When should I hire a general contractor (instead of a handy man)?

When the scope of a project goes beyond a single home improvement pro, it's time to hire a general contractor.

You can probably think of at least a dozen projects that you've done or would like to do around your home. New carpet, a deck, window replacement-all of these things improve the comfort, value, and overall livability of your home. And for the most part, projects like these can be done by yourself or by a single home improvement professional.

But...what if the project is much more involved? What if you want to remodel your kitchen, add a room, or finish your basement? Projects of this scope probably don't cross your do-it-yourself dare level, and they definitely involve more than one professional.

If you haven't guessed, this is where a general contractor comes in. For projects that take more time and involve more people, a residential general contractor can coordinate the schedule, make sure all the proper permits are pulled, and get you the best prices on all the work. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to better decide if hiring a general contractor is needed.

How long will the project take?

Many home improvement projects can take only a day to a few days to complete. But when the project is going to take at least a week or two to complete, hiring a general contractor is the best idea. Coordinating everyone's schedules can be a headache, and a general contractor knows the length of time each subcontractor will need for their individual job on the project. That way, no one is getting in each other's way, and the project can run much more smoothly and efficiently.

How many people will be involved?

Let's use replacing a window as an example. It's a pretty big project, and it can cost a pretty penny as well. But really, all you need-if you're not taking it on yourself-is a window-replacement professional to do the job.

Now, think about completely remodeling your kitchen. You'll need a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician, a countertop expert, a cabinetmaker-you get the picture. Again, this is where a general contractor's expertise is put to best use. Not only will a general contractor perform much of the work if needed, but he or she will keep the team of pros in check.

A general contractor can make sure that all the pros involved are properly licensed and bonded, get the best qualified pros for the best rates, and even create a master schedule with contingency plans. In essence, you can think of general contractors as staff managers who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get dirty themselves.

What are your code requirements?

By now, you know that many home improvement projects require a permit from the city and/or county to meet code requirements. If the work was done without these permits, you could be facing hefty fines.

But did you know that many projects require the work to be done by a properly licensed professional to even be allowed a permit? This is probably the top skill on a general contractor's resume. Yes, they're handy with a hammer, but knowing the most current code requirements and permits for all types of home improvement projects is really where they specialize.

When you're ready to talk to a general contractor about your next home improvement project, search Kudzu.com.

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