Like most things in life, it sometimes takes “a whole village” to complete a renovation project.
So the crucial first step in your home improvement journey is getting the right team of partners together.
This team can be different for each job. Here’s a rundown of the types of contractors that might be most helpful for the renovation you’re ready to start.
Handyman. For simple repairs or small projects that are a little too heavy to do yourself, a good handyman is a valuable ally. Some owners I know have theirs on speed dial.
An experienced handyman can do everything from simple fixes, like fixing a leaky faucet, to projects you’ve been putting off, like building a no-frills backyard deck. The smart ones can help solve just about any routine problem around the house. They will hang your flat screen, your photos and your shelves; replace your shower door, change your air conditioning filter, clean your gutters and pressure wash your porch.
For the good, no job, even odd jobs, is too easy. And if your request exceeds the skills of the handyman, a good one will tell you.
Specialized craftsman. Painters, plumbers and electricians are trained and experienced in a single specialty. When you have a job that requires expertise, hire an expert.
Anyone can apply paint to a wall, but a professional painter knows that for those walls to look good and the color to last, painting is only half the job. Professionals will prep your walls by patching cracks, caulking holes, sanding and covering imperfections. A painter will know how many coats your walls need and can advise on paint colors and brands. It will get the job done quickly, and it won’t do any damage.
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The same goes for professional plumbers, electricians, heating and air conditioning technicians, granite fabricators and exterminators. If your job is specific or your problem is important, you need a specialist, not a handyman who knows a bit of a lot of different things.
Carpenter. Joiners are some of the handiest in the renovation specialist family. They work with a multitude of tools and may build or repair carpentry, construct stairs, extend a door frame, install kitchen cabinets and repair drywall.
If your project is large enough for a general contractor, chances are you’ll see a carpenter in your home doing at least some of the work.
A caveat: although carpenters are generally versatile, they are not general contractors. My advice: Hire a carpenter for a specific project involving carpentry work, but don’t charge him with a larger renovation project. The same goes for any specialized trade.
Architect. If your project involves knocking down walls, moving kitchen counters, rearranging a room, or changing the structure of your home, you need an architect.
Architects know how to dismantle a part and reassemble it in a way that is safe and still functional. Plus, an architect is a design professional who can save you from making a kitchen too small, for example, or placing your stove, fridge and sink so far apart that you’ll be uncomfortable cooking and cleaning in them. .
Interior decorator. Not to be confused with an interior decorator, a designer is concerned not only with making sure your space looks great, but also with how it functions. Like an architect, a designer knows if your walls are in the right place, where the shower should be in relation to the toilet, and how the design and “flow” of your kitchen can fit your lifestyle.
An interior designer will be happy to give you decoration advice. But while a decorator might just focus on the color and style of a new rug and whether it will complement your sofa, for example, the designer might go a step further, noting if anyone in the house has any allergies and whether the mat doubles as a sound. barrier. The designer can also help you choose countertops, flooring, fixtures, and appliances that suit your lifestyle and coordinate with other finishes, textures, colors, and materials in the room.
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My opinion: just about any project you do will turn out better if you get advice from an interior designer.
General contractor. If your project is going to involve more than just one skilled tradesperson or cost more than a few thousand dollars, you need a general contractor.
Without a general contractor, you will end up finding specialized trades to install your counters, paint your walls, hang your cabinets, plumb your faucets and lay your tiles. It’s a lot of work.
A general contractor has all of these trades, plus landscapers, window installers and on-call. He is your project manager. You tell it what you want, and it figures out how to do it so you don’t have to.
Some general contractors have a great sense of design. But the best ones will refer you to an interior designer to help you plan, select materials, and design a space that works well.
Design/build renovator. When you need all of the above, the Design/Build Renovator is your best friend.
The Design/Build Renovator is a general contractor with designers, architects, and every type of skilled trades you could imagine on staff or on call. This type of renovator will spend time talking to you about exactly what you want and then planning it for you. The best ones have computer programs to show you, in 3D, exactly what your finished piece will look like, so you can make changes before the job is done and it’s too late.
This type of professional remodeler puts as much emphasis on quality of design as on quality of construction. Each owner works with an interior designer who works hand in hand with you, the architect of your project and with the team that comes to your home.
Whichever contractor you hire, choose one that is state-licensed and happy to share the names of past clients that you can call for references. Insist on getting a written contract outlining the price and duration of the project.
Your home is the most expensive and most important thing you own. Let the pros take care of it for you.
Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch., MBA, has been president of JEB Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting www.jebdesignbuild.com.