Working with Your Contractor and Planning Your Home Reno Project

How do you find the right contractor for your home renovation?

Home renovation projects are not always easy, they required good planning as well as budgeting —and it all starts with hiring the right team. However, we all know it can be tough to find a good contactor when you want one. As the demand for home renovations continues, so does the challenge of finding the right contractor, especially for larger projects.The important thing to remember is to be patient, do your research and educate yourself. 


Mike Holmes, Mike Jr. and Sherry Holmes on Holmes Family Rescue

It's important to always understand the scope of work required before taking on any home renovation project.

You will have a much better relationship with your contractor by understanding the scope of your project, timelines, and materials required. This means asking a lot of questions, getting references especially if it’s your first time working with that contractor, and looking for 3 quotes before deciding which contractor to proceed with. 


To help you get started here’s a guide on how to find the right contractor and how to plan and budget for your renovation project.


What Should Homeowners Do BEFORE they look for a contractor?

You’ve set your mind on what renovation project you’ll tackle next and are ready to start looking for a contractor. Here are a few important things to keep in mind during your search:


  1. Do Your Research – check out different renovations, do some cost comparisons, look at different methods, materials etc.

  2. Create a list or mood board of things you like and don’t like —include a list of MUST have’s

  3. Ensure you have a realistic budget —plus at least a 20% buffer for the unexpected

  4. Understand what restrictions you may need to consider —especially if you live in a condo

  5. Understand there will be some level of disruption —project timelines change all the time because of unexpected surprises that can come up as contractors tear through the walls 



What are some Good Questions to Ask Your Potential Contractor?

So what type of questions should you be asking your contractor before you sign the contract for your home renovation project. It’s important to get a sense of their expertise, business licenses, and understand what’s included in the scope of work. Also, will they be purchasing the materials or will you be taking on that cost? All of these are important things to consider.


Here are some more items to keep in mind:


  1. How long have you been in business?

  2. What is their background, education and training?

  3. Do they have a business licence? 

  4. Do they have liability insurance and WSIB?

  5. What are the contractors “limitations of liability”?

  6. Will you be hiring sub-trades? How will they be paid?

  7. What kind of permits will be required and who is responsible for obtaining them?

  8. Do you have a list of references and past clients we can contact?

  9. What is a realistic timeline for the project, including a buffer?

  10.  How many other projects are you working on right now?

  11.  How quickly can you start the project?

  12.  Who will purchase the materials?

  13.  What is the procedure if there is a set-back?

  14.  Who is responsible for worksite clean-up?

  15.  Do you have a warranty on the work or after-care service?

  16.  Will you provide a point-person for the project?

  17.  Do you have detailed contracts?


Mike Holmes and Mike Holmes Jr working on project for Holmes Next Generation

Make sure to always get everything in writing. Everything needs to be documented.


What other Things Should You Consider When Working With A Contractor?

When starting your next big renovation project with a general contractor there are some things that are important to note.


Have a good rapport with your contractor

It’s vital to have a single point person for all-job related communications. I advise sending follow-up emails outlining the main points of any telephone or text conversations, as this will prevent any misunderstandings or confusion. 


For older, senior homeowners, I advise having a helper or family member be aware and knowledgeable of the project, especially if the project is significant. Remember to have frequent conversations with your point person, don’t go overboard but be invested in your project.


Always have a written contract

A contract safeguards both you and the contractor and includes important information, like the scope of the project. It also includes any reference to structural changes, list of relevant permits, materials and fixtures etc. Basically it summarizes everything that relates to the project. 


Can My General Contractor Do All The Work? 

While general contractors can do most of the work, it’s important that they or you as the homeowner hire licensed professionals for some other jobs like electrical, plumbing and HVAC. Ensure you hire a licensed electrical contracting business when doing any electrical work, and the same goes for plumbing – hire a licensed plumber and an HVAC (Heating, Venting, and Air Conditioning).

Your contractor should also be aware of any permits that need to be pulled. Be aware that certain permits, like electrical, plumbing and HVAC are distinct and job specific, and are different than a building permit. 


Electrical Safety Tips Every Homeowner Should Know

Always work with a licensed electrical contracting business. Not only will they be able to do the job safely, but they can make sure all the required permits are pulled and a notification of work is filed with the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA).


Tip: To find a licensed electrical contractor near you visit All LECs should have a 7-digit ECRA/ESA number that you also verify on their website to make sure the contractor is in good standing and is licensed like he says he is. 


Depending on the scope of the electrical work, for example a complete bathroom demo and new layout, there will be two phases to the process. 

