Tips to keep in mind before starting a major home remodeling project:

* When looking for a contractor, ask neighbors, friends and co-workers for the names of companies that have done good work for them.

* You can check the contractor lists posted on some consumer protection and professional association sites, such as the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org, www.dc.bbb.org) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (www.nari.org, www.narimetrodc.org).

* Get competitive bids for comparable work: same-size projects, same schedule, same materials, same labor.

* Ask contractors for references on recent work.

* Visit references; ask homeowners about the work.

* Check contractor license numbers with city or state licensing agencies, generally listed in the government pages of the telephone book.

* Ask contractor for insurance policy number and verify with carrier; check to see if insurance covers workers' compensation, personal liability and property damage.

* Check with the Better Business Bureau and local consumer agencies to see if there are complaints against the contractor.

* Check the contractor's professional affiliations. Is the firm a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or the Better Business Bureau or the National Association of Home Builders?

* Check the contractor's certification. Has it passed industry sponsored courses, such as those for a Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler or Certified Graduate Remodelor?

* Write a detailed contract. It should specify starting date, completion date, specific materials, starting and ending times of the workday, payment schedule, penalties if there's an avoidable delay, cleanup and disposal of trash, protection of the homeowner against lien, right to cancel within three business days of signing the contract. It should break down total cost in materials and labor.