Hiring a Contractor

Ever had renovation nightmares? Um, no (cough cough), we haven’t either… But just in case, here are a few tips to consider before you start. These will help you to better plan work, understand your legal responsibilities and constraints, hire the right contractor (because your cousin may be very nice, but they don’t know the first thing about renovations) and avoid potential pitfalls.

Note that this information may vary depending on where you live. It’s a good idea to contact the various government departments and associations in your area to get informed.


Make a plan and set a budget.

Speak with family members about the potential issues renovations can cause, then put together a list of the work you’d like done. Next, write a detailed description of these renovations. You can even come up with two lists: one with all your wants, and the other listing your immediate needs. Give both lists to potential contractors for estimates that will allow you to compare the same type of work.


Obtain the necessary permits and licences.

Check with your municipal building department to see if any by-laws apply to the work you are planning and if you need a building permit. For example, if you live in Ontario, ask whether your contractor must be certified for the type of work in question, since such rules are established by municipalities. If you live in Quebec, check with La Régie du bâtiment du Québec.


Get multiple estimates.

Not choosing the right contractor for the job can have devastating results. You could find yourself with work that’s badly done or, worse, you may be on the hook for any costs your contractor owes to suppliers. Take the time to find the right contractor for you.

Start by asking friends and neighbours who have had similar work done. Visit local hardware stores as well as municipal licensing offices and building departments. And check out online directories that list construction services by location.

The Alberta government, for example, offers tips for finding a qualified contractor. In Quebec, the Association des professionnels de la construction et de l’habitation du Québec provides an online directory.

Invite at least three contractors to visit your home and bid on the job based on the description you prepared. Do not sign or pay for anything on their first visit. Instead, ask for references from recent jobs as well as older ones. A good contractor does this regularly and will ask many questions about the job you want done.

For simple jobs like painting, an estimate can be prepared on the spot. It should detail what work is to be done and the materials to be used. For bigger jobs, contractors should come back to you with samples, documentation on possible materials and products to be used, and even photos of similar work they’ve done.


Choose an accredited, reliable contractor.

When you find a contractor who suits your needs, make sure their credentials are in order. If you hire workers who are not insured or who don’t have safety certification, you could be held responsible if they are injured on your property. Call your insurance provider for any questions on your home insurance. They can offer you the best advice.

In Ontario and Alberta, ask your contractor to show you proof of their public liability and property damage insurance, business licence number and more.

In Quebec, ensure the contractor has a licence issued by the Régie du bâtiment du Québec. Note the number, class, subclass and expiry date, and check this information with the RBQ’s online Licence holders’ repertory.

You can also verify if other consumers have had issues with your contractor. Local Better Business Bureaus keep records of complaints filed against contractors and construction companies.


Select the best estimate.

It may be tempting to go for the best price, but if one estimate is significantly lower than others, beware. The contractor may be unfamiliar with the work, use cheaper materials or tend to cut corners.

As well, keep in mind the impact that the current lack of workers and construction materials will have on job estimates. This lack has resulted in higher costs and longer delays.

Your estimate will be used to draw up a contract which, once signed, is a legal document that binds both parties. It is also your best protection against fraud when all details have been included. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact someone who understands how contracts work.

The Government of Ontario mentions a number of points that a contract should cover, including:

  • the contractor’s name, address and contact information
  • a detailed description of the work to be performed and materials needed
  • a clear description of all warranties
  • the total price plus full payment terms
  • a work schedule, including set start and completion dates
  • a payment schedule, including the deposit amount
  • who will be responsible for cleaning when the work is finished
  • a list of any subcontractors the contractor will use and who will pay them


Only pay for the work that is done and done right.

Good contractors have a floating bill with material suppliers and won’t ask for a down payment. However, major renovations or those that call for special equipment, materials or custom work may warrant one, although it’s not advisable to exceed 10% of the final cost.

For small jobs that take only a few days, a one-time payment is fine, but larger jobs may require that you pay in instalments.

Under the Construction Lien Act, all provinces except Quebec provide some protection against liens that may be placed on your home by suppliers or workers who were not paid by the contractor. Check with a lawyer, but the standard is to retain 10% of the contract price for 45 days after the project is done. This also gives you a chance to make sure you’re satisfied with the quality of the work that has been done.


Patience and good planning are the secret to success!

As you can see, planning a home renovation project involves much more than choosing a wallpaper pattern and wood stain.

Workers taking over your home, the constant noise of equipment, dust, debris… Renovating can be trying for even the most patient of people. By following these steps from the start of your project, you can make your life easier – and you’ll be able to enjoy your new décor with peace of mind!