Tips for Hiring the right Contractor for your project.


Contractor Hiring Tips

Hiring a new contractor can be stressful and time consuming. Homii has listed helpful tips when hiring a contractor:

Major projects often require the services of an architect or other professionals such as engineers, heating contractors, and landscaping contractors. Blueprints and building plans are not only required to obtain building permits and other municipal approvals, they are also the basis for the renovation contractor’s price quote.

When making plans, be realistic about the amount of time it will take to complete the project. Also be realistic about costs; full cost quotes plus an additional 10% to 20% contingency fund for changes and unexpected expenses should be planned on.

Unless the project will last only a few weeks, it is wise to discuss your project with neighbours. They will appreciate advanced notice that noise, dirt and clutter will be unavoidable at times, daytime activity will be increased, and that vehicles belonging to the contractor and crew will be parked along the street until project completion.

If you will require the services of both a contractor and a designer, get them together as a team as early in the project as possible, so each party can benefit from the other’s experience and expertise. Not only will the project itself go more smoothly – but the end result will be the best possible.

Have the designer or renovator provide you with sketches detailed enough to provide you with an idea of what to expect in the way of time involvement, what services from other professionals you might require, materials needed, and project expense.

Have the designer or renovator provide you with sketches detailed enough to provide you with an idea of what to expect in the way of time involvement, what services from other professionals you might require, materials needed, and project expense.

When looking for a qualified contractor, use all available resources. Word of mouth recommendations from others who have had similar work done recently, information from local licensing agencies, and Internet resources like Homii are all helpful tools.

To narrow down possible candidates, request each contractor’s business license number and check it out with the local licensing office. The law requires contractors to have a licence. By contacting your municipal licensing bureau you can confirm that the company has a licence, how long it has been in business and whether any complaints have been filed against it in the past.

Make sure each candidate carries public liability and property damage insurance. Take the time to check with the insurance agency to verify the policy is still in force.

Another basic requirement, one every contractor with employees should meet, is the provision of Workers’ Compensation (WSIB); a type medical insurance also known as “workers’ comp.” Any subcontractor hired by the contractor should also be covered.

If the contractor is uninsured and/or has uninsured employees don’t even consider hiring them. Otherwise, you could be sued and held monetarily responsible for worker’s injuries sustained while on your property. A fate more than one project owner has been forced to deal with, simply because of a hasty hiring decision.

Ask each candidate how long they have worked in the area, and whether or not they have experience with projects similar to your own. If so, get the names of homeowners they completed the projects for and contact them. Verify the information, and ask about the quality of work, and whether or not they would ever use the services of the contractor again.

Do not be concerned about possibly offending the contractor by requesting such information. Reputable contractors will not be offended because they will have nothing to hide.

Narrow your candidate list down further to determine which contractors to get bids from; get bids from at least 3, but the more the better.

The only way for project bids to be assessed fairly and accurately is for each contractor to be provided with exact copies of plans for the detailed project. Have each contractor use identical forms when making a bid.

Be sure the quote includes materials and fixtures that meet project specifications, which party will be responsible for obtaining and paying for all necessary licenses, whether or not the project site will be cleaned up and debris hauled away at the end of each work day, the project completion date, the total clean up of project site once project has been completed, amount of down payment – if any, and a payment plan.

Providing identical project plans and forms makes it easier to select the contractor who best meets your needs. The form itself should be thorough;requesting specific – not vague – information. Avoid terms such as “estimate;” instead, use terms such as “bid” and “quote.” Avoid phrases such as “of like kind” in regards to materials to be used.

When going over bids, remember that the lowest bid is not always the best. Examine bids carefully to determine which contractor provides the best service, selects the highest quality materials for your project, is most experienced, and seems most capable of completing the project to meet your expectations, in the best timeline possible.

Things to be Wary of:

  • Contractors that request large deposits “to buy materials.” Established, reputable contractors maintain charge accounts with their suppliers.
  • Requests complete payment upfront.
  • Accepts only cash payments
  • Contractors who are vague; demand detailed, written bids and contracts that specify in detail the project, materials used, and work to be performed.
  • Pressures you for a quick hiring decision or offers a discount for an on-the-spot hiring
  • Requests that you obtain the required building permits without providing or offering assistance with the process
  • Contractors who provide you with a post office box instead of a physical address, and a telephone answering service instead of their own telephone number for contact purposes.


Only after careful consideration are you ready to make your selection. When you do, it is time to get the contractor and designer (if there is one) together for the purpose of obtaining a final drawing, and a final quote from the contractor, based upon any plan revisions.

