Photo by Olgar Fallas

Update: Finding the right contractor is not as easy as simply picking the one that quotes you the lowest price. Making sure you find a contractor that shares your vision and understands exactly what you need will help your remodel go more smoothly in the long run. Depending on exactly the kind of work your remodel requires, you may need a contractor with special licenses or permits to be able to carry out the work. If you are in doubt then it’s best to check with your local planning board to ensure you are conforming to building codes.

If you are planning to do some renovations to your home, there are some things about home renovations contractors and about interpreting and comparing their estimates that you should know. This knowledge will help you understand the differences between the estimates provided by the contractors you interview for your project, and it will help you keep your project within budget.

The first thing you need to know about home renovations contractors is that there are several types of contractors. Your state may require that contractors be certified and/or licensed by the state, city or county. You can investigate this by checking with your state licensing board or with the state commerce commission. As you investigate, you will probably also discover that there are many types of contractors and that they are licensed to do certain things. For example, most electrical contractors or licensed electricians are not licensed or certified in many states to run natural gas lines and connect gas water heaters or stoves.

By the same logic, most plumbers are not licensed to wire a house for electricity. Your state licensing board or commerce commission will have information about licensing requirements and about what each type of contractor is licensed to do. General contractors are usually licensed to provide project management, oversight, and contracting for a multi-faceted project. For example, you would hire a general contractor for a home addition. The general contractor knows what the zoning laws and building codes require. The general contractor will manage the entire project, including the hiring and supervision of sub-contractors for plumbing, electrical and other specialized tasks.

If you plan to manage your own project, without the assistance of a general contractor, you will need to learn the zoning laws and building code requirements. You will then need to find and contract with whatever kinds of sub- Contractor Selection Workbookcontractors you need — carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc. You will also need to obtain any locally required building permits and required inspections of completed work.

Home renovation can be a fun and exciting project. Working closely with your contractor(s) throughout the planning, selection and purchasing of materials, design and construction will make the process smoother for everyone. Home renovations contractors are usually very willing to work with you in making decisions about design and materials to help you keep a project within your budget and get a final result that will make you happy. Don’t forget that many design ideas that look spectacular to the untrained eye on paper can turn out to be dysfunctional living spaces for a family when they are built. Your home renovations contractor can help you avoid costly mistakes of this kind.

The second thing you need to know about home renovations contractors is that the decisions you make about scheduling, design, materials, finishing, etc. will be reflected in the cost estimate the contractor provides. You will need to be clear about whether you are trying to restore or simply renovate your home. Restoration might require specialized materials and workmanship. You will also want to look carefully at what is or is not included in the estimate, whether the estimate is a final cost or a cost based on the estimated number of hours needed to complete the work. Also remember that general contractors must include finding and hiring appropriate sub-contractors and are entitled to some payment for this service. If you are engaging a large company with a good bit of overhead, such as insurance, worker benefits, etc. the fee will be a bit higher than the fee from a small business with little or no overhead.

With these two things in mind — the types of home renovations contractors you are asking for estimates on your project and that different types of home renovations contractors base their estimates or total final costs on different elements of their cost to complete the job — you should be able to discuss your project with contractors comfortably and confidently, knowledgeably evaluating bids, and choosing the right home renovations contractor for your project.