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Different Types of Contractors – What’s the Difference?

Tradesman, skilled labourer, builder, general contractor, commercial contractor, craftsman, handyman, what’s the difference between all these types of contractors? It’s valuable to know, so you can make the best choice, when selecting a company to work in and on your home.

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There are two main categories of contractors:  Commercial and Residential. 

A commercial contractor usually takes on medium or large commercial projects and they are chosen through a tender and bidding process which is overseen by governing bodies. Price is generally the main factor that decides which company is hired to complete the project. It is also slightly political and business relationships are very important between contracting companies and development businesses who oversee hundreds or thousands of projects.  Most commercial contractors are incorporated and hire labour that is unionized. The nature of union work is that workers must qualify through achieving different certifications and once they are hired, their hourly wage is dependent on seniority and experience level. They do exactly what they are asked to do and no more. They clock in and clock out and they are fairly reliable, however don’t care much about the quality of their work, as long as it meets minimum standards.

Residential contractors come in all shapes and sizes, and pricing is not always the best way to determine who does the best work.  Many homeowners want to pay the cheapest amount possible with their after-tax dollars, but they have trouble determining the best company to hire.

  • Tradesman have gone through an apprenticeship program with a certain number of hours to complete. These are businesses that specialize in a specific trade: eg. electrician, HVAC, plumber, plasterer, drywaller, concrete rebar setter, tile setter;
  • Skilled labourers don’t generally run their own business, but they are hired by companies for their basic skill set;
  • Builders are companies that organize new-build projects for homeowners and small business. They must hold a builder’s license from Tarion;
  • A general contractor is not a builder. They do all the same things as a builder, but only for accessory structures like additions, garages or cabanas: not new-build homes. Generally they are the ones who will oversee a renovation project. They have their own skilled labourer employees, and long-term trusting relationships with subcontracted tradesmen. As with any small business, there are differing standards of customer service provided: some are excellent communicators and organized with documents and invoicing, and others are not as organized. You get a good feel for their standards when you first meet them in person for your initial interview;
  • A handyman generally takes on small jobs that a general contractor won’t do. Their skill level is usually low and their costs reflect that skill level.  There are some highly competent handymen and their reputation is what keeps them busy. A handyman who has lots of availability is probably not the one you want to hire;
  • A craftsman is a skilled tradesman who has achieved mastery in their chosen field, such as carpentry, plaster work, tile setting, or artisan painters.

If you hire a handyman or general contractor who is not a skilled framer/drywaller or plasterer himself, then he should subcontract that work out to an expert. Any contractor who lacks knowledge because they have not been properly trained does not know the difference between low quality and high quality work.

Some of the results you will see that result from low quality work:

  • Walls that are not plumb (straight on the vertical plane);
  • Walls that are not level (straight on the horizontal plane);
  • Inconsistent finishes that include plaster and paint will be easily noticed;
  • Low quality framing often causes undulations in the walls from crowns and bows;
  • Improperly filled joints cause visible joints on both trim and drywall: joints should be seamless.

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