If there is any difference of opinion between your renovator and design professional about procedures or materials, now is the time to resolve it. Taking care of these type issues now will avoid significant changes during construction that would cause delays or affect cost.

Once everything has been agreed upon, your next step is to get everything in writing. Contracts should be detailed and specific. Insist that both the contractor and designer sign the contract.

When agreeing to payment arrangements, remember that the Construction Lien Act allows you to withhold 10% of the total cost of the project for 45 days beyond the substantial completion of the project.

This protects you if the renovator fails to pay all subcontractors and suppliers; it is not withheld, however, to ensure that the job itself is properly completed.

The piece of paper, or contract, describing work to be performed, detailing the project, and quoting a price for the project, is a legal document, binding to all parties who sign it.

For that reason, make sure you read the contract carefully before signing it. Make sure all aspects of the project are accurately described, and that everything promised and agreed upon is included.

Never sign any document you have not read carefully, or that contains only vague references to vital aspects of the project. Once the contract has been signed, the contractor is not legally bound to promises not included in the contract.

If something detailed in the contract is not clear to you, ask for an explanation and request that a revision be made to the contract. If still in doubt, discuss the matter with a reputable lawyer.

The Contract Should Include:

  • Names and physical addresses of the buyer and seller (yourself and the contractor). Be sure that the contractor’s firm, if there is one, is the same one referred to in the contract, and that the contract includes the firm’s full title, address, telephone number, and the name of the firm’s official representative. The physical address of the project site should also be included.
  • A detailed description of the project, including plans and drawings, when applicable, as well as specific materials to be used. Included, too, should be all work being subcontracted (i.e. plumbing, wiring, etc.). Clear and concise job specifications should be outlined to avoid problems and misunderstandings that could later arise.
  • All required building permits should be noted, as well as who will be responsible for obtaining and paying for them.
  • Notation that all work will be done according to local building codes.
  • Notation that the contractor will clean up the construction site at the end of each workday, and remove debris, and that all debris will be removed by the contractor at the completion of the project.
  • A statement of all warranties, with an explanation as to what is covered, and for how long.
  • A statement of the contractor’s public liability and property damage insurance.
  • Starting and completion dates; penalties, if any. It is also a good idea to get in writing how many days each week the contractor plans to work on your project. This is because some contractors take on several jobs at once, dividing their time between them.
  • Project cost and terms of payment.
  • Any other information, terms, or promises, vital to the project.


Remember, verbal assurances are worthless; get everything in writing! Never agree to “progression” clauses in the contract that require payments at specified times, regardless of amount of work accomplished.

Although there are printed contract forms, there is no such thing as a “standard contract.” Each contract is as individual as the project itself and agreed upon terms. All spaces in a contract should be filled in; blanks not applicable to the project should be filled in with “N/A” (not applicable), or NIL (nothing). Clearly strike out any aspect of the contract you do not agree with, or request that the contract be rewritten.

If there is to be a contingency clause (allowing additional charges in the event of unexpected problems – such as running into solid rock when excavating a basement, agree upon and note in the contract any restrictions.

Contingency clauses are legitimate aspects of a contract, and a better alternative to agreeing to a higher project quote that might be given to cover such unseen possibilities. Prudent buyers will keep 10% to 20% of projected price of the project on hand for just such purposes.

Smaller projects, such as painting or laying down carpeting, don’t require as detailed a contract. However, no job – regardless of size – should be initiated without at least a written statement of work to be performed, materials to be used, warranties, project cost, and start and finish dates.

Even when specific project materials have been agreed upon, a situation might occasionally arise when another type of material is used, instead. For instance, when the original materials are no longer available, or the homeowner has decided upon a different material.

At such times, and for the protection of both parties, changes should never be made without the written approval of the homeowner, and a signed statement from the contractor reflecting either a credit due or extra charge for change in materials. If the change will affect project completion date, that should also be noted.

When renovations are being financed by a loan, it would be a good idea to check and see whether or not the loan authority must also approve any changes once the contract has been signed. Find out who will be responsible to pay the extra funds, if any, and how funds will be paid.

The key to avoiding unnecessary project problems is open, regular communication! Therefore, touch base with the contractor frequently to see how the project is progressing.

If you’ve any questions or concerns about the project, discuss them freely with the contractor. Schedule a meeting with your contractor when they can discuss these matters without distraction.

Remember, project success is a two-way street. Be flexible when minor changes occur that will not affect the appearance, function, or quality of the project. Note any changes made in writing.

