Types of Contractors: Choosing the Right One for Your Project

Builder in a hardhat sawing a board

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Choosing the right contractor for your project can help you avoid over-spending for overhead services you don't need. Depending on the size and complexity of your home remodeling project, knowing the difference between certain types of contractors can save you money.

When to Hire a Handyman vs. Other Contractors

You may want to consider a handyman to complete small fixer-upper tasks, which can add up to a nice renovation of your home's decor. Handymen are great for installing, replacing, or repairing the following:

  • Light fixtures
  • Sinks
  • Thermostats
  • Drywall
  • Standard-size doors or windows

They can also be great for minor jobs related to:

  • Carpentry
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical

You can expect to pay-by-the-hour or per-project for handyman services–and usually at huge savings over other contractors. For instance, hiring a handyman to install a ceiling fan can cost about $100. Hiring a specialized service for the same job costs an average of $244.

As always, buyer beware–do your homework to make sure the handyman has been background checked, has great references and insurance to keep your small project from turning into a large headache.

General Contractor or DIY Project Management?

When renovating your home, manpower and materials are the two obvious costs. But there is also a hidden cost or an upfront fee that will profit whoever oversees operations or owns the contracting service you hired.

Some homeowners do their best to skip the expense and manage the project themselves. Whether this is the right choice for you depends on the renovation and your experience.

When to Hire a General Contractor

Consider hiring a general contractor to keep your life simple during large renovations. If your remodeling project requires a combination of multiple tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters, and electricians, or if your project involves outdoor excavation or removal of walls, stairs, or doors, the project planning and oversight will be easier for someone with the right experience and network.

Remodeling multiple rooms and updating the home's infrastructure all at one time is becoming more common. Unless you’re experienced with project management involving the following, a general contractor is the best choice to complete your project on time and within budget:

  • Hiring subcontractors
  • Housing codes and permit requirements
  • Scheduling on-site inspections
  • Negotiating quotes
  • Drawing up contracts
  • Architectural or engineering designs
  • Ensuring timely material delivery
  • Tight scheduling
  • Labor efficiency

Hire a good general contractor to take the helm for smooth completion of these extensive residential projects. A general contractor takes responsibility for planning and expediting the entire project from demolition to installations and new construction using subcontractors and material suppliers they already have a good working relationship with.

When to Manage the Project Yourself

The DIY approach starts with hiring the subcontractors required for each type of installation or rehab. This can be doable for some homeowners, with projects such as:

  • Interior/exterior repainting
  • Landscaping overhaul
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Updating the plumbing or electrical service
  • Finishing a basement
  • Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom

Many homeowners choose to hire subcontractors (also called trade-specific service providers) to complete each project independent of the next upgrade. These subcontractors may be the same professionals you call when you have a plumbing or electrical system failure, when you purchase new carpet or flooring, or when your air conditioning stops working. Just make sure the service provider is experienced in new installation services and not repairs only. 

The DIY approach to finding and supervising subcontractors can save you money on many home remodeling projects when you do it right.

Design/Build Firms

We'll start with the largest projects. These may require an architectural and engineering firm, which operates as a one-stop design-build service provider.

When you hire this kind of firm, you get access to the gamut of architectural, mechanical engineering, interior design, and construction services. Expect to pay top dollar for this single point of contact for a wide range of design and construction expertise. 

A design/build A&E firm provides:

  • Architects
  • Interior designers
  • Structural engineers (if needed)
  • Trades specialists (demolition experts, HVAC/electrical/plumbing subcontractors, craft tradespeople)

When to Hire an A&E Firm

Consult with a design/build firm for large-scale home remodeling projects such as historic home restoration, major home additions, interior space alterations that require structural modifications, or when remodeling high-end homes to increase their market value. For example, remodeling your home to add livable square footage (such as adding bathrooms and bedrooms) or to comply with the highest sustainability standards is one way to increase a luxury home’s market value.