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What type of contractor do you really need?
Owning your own home is rewarding, and challenging. It seems as if there is always something in need of repair. The list of improvements you want to make will certainly be a never-ending. When you embark on a project, you will have to make a many decisions, beginning with: Should you do it yourself, or hire someone?
Unless the project is minor, and your skills (and spare time) are significant, you will probably choose to hire a professional. Naturally, you will want to choose a reliable, reputable licensed contractor - but which one?
GENERAL CONTRACTOR - As the name implies, this license covers a variety of fields. Usually, if you are building a new home, or doing major renovation (involving structural changes) you will need a general contractor. Keep in mind, this does not guarantee skills in any specialized field, though many general contractors hold several licenses, for various specialties. Be careful when hiring a general contractor for major projects. They often sub-contract all or part of the work - you need to know if the subcontractors are properly licensed for the work they will be doing.
PLUMBING -If you've never tried plumbing, it sounds simple. If you've tried it, you already understand the value of hiring a pro - especially when you consider the cost of water damage from a burst pipe.
ELECTRICAL - The importance of finding a highly qualified, licensed electrician cannot be over-emphasized. Unlike construction, you can't always see the difference in quality and shoddy work. Unlike a leaky pipe, you will rarely have any warning signs if the workmanship is poor. You may have no idea until an electrical fire breaks out. A poor choice here could cost you your home, family, and life.
ROOFING - Your roof serves a vital function in addition to protecting your family and possessions from the elements. It is an integral part of the structure. Any damage to the rafters or underlayment caused by poor workmanship, or water damage from leaks can compromise the strength of the building.
HVAC - You may think an electrician should be able to install your climate control system, but the wiring is actually the simplest part. A qualified technician will understand the duct system and airflow in your home; the mechanical workings of the unit; and the ever-changing technology as well as the electrical aspect.
PAINTING - The skills of your painter may not be a matter of safety (unless they use illegal, toxic paints), but don't underestimate the damage a bad painter can do. Imagine paint, caulking, bits of plaster, and spilled paint remover on your carpet, furniture, possessions, windows, landscaping… besides blistering and peeling paint on the walls!
SWIMMING POOL - Installing a swimming pool involves bringing heavy equipment into your yard, excavating, and pouring concrete. There is massive potential for error if the contractor is not qualified and experienced. Shady, unlicensed contractors often bypass safety measures, which can lead to disaster - especially if you have children.
LANDSCAPING - Sure, can plant your own flowers, but projects like installing pathways, outbuildings, fountains, and terracing are typically beyond the do-it-yourselfer or the unqualified contractor. If the project involves masonry work, construction, or outdoor lighting check local regulations to see if additional licenses are required.
ASBESTOS - This is a potentially deadly material, which was commonly used in home construction as recently as 1989. It must be removed by a qualified professional, and nearly all states have regulations relating to the handling and removal of asbestos.
Some projects involve multiple types of work. If possible, hire separate contractors, or one holding all applicable licenses. If you decide to pick one contractor for all of the work, make sure this is legal. For example, a licensed electrician is not legal to perform plumbing work, even if it involves wiring a new pump. However, a licensed electrician may be legal to install low-voltage outdoor lighting, even if there is a separate license available for this. Know your local and state laws before beginning your project.
Depending on your location, the list of specialties requiring a contractor's license may be much longer, or shorter than this. Make sure you know the laws before hiring, and remember just because a license isn't required does not mean skills aren't required. Look for trade associations with voluntary certification programs, and contractor's with proof of special schooling if a contractor's license is not issued for the work you need done.
When choosing a licensed contractor, be sure to verify that his or her license is valid before signing a contract.
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