If a problem does arise and a disagreement develops between you and your contractor, stay calm so that tempers do not flare. Set a time for you and your contractor to get together, and go over the contract. Listen to your contractor’s side of things, and request they do the same for you. If the problem remains, seek another opinion from a knowledgeable friend; if the situation is serious enough, discuss the situation with your lawyer.

The most common problems that arise include poor workmanship, delays, and misunderstandings about the scope of the work. If your contractor has taken on other projects simultaneously with yours, causing your project to stall for days or weeks between visits, insist they adhere to a regular work schedule, and complete your project at the promised time.

If your contractor refuses to comply, send them a registered letter threatening to cancel the contract and seek a refund of the down payment, as permitted by law in some provinces. This may help to rectify the problem, especially if the letter notes a copy of the letter has been sent to the homeowner protection department of your local government, or to the contractor’s bonding company.

Bad workmanship and poor business practices can be reported to the government department from which the contractor obtained their license. This office will take necessary action if deemed appropriate.

If you think some of the work is not up to local or Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) standards, report it in writing to the appropriate inspection department. If it is determined that the quality of work does not meet code requirements, the contractor will be forced to make necessary corrections at their own expense.

Down payments are seldom requested on routine home improvements and repairs. Larger projects are even sometimes initiated without a cash advance, although a 10% to 20% down payment is not unreasonable. If funds are requested upfront for appliances, materials, or custom cabinet work that must be ordered by the contractor, make the cheque payable to the supplier and not the contractor.

Always make payment with a cheque, cheques are safer than carrying cash, and provide a record of payment. If you do pay the contractor with cash, get a signed receipt upon payment.

Smaller jobs that only take a few days to complete most often require one payment upon completion. Larger jobs, however, usually require multiple interim payments. Even then, payments should be paid only for work completed, not for project amount. Always hold back some money in reserve to ensure the job is completed to your satisfaction and contract guidelines.

Another purpose for withholding some money on all payments is to protect yourself against liens that could be placed on your property by suppliers or workers that the contractor failed to pay.

All provinces, except Quebec, have lien laws that limit your liability to a certain percentage of the contract price. Unless your contractor has provided full documentation that all suppliers have been paid in full, it would be prudent to withhold this amount from payments, for the time allowed for creditors to register a lien on your property. This is usually between 30 to 60 days after the contract work is complete.

Even after the period of time has elapsed, you or your lawyer should check with the land registry or land titles office before paying the holdback to make sure no liens have been placed on your property. If a lien has been applied, make no more payments to the contractor until you have received notice that the lien has been discharged.

Because lien legislation differs from province to province in Canada, it would be wise to contact a lawyer to verify the rules and conditions of liens in your jurisdiction. And never hand over final payment or sign a certificate of completion or any other document that releases the contractor from further responsibility until everything you were promised has been done. Accept no promises that they will be back “in a few days to finish everything off.”

By following this step by step guide to planning a project, finding and hiring a qualified contractor, contract content and signing, and dealing with problems, you help insure the success of your project, and eliminate problems that might otherwise have occurred.

Printable Checklists & Forms

Contractor Selection Checklist

This handy “things to consider before selecting a candidate checklist” takes the guesswork out of finding the best contractor. Helping homeowners compare one service provider against others and more fairly compare prices to make the best choice.

Contract Content Checklist

The importance of contract content for contract labor cannot be over emphasized. For your own self-protection, the use of a standard construction contract should be avoided; unless amendments are added which will include detailed project specifics. This helpful checklist will prove invaluable.

Contractor Reference Checklist

A contractor referral reference check list that will help ensure each candidate is a reliable home contractor; providing accurate information, is reliable, provides quality work, and has experience in the type of work required to complete your project competently.

Universal Home Design Checklist

This handy universal home design checklist includes all the essentials required for the physically challenged. To help create a lifetime home that will meet the needs of each individual; regardless of physical ability or person’s age or size.

Homii also suggests that you visit the following links provided by the Ministry of Government Services for more useful tips and advice on hiring a contractor and to protect yourself and your home during renovations.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
Grants for Residential Property Owners

Homii also suggests that you visit the following links provided by the Ministry of Government Services for more useful tips and advice on hiring a contractor and to protect yourself and your home during renovations.

Sample Renovation Contract Template

For residents of Ontario

Ministry of homeowner Services – Home Repairs and Renovations

What do you do when you hire a bad contracting business?

Use the below 8 consumer protection resources available in Ontario.

Ontario Trade Licensing and Certifications

Ontario trade licensing is very strict. Be sure that you understand which trades require licences in order for those contractors to legally work in the province.

