Handyman vs Licensed Contractor - Knowing Which You Need

Though their abilities may sometimes overlap, knowing the difference between a handyman and a licensed contractor is important for anyone looking to do work on his or her home.

When it comes time to hire one of these professionals, it is always best if you know which one is right for the job. If you hire the wrong professional, you could end up paying more than necessary or put your project at risk.

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Hire a contractor or Handyman infographic

Rather than comparing these two trades outright, the sections below will break down each individual profession and examine when each skilled professional should be called in for help.

The simple fact is that a licensed contractor shouldn’t have to perform the work of a handyman, and a handyman should never perform the work of a licensed contractor.

The most important thing to remember is that neither a handyman nor a contractor is a licensed plumber or a licensed electrician. If you need specialized work done in one of these areas, then you should always hire a licensed specialist.

Licensing regulations differ in every province. Click here to find out which skilled tradespeople require a trade license.

What does a Handyman do?


The name ‘handyman’ is the most appropriate name for the job. With no formal qualifications, licenses, or certificates needed, a handyman is someone who is exceptionally skilled at performing certain tasks around the house. A handyman will probably take any job, no matter how small.

These professionals are used to handling anything from painting a room, to patching a hole in a wall, to changing a hard-to-reach light bulb. Ultimately, the handyman is like the utility player on a baseball team. He may not be the best at any one thing (though he may be!) but he will be good at a large variety of small jobs.

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Screen for Small Jobs

A handyman will work as an individual, have one or two assistants, or work for a large handyman company. It’s best to screen handyman candidates to make sure that they can do what you need to get done, even though they are completing small jobs. Always screen a handyman, regardless of where you find them. Ultimately though, a handyman should be able to tackle just about anything you throw their way.

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The bottom line: hiring a handyman

The bottom line is that a handyman can be a relatively inexpensive asset in the home renovation world. They can help you overcome most basic household problems that arise.

However, larger renovations or major overhauls should be referred to a contractor. A handyman will rarely work with more than two people. Any job that sounds like you would never be able to accomplish will probably not be a suitable job for a handyman.

What does a Licensed Contractor do?

A licensed general contractor acts as a kind of ringleader for large construction projects. Contractors handle home improvement projects much differently than handymen.


Always check your contractor's license. It could be expired or fake. You can verify their license with your local trade governing body organization.

If you want to remodel a kitchen, renovate a bathroom, or refinish the basement then a licensed contractor is the individual you will contact to get the ball rolling. Unlike handymen, these professionals have to keep up with licensing requirements and consider the big picture when it comes to construction projects.

Screen for Large Jobs

General contractors have a big job, which is why you need to do your homework as a homeowner. Although a general contractor may seem to be more qualified than a handyman in theory, they may not actually be in practice.

Always screen your contractor.

Choose your general contractor from a pool of candidates based on references, reviews, and license credentials. It is your responsibility to vet your contractor and make sure that you’re hiring a legal and verified business!

General Contractors and their Team

In most cases, a licensed contractor will have their team to help them, but this varies depending on the project. For example, if the contractor needs to work on a kitchen renovation, then they will need to have a plumber and a cabinet installer at the very least. They will also enlist an electrician, a flooring expert, and a demolition crew too.


The crew will always differ depending on the project. For example, if the general contractor is hired to complete a home entertainment center, then they will look for other specialists who fit the needs of the project. They may need a sound expert, an electrician, a builder, and a flooring specialist.

The Contractor’s Job

When it comes down to doing the actual work, the licensed contractor will probably be on the sidelines. Think of the contractor as a kind of coach, and the formation of their team depends on the project that they need to work on. If the project is something that one person can handle, then it is probably not right to be contacting a licensed contractor.

The Bottom Line: Hiring a Contractor

The bottom line is that a licensed contractor is someone who should be reserved to perform full projects or renovation jobs, rather than single tasks.

They will usually carry much larger insurance policies, and give you a much more detailed project plan. At the same time, the service of a licensed contractor is understandably much more expensive than that of a handyman.

Very Different Roles

In all reality, a handyman doesn't have any real measurable qualifications. Instead, he or she performs a repair or maintenance task that they are accustomed to doing. Like the name would suggest, a handyman is handy, but they do not necessarily have any more skills than you do. Rather, they are a great set of hands, should you want to undertake a small project without devoting your time.


A contractor is licensed and has knowledge of a variety of large-scale projects. These contractors are trained professionals who are going to be fully ensured and ready to tackle those projects that a handyman simply cannot help you with. Sometimes, the contractor will work alone, and sometimes they will have a team to back them up.

Who is best for your project?

Ultimately, the easiest way to decide whether you need a handyman or a licensed contractor is to look at the scope of your project.

If you have a simple task in mind that you could perform yourself but cannot for some reason or another, then you should consider hiring a handyman to complete it. Here is a list of jobs that a handyman could take on:

  • Plastering
  • Caulking
  • Door hanging
  • Small painting jobs
  • Changing fixtures, lighting, etc.
  • Property maintenance


It’s best to reserve hiring a contractor for jobs that you truly need them for. In some cases, the contractor’s insurance may not cover a small project should they make a mistake. However, the contractor’s insurance is suitable for covering large renovation projects (well into the future of the finished result, too)—if something were to happen. A handyman will not have the proper insurance to cover errors and mishaps.

Always keep the key differences in mind whenever you consider hiring any service professional. When you need a quick job done, hire a handyman. When you need a large project, consider hiring a contractor. In the end, just remember that one does not equal the other, so choosing the right one can make a difference!

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Posted by: Ahmed Muztaba
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