Do you find yourself wondering if you are truly a handyman or a general contractor? While the two roles may perform similar work sometimes, the distinction between the two is actually very important. Qualifications, certifications, and types of jobs vary between handymen and general contractors, and choosing the right title can help you meet customers’ expectations from the very start.
Here are a few key differences between a handyman and a general contractor:
Licensing is the biggest distinction between a handyman and a general contractor. A handyman is not required to have a license or certificate in most states. On the other hand, a contractor is typically required to have a valid license, and requirement vary widely from state to state (and even from city to city!).
For example, the state of California requires prospective contractors to have a certain level of experience and pass an exam in order to be licensed. Only licensed contractors are able to take on projects of $500 or more in California (total cost of labor and materials). There are license classifications for different types of potentially hazardous work, including electrical contractors, elevator contractors, masonry contractors, and more. "Contractors, including subcontractors, specialty contractors, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement" are required to be licensed in California, according to the Contractors State License Board.
Requirements for licensing are different in every state, so make sure you know the rules in your specific city and state.
Types of Work Performed
Simply put, the larger the job, the more likely a general contractor will need to be involved. Larger jobs require more people with more types of expertise—flooring, electrical, roofing, etc.—and that usually requires coordination. A general contractor can oversee different subcontractors and ensure that all the work is up to a certain standard.
A handyman, however, is usually a better fit for a small job that can be handled by one person. For example, a handyman can easily install a new dishwasher and fish out something stuck in the garbage disposal. But if a customer wants to redo their entire kitchen and move the dishwasher to a different wall, it makes more sense to hire a general contractor who can help with wiring, flooring, demolition, and any other specialty needs.
Availability and Compensation for Jobs
The barriers to entry are much lower for a handyman than a general contractor. A handyman may only need a short training course, or previous experience may already cut it for many jobs. Customers often don’t require as many references from a handyman as they would from a contractor because costs and stakes are much lower.
Since handymen often work alone on smaller jobs, compensation is typically lower than that of a general contractor. (In fact, some states—like California—have limits on compensation for handyman jobs. In other words, to charge more than a certain amount for a job, you must be licensed in the area.)
Type of Insurance Needed
All general contractors should have general contractor insurance to protect themselves and their business against risk. Since their jobs are larger in scale, general contractors must ensure they have appropriate coverage for themselves and any subcontractors.
Handymen should also have liability insurance in place. This helps protect handymen from common claims that result in costly medical or legal bills—all of which can be financially devastating for a business of one. However, a handyman typically won’t need as large or as comprehensive of a policy as a general contractor because they don’t have to worry about covering specialized tasks or additional workers.