The right contractor can make all the difference in a home renovation.

The gorgeous kitchen remodel you’ve been dreaming of for years.

The finished basement that provides your family with much needed extra space.

The outdoor patio retreat to entertain your guests in the warmer weather.

There are many reasons that we as homeowners choose to renovate, remodel or build onto our homes. We dream up a myriad of ways to add visual appeal, form, function and value to our homes.

Dreaming is the easy part.

Unfortunately, home renovation projects can be challenging, stressful and disruptive.

Furthermore unlike the rapid transformations that occur on home renovation TV shows, the reality is most of these projects don’t happen overnight. Those lofty dreams you entertained can be difficult to turn into reality, and unfortunately some have the potential to morph into nightmares.

Who hasn’t heard of an acquaintance’s home renovation going wrong?  And let’s face it, some of these renovations involve a certain amount of complexity and degree of difficulty that don’t match the scope of our abilities.

Reality check: Renovations can be a lengthy and complicated process from start to finish that often come with frustrating setbacks. Recognize that your dream project will take time, but with proper planning and execution you will be satisfied with the end result.


First of all, assess the intricacies of the job. Large renovation projects will likely require a general contractor who will hire subcontractors for specialized work such as plumbing and electrical work. Some homeowners choose to be the general contractor themselves, wherein they locate and employ trades-people. This option may have the potential to save you some money, and assuming all went well, you would have the satisfaction of a personal job well done. However it is time consuming to find those professionals on your own, and there is the chance that you could make some expensive errors.

In addition, consider the fact that you would also be responsible for:
acquiring the right permits and builder’s insurance
paying suppliers
scheduling sub-contractors
solving problems that arise and being the final authority on the project

Secondly, contemplate the time, commitment, interpersonal/managerial skills, confidence, or skill-set that the renovation will demand. If you have weighed the costs and concluded that you need expert help, then it’s time to begin the process of finding the right contractor.


So what does your money pay for when you hire a contractor? While there is an expense to hiring the right contractor, there are many assets to working with one. An experienced contractor offers quality workmanship, competence, and a honed skill set.
Contractors are responsible for:
acquiring necessary permits
maintaining a safe working environment
handling any disagreements between subcontractors and suppliers


Do your homework before making your hiring decision. Follow these tips to ensure your home improvement dreams become a reality with the right contractor.

Write a comprehensive/detailed list of tasks you want done:

  • Have plans/ideas in mind before speaking to contractor.
  • Learn about the project: What materials are recommended?  What steps recommended/proper installation?
  • Be specific with plans and materials you would like to use in order to determine a more accurate estimate from the contractors that you’re considering.

Know your rights when hiring a contractor:

Source Referrals:

  1. Recommendations from friends, family and neighbours can help you find the right contractor who is qualified and will skillfully handle your project.
  2. The best sources are word of mouth/referrals – from those who have done similar renovations. Local hardware stores, better business bureaus. Consider hiring locally (call out box?)


Interview at least three contractors and get a written bid from each:

  • Meet in person.
  • View their portfolio – see work samples.
  • Obtain written bids from each of the three contractors, to allow you to make comparisons.
  • Ask the following questions:


  • Do you specialize in any one area of work?
  • Have you completed a similar job to this before?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many projects do you have going on at one time?
  • What work are you licensed to do?
  • What work are your subcontractors licensed to do?
  • Do you have your own crew to do the work or will you subcontract any or all of the job?
  • Do you have worker’s compensation and liability insurance?
  • Will you obtain all required permits?
  • If there are a few problems related to my project, how would you handle them?
  • What hours do you keep? What’s the work schedule that you will be following?
  • What is your warranty and what does it cover?
  • Will you provide a written contract?
  • How and when do you clean up?

Check references:

Certainly online reviews are good, but you need to conduct more in-depth research on your own to find the right contractor. The contractor you’re considering should have at least 3 references of clients who had similar projects to what you’re looking for.  Ask those references if they’d be willing to allow you to visit to see the work yourself. Visit sites that are a few years old to see how they’re holding up over time. Ask the references about the following:

  • Are they trustworthy/fair/honest?
  • How were they perceived by others they work with (i.e. other contractors)?
  • How fast did they return phone calls?
  • Did they communicate well?
  • Pleasant to work with?
  • Any problems? How were they handled?
  • Follow up?
  • What is their work history like?
  • How are their work habits?
  • Were the references satisfied with the quality of the work,  the time it took and the ability to keep within the budget?
  • Would they hire them again?
Hiring the right contractor, Upright Door Service, Durham Region

The right contractor has experience.

