Handy­man, spe­cial­ist or con­trac­tor? Choose well

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Mike Holmes

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.

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