Handyman or contractor? Get to know which one to hire

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Whether you're dealing with minor home repairs or a major renovation project, it's important to hire the appropriate skilled worker for the job. In moments like these, two options will likely come to mind: a handyman or a contractor. But who do you pick for what sort of job?

In this guide, get to know the important differences between a handyman and a contractor, when it’s appropriate to hire one or the other, and how you can hire them.

Handyman vs contractor 

At first glance, handypersons and contractors may appear to have similar roles but these are two widely distinct occupations.

What is a handyman?

A handyman or handyperson is someone who has a wide range of experience and skills in repairing, maintaining, or installing fixtures in your home but doesn’t have any formal certification or licence for it. Most handymen work without a plumbing, electrical, or carpentry licence.

handyman in his toolshed

Remember that handymen only do basic cleaning, installing, repair or maintenance jobs; any jobs that require knowledge of electricals, gas systems, home heating or plumbing call for a licensed tradesman.

A handyman is usually a solo operator; but in some cases, they can be hired by other contractors to do a large job where they’re considered “independent contractors,” which may explain the occasional confusion about a contractor vs handyman. 

What is a contractor?

A contractor, also known as a general contractor, is someone who can handle complex jobs that require a working knowledge of electricity, plumbing, construction materials, construction applications and operating hand tools, power tools, and heavy equipment.

contractor discussing the job to a skilled worker

You could say that a contractor is something of a “general manager” of any large-scale project. A contractor must have the appropriate licences that can vary in scope, requirements, and manner of procurement from state to state.

Note that contractors don’t always do the work themselves. They usually hire a team of skilled workers such as masons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and more to work on your job. 

Here’s what a handyman can do compared to what a general contractor can do:   


Do they need a licence to do their work?

Can they work without a building permit?

Can they work solo?

Can they perform emergency repairs? 

Can they do small jobs or large jobs?

Handyman 

In most cases, no, but some handymen may also be licensed electricians, plumbers or carpenters

Yes

Yes, in most cases

Yes

Small jobs

Contractor

Yes

No

No, they hire a team

No

Large jobs

When should I hire a handyman?

Hire a handyman when you have one or more small jobs that don’t require a plumber’s, electrician’s, or carpenter’s licence. Here’s a sample of the jobs that a handyman can handle:

  • Cleaning walls with a pressure washer

  • Changing a light fixture

  • Cleaning dryer vents

  • Simple repairs to small appliances

  • Installing doors

  • Installing windows

  • Installing a pet door

  • Cleaning worksites after a renovation job

  • Cleaning window blinds

  • Installing window blinds

handyman installing a door

When should I hire a contractor? 

Hire a contractor when you have large, complex jobs that require more than one person to accomplish, and need a working knowledge of electrical, plumbing, and construction methods and principles.

A contractor manages the project, so expect them to have a team of skilled workers to ensure the job is completed on schedule and according to a client’s specifications.

Here are some of a contractor’s duties and responsibilities: 

  • Overseeing home insulation installation

  • Ensure proper repair, installation or maintenance of HVAC systems

  • Planning the layout and installing electrical wiring

  • Laying down the foundations for your home renovation or construction

  • Building concrete structures like driveways, walkways or countertops

  • Installing sprinkler systems or fountains in gardens

contractor discussing a building project with a skilled worker

How to find a reliable handyman or contractor

There are a few ways to find a good handyman or contractor. You can:

1. Ask for referrals

Your neighbours could likely refer you to a handyman or contractor they’ve relied on for their home improvement needs. Don’t hesitate to ask—you might even get to drop by while their handyman or contractor is at work in your neighbour’s home!


2. Search for them on online platforms

Using your browser and placing queries such as “handymen near me” and “contractors near me” are very efficient and helpful in finding reliable candidates. Online search can help you get the contact details of a nearby contractor or handyman, and you can also see reviews from their past clients. 

💡 A good way to find a reliable handyperson or contractor is to look for them on online hiring platforms like Airtasker. Connect with someone locally, read reviews from past customers, and discover the most trusted and highest-rated Taskers to speed up your search!


3. Check out community bulletin boards

Your homeowner’s association could have a bulletin board where handymen or contractors leave their flyers, brochures, or calling cards for people in your community. You can also ask members of your village council about any good handypersons or contractors you can hire.


4. Ask your local DIY centre

Handymen and contractors are regular customers of your favourite DIY centre, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask the staff there if they know of any reliable ones. Some centres may even have boards where they allow handymen and contractors to leave their info, so check them out!

Find the right person for the job

Now that it's clear which one you should hire for your home improvement project, it's time to set things in motion. You can use the Airtasker platform to hire someone with experience and expertise. It’s as easy as posting a task, getting matched with dozens of local Taskers who provide free quotes, then hiring the best one!    

Browse and complete jobs.

Start receiving quotes from handyman in minutes

Frequently asked questions

No. Most “emergency repairs” are commonly small jobs like fixing a backed-up toilet, clogged sink drain or leaky pipes–these are jobs best left to handymen.

Contractors are better suited to larger, complex jobs like renovating rooms or replacing damaged roofs or roof sections after a hurricane. Although such jobs may be considered emergency repairs, they can’t be fixed quickly due to their complexity and scale.

A good way to ensure that your handyman’s or contractor’s work meets your specifications is to discuss and agree on them as part of their hiring process. 

Get the agreement in writing and be specific with the details of the work and your expectations whenever possible. When you both agree on the scope of the work, timelines and the expected quality of the workmanship, there’s less room for error and you can ask for a rework if necessary.

That is a risk you never want to take, as unlicensed contractors can’t obtain building permits. Should you decide to go ahead with repairs, renovation, or construction without the necessary permits, you can be fined and penalised by your state or city’s relevant agency.

Penalties can include having your structure demolished. Building permits also ensure that the work done complies with building codes and industry standards to ensure everyone’s safety. 

No. Most “emergency repairs” are commonly small jobs like fixing a backed-up toilet, clogged sink drain or leaky pipes–these are jobs best left to handymen.

Contractors are better suited to larger, complex jobs like renovating rooms or replacing damaged roofs or roof sections after a hurricane. Although such jobs may be considered emergency repairs, they can’t be fixed quickly due to their complexity and scale.

That is a risk you never want to take, as unlicensed contractors can’t obtain building permits. Should you decide to go ahead with repairs, renovation, or construction without the necessary permits, you can be fined and penalised by your state or city’s relevant agency.

Penalties can include having your structure demolished. Building permits also ensure that the work done complies with building codes and industry standards to ensure everyone’s safety. 

A good way to ensure that your handyman’s or contractor’s work meets your specifications is to discuss and agree on them as part of their hiring process. 

Get the agreement in writing and be specific with the details of the work and your expectations whenever possible. When you both agree on the scope of the work, timelines and the expected quality of the workmanship, there’s less room for error and you can ask for a rework if necessary.