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Renovating a home can seem like a daunting task when you’re getting started.  So many decisions!  Then there’s drawings and permits, materials and subcontractors.  And we haven’t even looked at the costs yet!

When people ask us this question, it basically comes down to four elements:  time, energy, safety and confidence.

If a homeowner chooses to go the route of a general contractor, they will probably interview at least 3 renovation companies, and receive quotes.  On the other hand, when people coordinate their own renovation, they’ll want to obtain quotes from 3 painters, 3 drywallers, 3 electricians, and 3 plumbers/HVAC specialists.  The time it takes to collect all of these estimates can be quite manageable (for example, on a single bathroom reno), or it can be cumbersome (for example, when doing an entire main floor.  It basically comes down to whether or not a homeowner is willing to use their own time, and then save the contractor fee.  If you’re simply changing out the flooring – you can 100% do this yourself!  However, the bigger the project, the trickier the decision, and the more time will be required to source and choose each of the subtrades.

Some people will prefer to save dollars, and spend mental and emotional energy.  No problem, so long as you recognize that expense at the start.  Again, for a simple flooring change, or a fence, or a deck – many people will choose to manage the project themselves.  Perfect!  Drywall repairs?  No big deal, just find a good handyman.  Again, the bigger the project, the more details will be involved.  Permit applications can be complicated.  And inspectors tend to look more carefully at a project managed by a homeowner, than a reno managed by a contractor that they’ve been working with for a decade.  On the other hand, if you have years as a project manager, then you have a transferable skill that can be used to coordinate all the moving parts for your renovation.

Safety in your home matters more than anywhere else.  Here’s a pro tip.  If you’re managing your own project, talk to Alberta’s Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB).  You can get daily clearances for your trades to make sure they’re still covered.  Why does this matter?  If a worker is injured in your home, but not covered by WCB, you as the homeowner will be liable through your insurance.  And we all know how much fun it is do deal with insurance companies!  Some companies will deny claims if you neglected to tell them that your home was undergoing a renovation.  On the other hand, if a worker is injured when a General Contractor is in charge of the project, that GC’s company is responsible to be ensuring workplace safety (even though it’s your home) and to make sure all their sub-trades are covered by WCB.

And finally, are you confident in your knowledge? Skills?  Ability to terminate a sub-trade if necessary?  Ability to follow up to make sure inspections are complete?  And potentially more challenging:  Is your life-partner confident that you can both choose materials and trades and manage the project.  The goal isn’t to renovate a beautiful house but destroy a beautiful relationship!  Truthfully, renovations are stressful with or without a contractor; however, it can help to have a mediator when decisions become difficult.

Is there a general rule of thumb?  The bigger the project, the more likely it is that a general contractor may be preferrable.  New builds, additions and full house renovations are our primary projects these days.  We refer repairs or minor upgrades to a handyman service of your choosing.  It’s the middle ground where homeowners have some choices to make.  And we always encourage people to consider how each renovation fits with their lifestyle.  As a busy working professional, what is the best use of your time and energy?  Will you manage the safety of your home = workplace during a reno?  And are all the decision makers confident in the choice to self-manage, or to hire a general contractor?