How to Save Money on Your Next Small Repair or Renovation

Canadian society is less blue-collar than ever before, as high-tech industries and service-based work takes on increasingly larger segments of our economy. If you’re like most Canadians, you probably fall into the same category as “handy” as I am: you have hands, but that doesn’t mean you know what to do with them.

If you own or maintain a property, wear and tear is part of everyday life. Whether it’s your children marking up your hardwood floors to chipped or cracked stone countertops, ongoing maintenance can be expensive- especially if you aren’t the right type of handy.

When relying on trades professionals and contractors, it pays to have a working knowledge of how things work. It pays even more to know who to call, and when.

In this article, we’re going to outline a few things you can do to help save some time and money the next time you have a small repair or renovation you need completed.

Save Money By Hiring the Right Professional

“You’d be surprised how often I hear ‘wait, I can hire a handyman for that?’”, says Michel Laurin, owner of Calgary-based Handyco Handyman Services. “Finding the right handyman can save a bundle- you don’t need a master electrician to replace a light fixture, and you don’t need a master carpenter to build your deck for you.”

Hiring experienced generalists – AKA, a handyman – is often the smart choice that the average Canadian doesn’t know to make.

For small renovations, finishing touch-ups, minor electrical/plumbing work, and general home maintenance, a handyman can provide a great service at a lower cost compared to a master tradesperson.

Tips When Hiring a Handyman

Hiring the wrong handyman will quickly make an inexpensive job an expensive endeavor. Look for:

  • A portfolio of their work, specifically relating to the type of job you need done.
  • A written quote based on an actual estimate. It’s normal for a project to have an estimated range vs. a specific cost, but it’s not normal for extremely vague costs to be quoted.
  • The proper insurance and WCB coverage. This coverage is more than a few letters- it represents protection from financial liability in the event of an accident.
  • Above-board payments. “Paying cash” to save on tax sounds great, but exposes you to a huge amount of risk compared to the small amount of cost saved. You want to work with an above-board company, and that means paying taxes.

Ensure You Accurately Scope Your Project

… and then stick to the scope.

“Scoping” your project means itemizing every item of work and piece of material to complete it you’ll need. A scope of work will not only help you budget for the project, but also set clear expectations between yourself and whoever you hire to complete the work. Renovations – even small ones – can represent meaningful investments, so taking the time to properly outline what you need done will help avoid financial or time losses in the future due to misunderstanding.

“Scope creep” is when a project that was originally estimated at 100 hours (for example) gets drawn out as more features or revisions are added. Without having a clear view on billable time/materials and finances, scope creep can lead to severe sticker shock when it comes time to pay up.

How to Avoid Scope Creep


  • Itemize the work you need done, breaking each part of the project down and accounting for labour and materials. You don’t need to be 100% accurate and specific, but you do need to know what exactly it is that you’re hiring someone to do.
  • Get multiple quotes and have the quote break down their estimates for materials/labour for each component of your project. This will help you better understand the market and determine what you will need to do in order to achieve your desired end result.
  • Accept the decisions you make. Second-guessing tile choices midway through installation is going to add up. Take the extra time needed prior to authorizing work to ensure you’re happy.
  • Avoid upsells. If you really needed a bluetooth light switch or two-tone metallic paint, you would have specified it in your initial scope. Stick to what you need. Emotional upselling is the reason most Canadians overspend on major purchases. Repeat after me: you don’t need the bluetooth light switch…
  • Get informed before you get serious. In today’s Google-age, there’s no reason not to do some homework before calling in a professional. Having an idea of what you’ll need and the process required to get there will save you money by helping you avoid unnecessary or duplicate work.


Don’t Make a Mountain Out of a Molehill

Sometimes, small aesthetic tradeoffs result in considerable savings.

“Mounting your air conditioner on the ground as opposed to the side of the house usually costs a fair bit less since it takes less time to install and doesn’t require a wall-mount,” says Bruce Sittler, owner of Action Furnace- a Calgary and Edmonton-based HVAC company.

In other words, parking your AC on the ground could save you a $100 or so compared to wall-mounting it. Ask yourself: will I benefit from paying the premium for a wall-mounted installation?

The same line of thinking also applies inside your home. Consider this: you’ve hired a handyman to repaint the hallway to get rid of your kids’ “art”. It will take them 2 hours and $75 in paint to do the hallway, but the tint of the paint may not perfectly match the color of the bedrooms. This is due to the bedroom paint, being older, having faded somewhat over time. Would you pay the painter another hour or two worth of time to go back to the paint store to get the paint 100% correct?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but know that sweating the small stuff often takes more time… and time costs money.

Know When to Call in Help, & Know When to YouTube it Yourself

Okay, so we established early in the article that most people aren’t handy. Yes, some tasks require a natural aptitude for hands-on work. Still, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to replace a light fixture and save some money in the process.

For smaller tasks that don’t require specialized tools (you do have a screwdriver at home, right?), YouTube often has walkthrough videos that will outline, step by step, what you will need to do.

Even so, you should also make a judgement call about when you need to hire a professional. While YouTube might teach you how to replace a toilet or change a light fixture, you might want to think twice about messing with gas, electrical, or water lines.

In the End, You’ll Save the Most When You’re Prepared

The majority of this article said “get informed and be prepared” in different words, but that’s really what it comes down to. Empower yourself by learning a bit about the task you need done and choosing if you, or someone else, should be the one to do it.

No matter who does the job, you’re sure to save by being informed and getting involved.


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