A comprehensive guide to regulated trade licensing in Ontario:

In Ontario, there are specific trades that require the appropriate certification in order for tradespeople to work in the province. These trades are called compulsory trades. The Ontario College of Trades sets out to protect Ontarians by regulating skilled trades. It is paramount that compulsory trades have the appropriate training and certification to practice legally in Ontario.
The Ontario College of Trades is responsible for establishing apprenticeship/training programs, and issuing Certificates of Qualification, among other things.
You can check to see if the tradesperson you consider hiring is registered with the Ontario College of Trades through their ‘find a member’ search.. through their ‘find a member’ search. Doing so will let you know if they have the appropriate compulsory certifications, regulated by the province.
In addition, you can check with the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA)/Electrical Contractor Registration Agency (ECRA) for an electrician’s licence number. In Ontario, electricians must be registered, certified, and licensed with the governing body before participating in any business. You can check to see if your electrician is licensed here

The Ontario College of Trades protects the interests of the public and tradespeople. Practicing journeypersons and apprentices must meet the standards of The Ontario College of Trades in order to legally practice. Members of the Ontario College of Trades are subject to regulations including enforcement complaint, and incident processes. The Ontario College of Trades investigates public complaints regarding its members through investigations and inspections. The College is at liberty to enforce charges, penalties, and tickets to its members if an offense has been reported about them. Members can appeal their charges.

A Certificate of Apprenticeship from Ontario means that the tradesperson has completed the necessary training for their skilled trade in the province under the regulatory body, according to provincial standards. If an individual meets all apprenticeship program requirements, they are able to write a Certificate of Qualification Exam.

The Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) recognizes highly skilled workers. It means that the individual is certified to practice their trade in Ontario.

Trade Equivalency Assessment (TEA) helps tradespeople from outside Ontario become qualified to work within the province. Even though they may be certified elsewhere, and have sufficient experience and skills, they may not meet Ontario standards. Compulsory trades require that journeypersons or registered apprentices are legally certified to practice their trade professionally. The TEA certificate issues individuals to legally work in Ontario for a limited time, while they write the Certificate of Equivalence examination. Completing this assessment enables a tradesperson to complete a C of Q with The Ontario College of Trades, and practice their trade in the province.

C of Q’s are not applicable for every trade. Not every tradesperson in Ontario is required to have a C of Q. Those who are eligible to take the C of Q exam include: those with a Certificate of Apprenticeship; those who have applied to the Journeyperson Class; and those who have an approved Trade Equivalency Assessment.

Tradespeople that complete the TEA Assessment and pass their C of Q are able to work across Canada on the Agreement on Internal Trade.
The Red Seal authorizes a tradesperson to work in Ontario, and interprovincially. To hold a Red Seal, Journeypersons must complete a TEA Assessment and Membership Application, and pay a verification fee before they can apply for Journeyperson membership with The Ontario College of Trades. All Red Seal trades people must be in good standing with The Ontario College of Trades.

Certified Workers from Quebec who hold an authorizing certificate in some trades are not required to have a membership with The Ontario College of Trades, although they may apply for Journeyperson Class.

Compulsory trades require that a tradesperson must register as an apprentice, journeyperson, or have journeyperson certification in order to work in the field. You can check this list to view all 22 compulsory trades in Ontario. Some trades include:

Electrician (domestic, rural, contraction, and maintenance)

Electricians must have their C of Q, or be registered apprentices working with an employer. An Electrical Contractor License is issued to electrical contracting businesses engaging with clients anywhere in Ontario. Every electrical contracting business doing any electrical work must hold a valid Electrical Contractors License. To apply for the license, an individual must have at least $2,000,00 in damage insurance coverage, and have registered with the Workplace Safety Board.

Master Electricians must have a C of Q, take an additional exam, have at least 3 years of electrical experience in the trade, and either have been working as a licensed P.Eng with the PEO, or as a CET or C.Tech with the OACETT. Sole Proprietors should apply for their Master Electrician License.
Domestic and Rural electricians complete electrical wiring for construction, repairs, and remodeling.

Gas Technicians must have a C of Q under the Ontario Energy Act, administered by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). Depending on the training, the technician can have further breadth to their work capabilities.

Plumbers must have their C of Q, or be a registered apprentice in order to work in the field. Plumbers must be licensed in Ontario if they are intending to work in construction, or if they are to install fittings and fixtures for water distribution in buildings. Any plumber working in kitchen and bathroom renovations also requires a license.

