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Handyman vs General Contractor: What’s The Difference?

Contractor Tips , Posted by Charlotte Smith on

Handyman vs General Contractor: What’s The Difference?

We've all been there. You need some work done around your house, and a myriad of recommendations start pouring in from friends and colleagues, each swearing that their contact is the best. 

With so many building professionals to choose from, narrowing down your search and finding the perfect fit for your project can be challenging.

One significant distinction to make right off the bat is between a handyman and a general contractor. As a homeowner, it's essential to learn the difference and hire the right person for the job. Here's what you need to know.

What Can a Handyman Do Legally?

A handyman is exactly what it sounds like. Typically, this professional has acquired a wide array of skills and knowledge that allows them to tackle projects and minor repairs in and around homes that don't require building permits. 

In truth, it can be tricky to narrow in on a specific set of abilities that a handyman will possess. In part, this is because there isn't a cohesive licensing process across the country.

When it comes to the law, each state has vastly different expectations for handymen. To complicate matters further, laws can even fluctuate from one jurisdiction to the next. For example, in New York, a company or professional must have a Home Improvement Contractor License to work. This license allows them to work on specific projects, from basement and garage renovation to swimming pool or patio construction.

But in other states, the law doesn't stipulate what a handyman can do but instead sets monetary limits on how much projects can cost. In some states, like California, any project costing more than $500 will require professionals to be licensed. Meanwhile, in states like Louisiana, unlicensed handyman can work on projects that cost up to $7500. 

If you are setting out to hire a handyman or thinking about breaking into the industry yourself, it is best to check your local laws and regulations. You can check with your jurisdiction's contractors board for information and support.

What’s The Difference Between a General Contractor and a Handyman?

It is typical for the titles “Handyman” and “Contractor" to be used interchangeably. And while this is an understandable mistake, there are lots of distinctive differences between these two roles. 

If you're trying to decide who to hire for your next project, you will need to identify the best professional for the job. Alternatively, knowing the difference can help you decide which route is best for your career if you’re new to the construction industry.

Here are some of the most significant distinctions between a handyman and a general contractor.

Scope & Size

First, handymen and general contractors typically work on projects of vastly different sizes and scopes. 

Traditionally, handymen have an eclectic set of trade skills that allow them to make minor repairs within your home. They generally have knowledge of and hands-on experience diagnosing and fixing home appliances, such as dishwashers and garage doors. They have acquired skills to repair small-scale damage to structural elements of your home, such as holes in walls or cracks in floorboards. 

If you need a new fence installed, windows repaired, or a room painted, a handyman is the person to call. Typically, these are jobs that one person can handle on their own.

But for larger, more involved projects that involve significant renovations, you will need to call in a licensed general contractor. When it comes to major renovations or remodeling, residential or commercial, a contractor has the skills to plan and execute the detailed steps required for project completion.

If you want a wall knocked down in your home to create an open floor plan, a contractor will be necessary to ensure the structural safety of the space. If you need specialty work done, like updating or installing electrical or plumbing systems, specialty contractors have unique skillsets to meet those needs.

A general contractor typically oversees and manages larger projects, meaning more workers are often on-site to complete the project. As such, a general contractor typically will charge higher fees than a handyman for their work.

Permits & Licensing

While there is some overlap, handymen are generally hired for tasks that do not require building permits. On the other hand, contractors have a keen understanding of local building codes and can assist clients in navigating these systems. Typically, more extensive projects that contractors work on require specific permits before any work can begin.

As we discussed earlier, the rules regarding handymen licensing differ from state to state. While different locations have unique licensing processes for contractors, the educational, experiential, and licensing standards are rigorous across the board.

To become a contractor, one is typically required to seek out a relevant degree, such as Construction Management. To get licensed to practice, one must pass an examination, pay applicable fees, prove financial capability, and secure liability insurance. While this process is much more involved than that of handymen, the payoff is also typically more significant.

The Bottom Line

Handymen and general contractors both have essential roles in building and maintaining homes and business spaces. 

If you think contracting may be for you, Contractor Training Center is here to help! With state-specific resources and exam prep materials, you'll be taking clients and getting to work in no time. 

Reach out today and jumpstart your career!