  • Phase One - is the rough-in stage where the wiring and junction boxes are inspected. A certificate will be issued at this stage. Homeowners should ask for a copy and keep in it in their renovation binder for reference. This is important for insurance purposes and will be good to have if you plan to sell your house some day.

  • Phase Two - is the final inspection where the inspector tests all the outlets etc. Again, get a copy of the final certificate and add it to your renovation binder.




Do I Need To Hire A Licensed Plumber?

Replacing a fixture is one thing, but if you your renovation involves installing a new toilet, a tub and or shower or moving your plumbing around, make sure to hire a licensed plumber to do the job. They will make sure all the connections are done correctly, including traps and shut off valves.

The contract should also include a line item for “allowances”; this can include hidden issues or unknowns behind the walls. For example, if you have a water damage or a discovery of asbestos – both of these scenarios can have a significant impact on your budget. 


Tip: Before any additional work is done, receive change orders in writing and understand the repercussions.




What Should Be Included In A Home Renovation Contract?

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a written contract. This document will sa

  • Detailed description of the work, including the materials and products to be used.

  • Start dates and completion dates

  • Detailed payment schedule that lays out when and how much you will be charged.

  • What lien holdbacks are required.

  • Contractor’s warranty, and after-service care detailing what is covered and the duration.

  • Confirmation of business liability coverage for your project, and that required Workers’ Compensation coverage is in place.




Keep a Renovation Binder

To keep yourself on track and involved with the project I suggest keeping a journal. You can keep all your notes, questions you may have, or ideas that you want to share. It’s also important for keeping track of product selections and and model numbers, delivery dates etc. 


Yes, you can keep a digital journal on your computer or IPAD but I’m a bit old school and prefer a binder. Plus, it’s a great thing to have as a reference and it may come in handy when you decide to sell your home.


Keep on Top of the Progress and Check the Work Is Completed

This is where your renovation binder can really help you stay organized. Most renovation work is done in stages. For example, if you are remodeling your main floor living space, including the kitchen, the process would be something like this:


  1. Planning and Design

  2. Demolition

  3. Framing

  4. Mechanicals/Plumbing/Electrical

  5. Drywall

  6. Flooring

  7. Cabinets

  8. Appliances

  9. Fixtures and Furnishings


Be aware of what’s going on at every stage – it’s your home, your investment, plus it will give you peace of mind. I also suggest, NOT going on vacation and leaving it all to your contractor to manage the job, unless there is huge amount of trust or longevity to the relationship, but even then I would be cautious.


When Should I Pay For My Home Renovation Work?

When budgeting for a project it’s important to consider the age of the house, the size of the project, and the project's complexity. Is it mostly cosmetic, or do you intend to move walls and reorganise electrical and plumbing?

Tip for Homeowners: Always have about 20% extra in your budget for the unexpected. If you don’t use it, it can go back into your home maintenance account. 


Home Renovation Approximate Budgets To Help You Plan Your Project. Illustration by Restovate Ltd. 

When signing the contract make sure to have a work schedule, timeline, as well as payment schedule included. Payments should typically be made at major stages of the project but you should always withhold the final sum (typically 10-15%) until the work is finished and you and your contractor are satisfied with the work completed. 


If all the checks and balances have been maintained throughout the project, there shouldn’t be any surprises at this point. However, there should also be a clause in the contract on how deficiencies, and delays will be resolved. Again, this is good so everyone is on the same page and a payment schedule helps manage everyone’s expectations.




Sample Payment Schedule

Let's get one thing straight. No professional contractor should require a 50% deposit at the time of signing.


When working with a contractor, here is a basic payment schedule you could follow:


  • 10% Upon Signing Contract

  • 25% Upon Demo and Delivery of all Materials

  • 25% Upon Completion of Framing

  • 25% Upon Completion of Installation of Finishes and Cabinetry

  • 10% Holdback of 45 Days


Home Renovation Payment Schedule. Illustration by Restovate Ltd. 


Be a Good Customer

Treat your contractor and all other trades with respect and courtesy. Of course, this applies both ways, so you should set some ground rules and timing with your general contractor, particularly if you want to live there while the renovation is being done.


A schedule with times and dates should be established at the start of the project. But things do happen that are beyond anyone’s control, and that’s where open and honest communication is best for any hiccups that may occur along the way. Identifying and addressing problems as they happen will help prevent surprises and keep the project on track. 


We loved working with the team at Lume Cucine for one of the kitchens on our show, Holmes Family Rescue.


There are many things to consider when doing any kind of renovation, whether it be small or large. However, if you are well organized, have done your research and know what you want you should have a successful project. Follow these guidelines and you and your contractor will be happy!





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