Handyman, specialist or contractor? Choose well
WHEN considering a renovation or a home repair, the big question for most homeowners is who should do the job and how much they should pay. Those questions are tied closely together — the more specialized the job, and the experience required, the higher the fee.
Should you hire a general contractor, a specialized tradesperson, or will a handyperson do? There are exceptions to every rule, but here are a few general considerations for deciding on the people who will be working on your home.
The scope of the project is the first thing to consider. If this is a job that will require building permits, you will want to go with a general contractor who knows building codes, and who has experience reading building plans and dealing with licensed subcontractors and municipal building inspectors. Typically, this person has a formal education in the building trades, or has decades of experience.
Obviously, big projects where you are building an addition, building another storey, modifying foundations or moving interior walls, will require a team of specialists. Then a general contractor needs to oversee the whole renovation.
Projects that involve cosmetic improvements or replacing or modernizing what was already there is squarely the domain of the handyperson. Typically, these kinds of jobs can be done by just one person. A handyperson can have a wide range of skills but there is always a limit to what he or she can do. If you have ever heard the expression “jack of all trades, master of none,” this applies to handymen. It’s great to hire someone who has experience in many areas — just keep in mind that not everyone can be good at everything.
The thing that separates a good handyperson from a bad one is knowing to not overstep his or her bounds. A good handyperson knows if they are a good fit for a project and knows when a specialist would be better suited. By specialist, I mean someone who does just one type of installation, such as roofer or a window installer. These days, many types of products such as fibreglass exterior doors require a factory-trained installer, or the product loses its warranty.
A specialist can also mean a licensed tradesperson such as a plumber, electrician or HVAC contractor. Does this mean a handyperson should never touch anything to do with these areas? Not exactly. When is comes to plumbing, a handyperson can replace fixtures such as sinks, taps and toilets; just as long as the job doesn’t go beyond the emergency shut-off valves.
With electrical, once again, changing lighting fixtures is fine, but any work that modifies the wiring in any way needs to be done by a licensed contractor. HVAC is the one area that a handyperson should never touch. The only thing a handyperson can fix in this domain is the humidifier and replacing the filters.
There are many types of renovation projects that fall into the grey area; jobs that appear to be too small for the skills and expense of a general contractor but could be within the limits of a handyperson. Projects like this would include finishing a basement. In this case, homeowners might think the wiring can be easily accomplished with the assistance of a licensed electrician and the insulation, framing, drywall, trim and paint would be in the ballpark of most handypersons with experience.
I feel strongly that there is no way a handyperson should take on this job. It might seem doable, but the project is too complex and requires an experienced professional.
The decision to use a general contractor with grey-area projects comes down to how long you want the renovation to take. The advantage here is general contracting companies typically have more manpower at their disposal and should get the job done that much quicker.
If you use a handyperson, and the job is estimated at 150 to 160 man-hours, the job will take one person a month to complete. Now, the real-world variables would dictate a general contracting company has multiple projects going on at one time and they also overlap projects. In the end, even with the per- ceived extra manpower, the job could also be extended to a month, but spread over a fewer number of actual working days.
If you have found a handyperson that you like and trust, it is a small point that the job should take a month to complete. After all, the advantage of having one person do the job is the renovation becomes far less complicated for the homeowner, and the success of any project depends on the good working relationship between the contractor and homeowner. General contractors come into play when an army of tradespeople are required and the GC becomes the point-person with the homeowner.
Regardless of going with a general contractor or a handyperson, the most important consideration is that the job is done properly and safely. If there is a specific product you want to install, you may need to choose from a list of factory-trained installers. A GC or construction company will have a list of recent references and when it comes to a handyperson, because many do not advertise, they will have been referred to the homeowner from other satisfied clients the homeowner knows.
Think of a handyperson as a generalist for basic home repairs and straightforward renovations. For specialized installations and complicated projects requiring permits, a specialist contractor or general contractor is the way to go, to make it right.
— Canwest News Service
Projects that involve cosmetic improvements or replacing or modernizing what was
already there are squarely the domain of the handyman.