bring all the pieces together and is one of the final purchases you make, making this a very important decision. Choosing the wrong company could lead to a disaster, wasting money and time.

Here at Surna, we not only engineer and manufacture our climate control solutions but we also offer engineering, project management and installation management to our customers, which means we’ve seen our fair share of contractor issues and successes. The issues usually stem from choosing the wrong contractor so we’ve decided to put together some best practices when considering the company to do your installation. We hope that these tips can help everyone find the right contractor for their job.

Study Up

Before you even go looking for options, make sure you do your homework. First, understand your project and the unique aspects of it so you know what to look for in a potential contractor. For example, if you’re going with a climate control system like Surna’s hydronic cooling system, then be sure that you know what skills contractors need to have to pull off this project successfully (hint: plumbing and electrical in additional to mechanical is key).

Second, look into what the requirements in your area are for contractors. Some areas of the country require that contractors be licensed, proving they’ve passed exams and technical training. Make sure you know what your state/city/county/etc. requires so you know what to look for when vetting options.

Go Searching

There are lots of ways to find available contractors but the best way is through word of mouth. This way you can get reviews before you’ve spent any time talking with the potential company. We recommend relying on your network to help you. Cannabis in particular is a tight network of people and so asking around for referrals can often be the quickest and most efficient way of finding a few good options. We also recommend relying on professionals to give insight. People like engineers, architects and supply companies will have a good amount of experience working with different contractors and should be able to point you in the direction of a few reliable choices, based on your needs.

Vet your Options

First, we recommend looking at 4-5 potential contractors and getting bids from at least 3, which we will go into more detail about later. Next, the best way to get a feel for a contractor is to meet them face to face. This should happen through a site visit of some kind. Be wary of contractors who want/offer to bid a project without doing a site visit beforehand.

Once you meet this potential supplier, you should figure out exactly what level of experience they have. Here are some key questions to ask when vetting potential companies:

  • If contractors are required to be licensed in your area, does this contractor have an up to date license you can review?
  • How much experience does this contractor have? Have they done projects in the past that are similar to yours and, if so, how did they go? Or is this person going to be learning on your dime?  You should also see if they are familiar with the jargon associated with your project.
  • Is this contractor familiar with the unique environment that cannabis needs? It is important to always choose suppliers familiar with cannabis in order to have your build out go as smoothly as possible.
  • Is this contractor familiar with the specifications of the manufacturer you’ve chosen for your equipment? As you can imagine, being familiar with the equipment means there will be fewer errors during installation.
  • Have, or can, they do all aspects of the system (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc.)? If they can, then they are less likely to make silly mistakes on some of the more important aspects of the project. If they cannot, what is their plan for tackling those parts of the project?
  • How long has the company been around? Is it a full blown operation or just a mom and pop organization? This question can help you flesh out their experience a bit more. But keep in mind that size isn’t going to be a huge qualifier. A mom and pop organization with the right level of experience can still be the best choice if everything else check out.

After you’ve talked with the potential supplier face to face, do some more research on them. You can start by asking if the company you’re considering has any portfolios or if they’d be willing to show you some of their previous work or give you references you can check up on. As well, Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a great resource as it provides feedback from previous customers and can give you insight into the legitimacy and effectiveness of whoever you’re considering. Many contracting companies will also have online reviews available so be sure to check those out if available.

Get Bids, as in a Few

First, we recommend getting bids from at least 3 different providers to allow you to see how each contractor would approach, and cost, the project. At this stage, be sure you’re providing the most up to date information to contractors in order to save time and money later on making adjustments. As well, be sure you’re very clear with the contractor about what they will and will not be providing so that they can estimate the right things. In the case of Surna, for example, contractors provide some of the components of installation, like PVC and fittings, but not the equipment itself.

Next, make sure potential contractors give you an itemized estimate so that you can compare to others more easily. This will also allow you to see where the differences in approach are which can help you understand how the contractor would go about the project. Finally, discuss a realistic timeline with the potential choices. It’s true that construction can be unpredictable at times so you must be a little flexible but you also should not get run over. Any foreseeable interruptions should be discussed.

Make a Decision

When you’ve gotten all the bids and are ready to make a choice, consider everything you’ve learned up to that point. Don’t be tempted to grab the cheapest option first. Sometimes, the cheapest option is cheap because the person doing the work is awesome and sometimes it’s cheap because it’s unrealistic and you’ll eventually get hit with change orders that will blow up your budget. So take into account experience level, past projects, whether or not the company has done something similar to your project before, reviews, recommendations, timelines, costs and, finally, your gut.

It’s our hope that these tips can help you find the perfect contractor to get your indoor garden up and running as quickly, effectively and cheaply as possible! 

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