I've been in the contracting business for years. Some in-home projects run more smoothly than others, due in part to the homeowners. Here are some etiquette tips that I recommend to any homeowner who is bringing contractors into the home.
1. Put away the pets. While a puppy in the work area can be cute for a quick visit, it quickly becomes a problem. Pets can damage work, disrupt progress, and even get hurt if left to their own devices on the job site. I once built a beautiful room addition that featured a see-through, remote-controlled fireplace. Unfortunately, the family dog ate the remote before the homeowners even had a chance to get it out of the bag.
2. Take down the decor. Picture frames, sconces, and other wall hangings can become dangerous when builders like me need to pound nails into a wall. I can't count how many times I've had knickknacks of some sort fall down from a wall that I was working on. Remember to take down all wall hangings to prevent damage to your decor -- and to your contractor.
3. Keep it clean. I've worked in some pretty messy places before, but nothing makes my job tougher than having to work around stinky odors. I once built a room addition for a delightful woman who had a horrible odor problem caused by cat litter boxes. The project ultimately took longer (and thus cost the homeowner more) than it should have because no one could work inside the house for more than five minutes before having to go outside for a few gulps of fresh air. Please remove anything that might distract (or disgust) your contractor.
4. Clearly communicate changes. It can be tough to know what you really want until you see it in action. I have a pile of doors, 2-by-4's, and tons of other leftover materials in my workshop that I can't take back to the store, just because the homeowner didn't like the way they looked once they were installed. Many builders charge a $100 or more change-order fee plus the material costs for deviating from the original blueprint plans. While it's definitely OK to make changes as the job progresses, be sure that you and your contractor have a plan in place for changes so you both know how to handle them if they come up.
5. Be available. Sometimes, it's not always possible to be around while the work is being performed. But if problems should arise, being readily available for questions -- for example, via phone or email -- can help ensure that your home improvement project runs smoothly, even if you're not there in person. Our crew once worked on an outlet store's remodel. The concrete saw accidentally set off the fire alarm. We couldn't get a hold of the store manager to shut off the alarm, so the fire department came to the store. Had we been able to contact the store owner for the alarm code, they could have prevented the stiff fine they received from the fire department for coming out to put out a fire that didn't exist.
6. Provide access. If your contractor can't get tools and materials to and from the job site, it's going to cost more money and time to complete the project. Expensive materials like televisions, computers, and even your car can be in harm's way around busy workers and dangerous tools. I was once remodeling a bedroom that needed to have all the old bi-fold doors repainted. My painter took them to the backyard and sprayed them with paint. The wind was strong that day. When the homeowner drove up to the back of the house in a truck, oblivious to the paint overspray, it only took an instant for the wind-borne paint to cover the truck with white flecks of paint. So make sure your cars, furniture, and any other meaningful objects are out of the way and protected before the job starts.
7. Locate your utilities. The water and power supply are a must-access for most home improvement projects. Designate where water supplies and electrical outlets are located so workers can take advantage of these necessary utilities. During a project at a restaurant, a worker accidentally broke a water pipe. No one had told us where to find the shutoff valve. The water ran for 15 minutes before we were able to locate the shutoff valve ourselves.