DISCLAIMER: Always follow your local building and licensing codes.
When it comes to hiring a home repair or renovation professional, should you always hire a licensed residential contractor?
It’s easy to say yes, but not so fast. There are some home projects that should clearly be handled by licensed specialist contractors (read below), but there are a whole class of other issues that fall into the “not big enough for a contractor, too big for me to do” category.
For instance, what if you are moving furniture around your house and bash a hole in your drywall? If you aren’t ready to fix it yourself (btw if you are, here’s how), what do you think the chances are that a full-on residential or drywall contractor is going to come fix it? Nil. A repair like that isn’t worth his time (Disclaimer 2: I’m going to refer to handymen and contractors as “he” or “him” in this article).
There are others. However, there are times when you should ONLY call a licensed contractor, and you need to know the difference. Here you go:
Handymen should do cosmetic repairs
This is surface stuff. Basically anything that does not compromise the structural or operating integrity of your home. Here are some examples:
- Finish carpentry (baseboards, trim around your doors, etc)
- INTERIOR doors
- Painting, interior and exterior. There is some stuff to watch out for, though.
- Installation of plumbing FIXTURES (sinks, commodes, etc), excluding anything to do with your shower.
- Installation of electrical FIXTURES (ceiling fans, porch light, etc), excluding wall receptacles.
- Drywall repair
- Assembly of outdoor equipment, like small storage sheds or play equipment
- Landscape project (fountains, raised beds, small paver projects)
- Decking repair (the backyard grilling kind, not roof decking)
- Minor exterior siding repair
*One other note about handymen and licenses. They may not be licensed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was a handyman for years, but my county didn’t have a special license or permit under a handyman category. I couldn’t have been licensed if I wanted to. This will vary depending on where you live. Check with your local building department.
That said, every handyman should be insured for liability. I had a $1 million liability policy when I was in business. This will protect you if things go bad.
Licensed contractors should do the big stuff
Here is a general rule for when to call a specialized contractor: If the work involves one of your home’s main systems – roof, framing, electrical, plumbing and water filtration, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), call someone licensed and insured to do that work, period.
“But Kev, you said a handyman can do plumbing and electrical fixtures.”
Yes, that is a small caveat, for fixtures only. The main reason for this is that fixtures are relatively easy to install and they are outside your wall, so you can see immediately if there is a problem. Rule of thumb: If the work goes inside your wall, call a licensed contractor.
Here is the licensed contractor-only stuff:
- Roof (even the smallest repair)
- Major electrical (in your wall or electric box)
- Plumbing (in your wall or anything shower-related)
- Structural framing (roof trusses, exterior and load-bearing walls)
- Siding installation
- Anything to do with concrete, except small paver projects
- EXTERIOR doors. Anything that can leak and let weather into your house should be done by a contractor.
- Site-built sheds and storage building
It’s easy to say that you should only call residential contractors for home projects, but that isn’t always tenable. An insured handyman with a solid reputation can really come in, well, handy.
I hope this helps. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or message me at my HomeDabbler Facebook page.
P.S. – Make sure to read my post with tips for vetting contractors.