A guide for homeowners doing renovations.

Specifically - Hiring Contractors, How to Save Money and Disaster Prevention.


It's a huge industry.  No wonder these problems exist!

Renovations & new construction is a huge part of everyone's lives.  I feel like 1 person out of every 5 people I know is doing some sort of work on their home while a staggering 9 out of 10 people is either doing something OR knows someone who is at this point in time.

It's not surprising that with such demand in affordable housing there is this problematic and stressful problem homeowners face.  

Homeowners put their soul into their house, it's where most people spend the majority of their time.  It's where they feel safe and take care of their families.  The risks with hiring a bad contractor hit sensitive nerves for the homeowner. 

Have you heard about the stories below?

You might have heard this horror story if not from social media or the news, perhaps from a friend or family member.  

In a nutshell, some contractor ended up being caught on camera emptying his bladder into the kitchen sink.  Gross.

Maybe these stories: 

  • The family goes away only to return home to see their belongings are gone.
  • How about the renovation that never ends? 
  • The budget blown right up.
  • The no show.
  • The mess. 
The list goes on.
There's 1001 ways a renovation can go wrong and probably half of them for another reason I won't cover today.

You need a contractor that you can trust.

Question: So how do you know you can trust them?

Answer: Now there's exceptions to every rule however, you should have a really good chance of properly vetting someone by following the directions below.

The first and obvious is vetting by seeing or hearing someone else vouch for them.  In most cases, that would only give you a good character reference though unless that reference knows smoke & mirrors from solid good construction practices.

Sometimes organizations will vouch for a contractor, this is pretty good way to get a solid option however, sometimes price is another story.  Expect to pay a premium for the "auto-vetting" that took place.

Another option is slow incremental steps.  Hire them for something smaller, then see how they do.  It's a little riskier at first, but you can learn a lot about someone very quickly.

Here's the last way for vetting character.  You meet with them.  In person.  You ask about their family and look into their background as a person.  Ask about their education, their favorite things to do  and maybe where they like to dine.  Stay away from politics and religion though as that has no bearing whatsoever if they are a good fit towards getting your renovation completed.  Check their social media.  Does your dog like them?

Checking for qualifications is pretty straight forward.

Don't fall for the "I've been doing this 40 years".

Beware the billion years of experience though.  I've hired two 40+ years of experience workers/carpenters and let me tell you -- opposite ends of the spectrum.
You want a contractor that is diverse, knowledgeable, and has enough experience for you to know they can do the job well.  I would say 4-6 years as a carpenter is a good guideline and a few years as a contractor depending on the job but really, it just depends.  A good contractor will have a network of trades and reliable resources that provide aide in specialized scenarios.

Check for certifications(use this tool), insurance & workers' compensation clearance.  Ask them why they will or won't pull a permit.  Not pulling a permit when they should is an easy red flag. Check with your "city - buildings department" online or call them to find out or check if another contractor disagrees. (Although I've been the odd one out on occasion, I was 100% certain a permit should be pulled and one wasn't)  Don't listen to what you want to hear and be objective.

Another thing to consider is what trade they are in.  Let me tell you a few things about general contractors and sub-contractors.  Know the difference.

Make sure you hire a general contractor with a red-seal carpentry background.  In the last 15-20 years, qualified but "non-certified" contractors have been phased out due to retirement.  Any general contractor in today's world should ideally have their red-seal carpentry ticket plus any project management degrees or diplomas etc. for bigger jobs, especially commercial.  Building Science is now a relevant field as well.

The sub-trade saying they can project manage or "you can do that part" but they know the trades and can hook you up...that's a trap!!

Here's why:

Red-Seal Carpenters are prone to being very diverse.  

They know a whole lot about: 
  • concrete(maybe 30% curriculum), 
  • framing(mabye 20% curriculum), 
  • finishing,
  • building envelops,
  • blueprints,
  • And, most importantly  They also know a bit(enough, if not a lot) about all of the sub trades.
Those reasons are why carpenters make great general contractors in construction.

It's not uncommon for trade after trade to come in and find the previous trade had cut wires out of the way, or plumbing drains/lines to make way for ducting.  Dry-walling over receptacles, not know where another trade puts their stuff is almost never a problem for a carpenter since we're the ones that are usually called to frame chases or but a bunch of back framing bulkhead, or backing etc...Every site needs a multi-purpose carpenter and it's natural for that person to be the General Contractor.

Here's another MAJOR reason to pick a General Contractor over a Sub-Contractor that can hook you up:

General Contractors(and sometimes Carpenters) care and KNOW about the budget. They will know if a crane is going to be needed on site.  They know fans, drains, switches and have a pretty good idea of what it entails to make changes.  While a decorator, or architect, or designer might be familiar with sub-trades, they may not know from a practical stand point of what it's actually going to cost or how long it will take to get a specific job scope done. Do you think the electrician or plumber is going to care about how much the counters cost?  Or how water proofed something is?

The last few things are pretty easy flags to check for.  

Basically, it's their paperwork.  Know that prices are different from contracts.  Contracts and prices get determined BEFORE the job starts.  Everything should be in writing however brief it may be.

Bathrooms budgets are very vulnerable to being blown right up! 
In summation, here are the indicators you can use as a checklist.

  1. Check References, Testimonials or Reviews. (This is for character)
  2. Don't hire sub-trades to pose as project managers. Don't do the project managing yourself, let me explain why in person or another article.
  3. Check for Red-Seal Certification, Worker's Compensation Clearance Letters, Homeowner's Protection Licencing for new builds.
  4. Ask if they are going to pull a permit.
  5. Ask if they are going to have designs drawn up.
  6. Look at their paperwork(bid, contract, invoice, budgets, schedules etc.. for organization & thoroughness)
  7. Finally, meet them.  Twice.
Don't bother price checking until you have a roster of 3 contractors to chose from.  Price also won't be a factor at this stage however, I will post another article on how to determine if you are being what I call "Smart Quoted" or "Bid Low, Invoiced High".  A good contractor knows that a poor reputation will catch up with them and to place trust means to have good numbers. 

Best of luck!

Helping homeowners with their renovations


No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave us some feedback.

Recent Posts

Our Moto

Get more knowledge. Get better. Keep an open mind. Tactfully debate what you think is incorrect and together we can learn the best procedure, product or building philosophy.


  1. Decide on a project priority
  2. Find some features you like
  3. Research the kind of contractor you need
  4. Research the kind of plan maker you need
  5. Consider finding & including a contractor in the designs for big projects
  6. Develop a budget from the concept designs
  7. Tweak your concept and budget until it's affordable
  8. Continue saving for more contingency until the project is ready to start!

Please leave a comment!

Ask A Question

We fully encourage the public to ask questions. Please email us with a specific question in mind and we'll do our best to provide you with a solid answer.