Handyman vs. General Contractor: What’s the Difference?

Apr 14, 2023 · 5 minutes to read

Handyman or contractor—does it really matter what you call yourself? While both offer services to help customers improve their homes, there are significant differences between a handyman and a general contractor.

A electrician repairs a car

What you call yourself could affect who hires you, as customers will often have particular jobs in mind when they hear each word. It may also determine the steps you need to take to legally work in your state. Deciding which term describes you, along with the services you’ll provide and your target customer, could make or break your business.

What is a Handyman?

A handyman is a “jack of all trades” of the home maintenance world. Handymen are typically hired by homeowners to complete small repairs or maintenance projects that they may not have the time or ability to do themselves.

Becoming a handyman can be easy. In many states, all you need to get started are basic home repair and maintenance skills. You may complete a short training course to gain these or rely on your current abilities.

What is a General Contractor?

Like a handyman, a general contractor is an all-rounder when it comes to construction. Homeowners hire general contractors (sometimes called an independent contractor) for larger projects than a handyman would typically handle.

Becoming a general contractor is more complicated than becoming a handyman. You will typically need experience in construction and possibly specialized training in areas such as plumbing and electrical. Many states require general contractors to pass an exam and a background check.

What is the difference between a Handyman and General Contractor?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what a handyman and a general contractor is, let’s look at some key differences between them:

Licensing Requirements

There are no licensing requirements for handymen in most states. However, you may be limited in the type of work you can perform and the total cost of projects you can take on. You might need a handyman contractor license to work in certain cities or counties, even if your state does not require one.

For example, a handyman in Arizona can work without a license on projects worth less than $1,000 that do not require a building permit. In Pennsylvania, you are required to register with the state Attorney General’s office if you do more than $5,000 worth of home improvement work in a year.

General contractors, on the other hand, must be licensed to work in most states. The licensing requirements vary from state to state and may differ in specific cities. Typically, you will need to pass an exam and provide proof of General Liability insurance to get a license.

Job sizes

Handymen and general contractors typically take on different sized jobs. A handyman will usually take on small jobs that require just one person. The work they do is typically less expensive, in part due to price limitations set by your state or city.

General contractors usually work on larger projects that often require multiple people to complete. A general contractor may work on the project themselves, while also coordinating specialist independent contractors such as electricians, flooring installers, or painters.

Types of Jobs

Handymen typically do small repairs, such as:

  • Patching drywall
  • Retouching paint
  • Replacing a bathroom faucet
  • Unclogging pipes

General contractors typically take on larger projects, like:

  • Framing a wall and installing sheetrock
  • Building a deck
  • Installing a new bathroom
  • Rerouting electrical wiring

Are you a Handyman or a General Contractor?

There are many differences between a handyman and a general contractor. Deciding how you will advertise your services depends on your qualifications, experience, and tools. You may want to ask yourself these questions as you weigh your options:

  • What is your work experience and training? If you have mastered the basics of home maintenance and repair, you may be able to immediately start working as a handyman. However, you may need more training or experience as an apprentice before becoming a general contractor.
  • What licenses are required in your area? You will likely need a license to work as a general contractor. You may need to wait to accept jobs until your application is approved.
  • Do you have the tools needed to do the job? Handymen can likely get by with a well-stocked toolbox. However, a general contractor may need larger power tools and speciality tools for more complicated jobs.
  • Do you want to manage a team? You will typically work on your own as a handyman but may manage a small team of independent contractors as a general contractor.
  • How long do you want to spend on one project? A general contractor may spend weeks or even months on the same project. A handyman might complete multiple projects in the same day.

There are pros and cons to working as a handyman or general contractor. Asking yourself these and other questions could help you decide how you will market your small business and set yourself apart from the competition.

Handyman or Contractor: Building your Business

Both handymen and general contractors help customers repair, remodel, and maintain their homes. The services you provide can create a better living space—whether you’re installing a new kitchen or just replacing a leaky faucet.

Whatever you decide to call yourself, you should consider handyman insurance or Contractor liability insurance to protect yourself and your customers. Get a free quote in minutes and get back to building your business!

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