Blueprints and contractor tools and equipment on wooden table.
Home Improvement

The Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor

Do you know the difference between a handyman and a contractor? Here are some tips on knowing when to hire one or the other.

What Is the Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor?

When you own a home, you often have both small and large projects. You might need to add some shelves in the laundry room or you could decide to remodel the bathroom. For different types of projects, you often need to decide whether to hire a handyman or a contractor. Each can do specific jobs for you. But what’s the difference between a handyman and contractor? How do I know which one to hire?

Blueprints and contractor tools and equipment on wooden table.

What is a handyman?

A handyman is exactly what the name implies: they are is a person who is handy and can perform various tasks around the house. A handyman isn’t licensed. Generally, anyone can call him/herself a handyman, but each handyman usually has specific skills. Some are trained in painting while others might be more comfortable working outside.

A list of handyman jobs might include:

  • Pressure washing the outside of a house or deck
  • Removing outdoor mold
  • Removing brush
  • Repairing an appliance
  • Doing minor HVAC repairs
  • Painting
  • Doing minor plumbing repairs
  • Repairing drywall
  • Repairing tile in the bathroom or kitchen
  • Hanging pictures and curtains
  • Repairing a fence

What is a contractor?

There are several different types of contractors, but they all have earned some form of licensure. A general contractor is the general manager of a project. The person organizes the project and makes sure deadlines are met. States usually require a specific license for a general contractor. A contractor, on the other hand, is generally a specialty trade person. They range from electrical contractors to HVAC contractors. These types of contractors have licenses for specific skills. They generally perform specific types of jobs and have a strong understanding of a certain trade.

How do I know whether to hire a handyman or a contractor?

Define the project

The scope and size of the project will dictate the type of person you hire. Small repair jobs or some grout work in the kitchen are generally something a handyman can do. A larger project where several different specialty trades might be required is ideal for a contractor. You need to look at what you are spending on the project and determine if the size and skills involved would be best suited for a handyman. On the other hand, if you believe the project could be beyond a handyman, you will need to hire a contractor.

Rear view of a man working as handyman and fixing a door lock in a house entrance

Do you need a building permit?

A building permit is authorization from a government entity to perform construction work, and a large construction project requires a building permit. When a building permit is necessary, you will need to hire a licensed contractor. You will need to check with the local building department, because counties and cities have different requirements on when a building permit is needed. Codes tend to reflect regional issues, so it’s hard to make broad generalizations about when you will need to get a building permit.

What are you willing to pay?

A handyman is less expressive than a contractor. When deciding between a handyman and a contractor, you must determine how much you are willing to pay for the service. The cost of a handyman averages between $45 and $65 an hour, but some can charge more. An electrician can be between $60 and $125 an hour. A licensed HVAC repairperson generally costs between $75 to $100, but often there are minimum charges to have a person come to your house.

Do specialty tasks need to be performed?

A handyman is a generalist, but a contractor can perform specific tasks. You want a licensed plumber to perform major plumbing work in your house. You can have a handyman fix a leaking facet. The same goes for electrical work. A handyman can install a new light fixture, but you need to hire an electrician to rewire your circuit breaker. You don’t need a licensed specialist to fix a broken dishwasher or hang pictures in the living room. These are perfect tasks for a handyman.

A young worker cleans a chimney.

Check reviews when hiring

When hiring a contractor or a handyman, you should always check their reviews. You can find handyman and contractor reviews on Angie’s List, Google, Yelp, and other review sites. If people do good work, people will give good reviews. You don’t want to hire someone to do work on your house when the person consistently gets bad reviews.

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James Shea is an award-winning journalist and author. He owns Media Lab, a content marketing and search engine optimization company is Richmond, Virginia.

4 Replies to The Difference Between a Handyman and a Contractor

  1. This article is AMAZING! I mean that 100% I have a friend that is a DIY/ Handyman extraordinaire. His family and friends are always telling him to do it for a living, Yet there are certain things that are TOO specialty for him to touch. In these cases, one would need a contractor. The distinction is so clear and simple yet profound if you or someone close to you is into this sort of thing. Thanks for the sweet little article!

  2. I liked that you mentioned a handyman can help you to perform various tasks around the house. My husband and I moved to another house, and we are looking for advice to fix a couple of issues that are coming up. I will let him know about the benefits of hiring a handyman to help us.

  3. I like how you mentioned that contractors have earned some form of licensing. My home is really old and needs some rewiring. Thanks for explaining the differences between handymen and contractors.

  4. I like that you mention that a handyman usually has very specific skills and that painting or repairing drywall. My husband and I have been looking for someone to help paint our house in order to get it ready to sell. I think we should look for a professional with experience in handyman services especially painting.

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