Do you let contractors use your bathroom?
Use Angie's List to research a company and its reputation before hiring a contractor. (Photo courtesy of Susan Mahler)
Before Beverly Summers had a salesman come over to give her an estimate on granite countertops, she never thought twice about letting a contractor use her bathroom.
But she found it odd when a Sears Home Improvement Products representative asked to use the facilities twice in an hour. She says she later discovered the OxyContin prescribed for her recent back surgery was missing from a vanity drawer.
"I canceled the contract," says the Stanwood, Wash., member. "I didn't want to purchase anything from someone who was unethical." Kimberly Freely, a spokeswoman for Sears, says their investigation of the incident was inconclusive and the representative is in good standing.
Summers says she's now more wary about having contractors use her restroom, though she'd never make it off-limits.
"I just am not the type of person who could deny someone the use of the bathroom," she says. Now she checks the drawers and removes personal items beforehand.
The question of whether to allow a contractor use of your bathroom is one that evokes strident opinions on all sides of the debate, though more than half of Angie's List members who responded to an online poll say they're comfortable with the practice and 36 percent say they're comfortable with it in some situations.
'Everyone has to go'
Susan Jerman of Denver says when she had about eight workers redoing her siding and a patio, a portable toilet just showed up with the dumpster. However, before later jobs that included kitchen and bath remodels, replacement windows and hardwood floor installation, she offered the use of her downstairs powder room to avoid any awkwardness.
"I've always offered it upfront," she says, adding that she's careful to hire contractors she's comfortable having in her house. "Everyone has to go to the bathroom."
Peggy Post of the Emily Post Institute, an organization dedicated to questions of etiquette, says it's best to form a plan in advance.
"There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as long as you are respectful," says Post, who is related by marriage to a descendent of American etiquette icon Emily Post. "I would recommend trying to accommodate the person who's working in your home."
She says it's perfectly acceptable to offer a powder room, provide paper towels or make other special accommodations.
"Prior to contractors coming to the house, I clean the bathroom that they're going to be using," says member Jennifer Hendrix, who's had contractors in and out of her new house in Fountain, Colo. "I make sure there's nothing of value in there, that there's no medication. I even remove the toothbrushes for my own peace of mind."
Fifty percent of members who responded to an Angie's List poll extend the courtesy of using all bathrooms and 27 percent offer up the guest bathroom. Many members said that if you're uncomfortable with workers using your bathroom, you've hired the wrong contractor. Further, many commented that you should treat them as any other guest.
Views vary across the board
Tricia Tahara-Stoller says she always offers workers the use of her bathroom and the freedom to grab cold drinks from the fridge in her Glendale, Calif., home.
55% of members say they're completely comfortable with contractors using their bathroom.
36% say they're only comfortable with it in some situations.
9% say they're not comfortable with it at all.
"Something as simple as allowing or not allowing a contractor to use your bathroom can send a very strong message about how you perceive them," Tahara-Stoller says. "When people feel respected as human beings, you get a much better result than when they feel treated as untrustworthy."
Some members who responded to our poll were surprised anyone would be uncomfortable having a contractor use their restroom.
"Really? This seems like a no-brainer. I wouldn't hesitate to let someone use my restroom," remarks one respondent. Others say extending the invitation is insurance against having your bushes "watered." Some just wish their guests would be a little more considerate with how they leave the facilities.
"I had a carpet cleaner ask to use the bathroom, then left a disgusting mess in the toilet and didn't bother to tell us about it," another respondent wrote.
When member Michelle Lay discovered a drywall contractor had left the seat up in the bathroom of her Glendale, Wis., home, it was the last straw for an otherwise unsatisfactory experience. "It just shocked me," she says. "My son doesn't even do that when he comes to visit."
Overwhelmingly, members acknowledged there's not much you can do when nature calls, even when they're not wild about having contractors in their most private domain. A mere 9 percent of those who responded to our online poll say they are not comfortable with a contractor using their facilities at all and 7 percent say they never allow it. No one with those views responded to interview requests.
Dan Cox of AHS Plumbing & Sewer Repair in Wheeling, Ill., says denying someone use of the bathroom sends the message you think they're inferior. "If you trust them to work in your home, you should trust them in your bathroom," Cox says.
If someone denied him the opportunity to relieve himself? "I'd get my tools and leave," he says. "I would say, 'I'm sorry but I don't think this is going to work out, consider our contract canceled.'"
But 25 percent of contractors who responded to an online poll of service companies rated on Angie's List say they don't believe customers are obligated to offer the use of their potties.
David Webber, who owns David's Home Cleaning in Raleigh, N.C., says he would never think of using a client's bathroom except in a dire emergency, even though he can sometimes be on a job for eight hours.
"It's like a personal, private space," Webber says.
On long jobs, he'll take a break to use a restroom off-site.
Kristopher Toth, owner of Toth Painting Solutions in Parma, Ohio, says he doesn't expect to use his clients' bathrooms.
"I think it's a courtesy; I don't think we can just assume we can use their bathroom," Toth says.
He and his six full-time employees usually go to a nearby fast food restaurant to relieve themselves, but if a client who lives in a secluded area offers the use of the facilities, they'll accept to save time on the job.
"But we'll definitely make sure that at the end of the day it's tidy," he says. "We don't want to add more stress for them."
Some contractors report taking off shoes when entering a client's home to use the bathroom or bringing paper towels to use in place of hand towels. About 53 percent of service providers who responded to the poll say the situation or type of job — for example, interior or exterior or small versus large — should determine whether customers are expected to provide access to their bathrooms.
Remodeler Russell Parks says sometimes it's just not feasible to use a client's facilities, such as on some exterior projects or on especially dirty jobs. Last year, the owner of A-Carpenter in Seattle began renting a portable toilet for jobs that take more than a week.
"It's not that much money and it's a little more professional," Parks says, adding that a portable toilet only sets him back about $150 a month.
Etiquette expert Post says no matter how you resolve the situation of where your contractor does his or her business, a little common sense, decency and kindness will go a long way.
"You want to handle the situation as respectfully and considerately as possible," she says. "People have human needs — this is life.