These mechanics must have a C of Q, or be a registered apprentice in the field. These mechanics repair, service, build, and install a number of cooling systems for residential and commercial use.

Depending on municipalities, a contractor may need more licensing than the Ontario College of Trades requires for a journeyperson to work in the field.

For example, Toronto bylaws stipulate than anyone who is a building renovator needs a city of Toronto license in order to work in the city (a building renovator classifies as “a person engaged in the business of altering, repairing or renovating buildings or structures… and includes any person who solicits for such work… but does not include a building contractor whose principal business is the construction of buildings or structures.”) Obtaining this licensing may require additional documentation, and further project examination by city examiners. Plumbing and heating journeypersons would need Ontario College of Trades’ certifications first, and then the additional municipal licensing. Checking your municipal code will let you know what types of contractors are considered renovators, and therefore, which of your contractors needs a city license to operate.
If an officer pops by to see the building permit and the contractor does not have one, the officer can halt the project and fine the contractor.

Additionally, The Toronto Bylaw 545 asserts that city licensed renovators are to sign contracts with their clients. The bylaw states that renovators “shall enter into a written contract with the person for whom the work is to be performed to be signed by the renovator and such person”.

Because licensing requirements change, it is important that you check with both your provincial and municipal office to verify if any updates have been made or additional licenses, or permits are required.
If you understand that there are additional or updated licensing requirements, or restrictions or laws pertaining to skilled trades performed in Ontario, feel free to comment in the forum below.

Contractors practicing compulsory trades must be registered with the Ontario College of Trades. You may check if a contractor is registered as a member: click here
Ontario electricians must be registered, licensed, and certified with the Electrical Safety Authority. You can check if a contractor is properly licensed: click here

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (The Ministry) leads business law and consumer protection in Ontario. The Ministry enforces public service and consumer protection and safety laws. It also mitigates consumer complaints. The Ministry also created the Consumer Protection Ontario awareness program. This program aims to inform consumers about the marketplace by educating them about consumer rights, and important safety precautions to take in the marketplace.

View a business’s history before you get involved with them on the Ontario Consumer Beware List: click here
Information for protecting yourself as a home buyer, or a homeowner starting a renovation: click here
Learn about your consumer rights for starting home renovations or repairs (including the final price of all goods and construction liens): click here
Learn about your consumer rights for signing and cancelling contracts: click here
Learn about your consumer rights during door-to-door sales and contract signing (including cooling off periods): click here
Read the Ontario Consumer Protection Act: click here
Your rights as a consumer under this act: click here
Read the Ontario Construction Lien Act: click here
Contact Consumer Protection Ontario
Toll free: 1-800-889-9768
Consumer rights information for home renovations and repairs: click here

Complaints against general businesses:
You must file a consumer complaint with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services: file a consumer complaint here
Complaints against Electrical Contractors:
You may file a complaint against an electrical contractor through the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA): file a complaint against an electrical contractor here
Complaints against contractors working in compulsory trades:
You may file a complaint against a contractor working in a compulsory trade if you suspect Report this contractor to the Ontario College of Trades.
File a complaint on The College complaints page: click here
Fill out a complaint form: click here
Send it to: complaints@collegeoftrades.ca

If you are dissatisfied with a home inspection service, you must file a formal complaint with the individual’s association.

Under the Ontario New Home Warranties Act, Ontario builders are to provide warranty coverage for work, material, and structural defects over a number of years. Thus, new home warranties are mandatory in Ontario. Tarion Home Warranty Corporation administers The Act through home warranty services for Ontario new home buyers and owners. Tarion registers new home builders and vendors while protecting consumers against illegal building practices.

Read about home warranty coverage: click here
Read about builder coverage details: click here
Read the Ontario New Home Warranties Act: click here

It is important to seek legal action if a home renovation does not go according to plan. However, keep in mind that some avenues may be less time consuming, and less expensive. First consider negotiation or mediation with the other party. If this option is not suitable, seek legal action in your province through one of the following:
Take the case into your own hands through the Ontario Sample Renovation Contract Template Small Claims Court. Small claim disputes must be $25,000.00 of below (excluding slander and defamation claims). You may represent yourself without a lawyer.

Lean more about small claims court: click here
How to make a claim:click here
Civil cases involving disputes over $25,000.000 are heard in The Superior Court of Justice(civil court) with the presence of a lawyer, or by oneself.

Make sure that you understand the process of a civil action:click here
Be sure to fill out the forms that are required for your civil case: click here for the forms

Contact the Ministry of the Attorney General