Check licenses, complaints and litigation history:

Obtain a copy of the contractor’s license, and copies of licenses of the major subcontractors who will be involved. Check with the Better Business Bureau and disciplinary boards for litigation history.

Verify insurance coverage:

  • Acquire a copy of the company’s insurance policy and make sure it’s current.
  • Find out what is covered in your own homeowner’s insurance policy and what is covered in the contractor’s insurance.

Check credentials:

  • Have they written and passed certification tests?
  • Courses/education in the industry to show they know about building codes and processes?


Consider hiring locally:

  • Speaking in general terms, if the quality of their work and services weren’t good, they wouldn’t be around.
  • Employees are most likely to be local as well.
  • Is the contractor/business involved in the community?

Compare bids:

Resist the temptation to go with the lowest bid. The contractor with the lowest bid may not have a complete understanding of what you’re asking for, may be trying to price themselves lower than the competition, or may underestimate the scale/cost of the project.

Choosing the lowest bid isn’t necessarily going to be to your benefit. Opt for fair pricing instead, to avoid dissatisfaction or unexpected costs.

Select the contractor that offers the best value and highest quality of materials, is the most experienced and most capable of completing the job to your satisfaction.

Be wary of contractors who:

  • Say that they can do it all.
  • Ask you to sign an estimate or authorization before you have decided to hire them.
  • Seem to be willing to do the job at an uncommonly low price.
  • Refuse to provide a written quotation or contract.
  • Refuse to provide references.
  • Require substantial payment or payment in full before even work begins.

Make your selection from the three contractors that you interviewed. Choose the contractor whom you deem responsible, fair and trustworthy to handle your project and the unexpected issues that inevitably arise during a renovation. Hire the contractor whom you feel will leave you satisfied with the quality of work and the ability to stay within budget and timeline.


A detailed written contract should include the following:

  • Complete name and address details of yourself and the contractor, as well as job site address.
  • Notation of contractor’s insurance coverage.
  • Detailed description of all aspects of the project including quoted price, plans, drawings, specified materials and procedures.
  • Job specifications should be documented including any work being carried out by subcontractors.
  • Notation of building permits that are required as well as outlining who is responsible for paying for and obtaining them.
  • Details pertaining to warranties.
  • Terms of payment.
  • Starting and completion dates. And if possible, the dates the contractor will be working at your home, as they often divide their time between projects.
  • Guidelines and boundaries for working in and around your home (i.e. what parts of the home will they have access to).
  • Establish how problems will be handled.
  • Statement that the contractor will clean up at the end of each day, and that at the completion of the job, they will clean up and remove any debris.

Payments and Holdbacks:

  • Do not pay more than 10% of job as a down-payment before renovation begins.
  • Large projects often require interim payments, so pay only for work that has been completed.
  • Hold back money to make sure the job is completed to the specifications outlined in the contract, and to your satisfaction. Doing so also protects yourself against any liens that could be placed on your property by suppliers or workers that the contractor failed to pay.
  • Write cheques payable directly to the supplier not the contractor if you are requested to provide money upfront for materials, appliances, etc.
  • Pay by cheque rather than cash if possible. This provides a documented record of payment.
  • If you do pay with cash, ensure the contractor provides you with a signed receipt.


  • List your questions and touch base frequently – especially if it’s a large project.
  • Immediately raise any problems or concerns you may have.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss important matters in order to have the contractor’s full attention.
  • Document any necessary alterations in the written contract.

Handling Problems:

Issues arise with every renovation, so plan to deal with them effectively to prevent major delays.

  1. Raise your concerns immediately.
  2. Schedule a time to meet with the contractor to discuss the issue.
  3. Review the details of the contract.
  4. Clearly define the issue.
  5. Keep emotions out of it by dealing with only the facts.
  6. Listen to the contractor – you may learn how any misunderstandings developed.
  7. Create a plan to resolve the issue and put it in writing.

Release of Liens:

Contractor provides a release of liens at time of completion which states that they been paid in full for the work done and waives their right to place a mechanic’s lien on the property. For information about the Construction Lien Act click here.

Selecting a contractor may be one of the hardest tasks you’ll face during your home improvement project. However, finding the right contractor will have huge payoffs at the end of your home renovation project.

Similarly, you can apply these tips when selecting the right garage door dealer! Learn The Value of Choosing an Accredited Garage Door Dealer.

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