What Type of Professional Should You Hire?

Learn what common home improvement professionals do and when to hire them.

By: John Riha
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Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

General Contractor

If you have a big project, like an addition or major renovation, hire a licensed general contractor. They'll take over all aspects of the project. With approved architectural plans in hand, a general contractor makes sure permits are in order, hires all subcontractors (such as electricians and roofers), orders all materials, ensures everything is delivered on time and coordinates schedules. A good general contractor is worth the 10 to 20 percent of the project's total cost they’ll charge to keep everything running smoothly while staying within budget.    

Design-Build Firm

A design-build firm combines both planning and construction phases of a project, so it's a great one-stop shop option. The advantage is the entire team is on the same page, communication is seamless and any questions can be resolved swiftly. Pricing and scheduling are accounted for in the design phase, which helps create budget efficiencies. Some firms call themeselves design-build, but aren’t staffed with licensed pros. The best firms offer licensed architects, construction engineers and licensed general contractors. Expect to pay 20 to 27 percent of the project's total cost, which can often be lower than the combined fees of separate architectural and construction services, not to mention the hassle of hiring these pros separately.


A licensed architect designs buildings, and residential architects specialize in homes. They work with homeowners to design houses from scratch or help plan remodels and additions. If your project is complex, an architect can figure out cost-effective solutions. It’s not easy to become a licensed architect — most state architecture boards require the completion of a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, followed by three years in an accredited intern program at an architectural firm. An architect must know construction techniques, building codes and engineering principles. Once their plans are approved by the local governing body, they are handed to a general contractor for construction. Fees are typically 10 to 20 percent of the total construction cost.    

Landscape Designer

If you want a special outdoor feature such as a patio, garden bed or retaining wall, hire a landscape designer. Make sure to do your homework first. A landscape designer is not a regulated or licensed title. A landscape architect, on the other hand, has formal education in the field and has passed strict state tests. Check out his or her portfolio and completed projects before hiring one. A designer will provide a plan for your outdoor space that will cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000, depending on the project's complexity. Some will manage installation for an additional 10 to 20 percent of the total cost, or you can hire a landscape contractor for installation.


Experienced DIYers can handle several home improvement tasks, but many draw the line at dealing with electricity. With good reason — a misstep with wiring or electrical connections can have shocking consequences and may cause a fire. Hiring a licensed electrician is a wise, better-safe-than-sorry move, even if the hourly rate of $50 to $100 is hefty. A licensed electrician knows the electrical code, is dedicated to safe installations and goes through rigorous training that typically includes classwork, a three to five year apprenticeship and another three to four years as a journeyman electrician. Depending on your state’s requirements, the next step is an exam to become a licensed master electrician.


Leaks, clogs and sewage backups — the world of plumbing is fraught with problems that are not only annoying, but can cause expensive damage to floors, walls and other parts of your home. A licensed plumber can take the worry out of your DIY project by ensuring pipes, drains and appliances are properly installed and functioning normally. A licensed plumber has a high school diploma, has taken vocational training and completed a four-to-five-year apprenticeship program. Depending on your state's requirements, they need to pass an exam to become a licensed master plumber. That expertise can make the $45 to $150 hourly rate worth it for peace of mind.    

HVAC Contractor

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractor works on systems that control your home’s temperature, humidity and air quality. They work on a variety of system components including heat pumps, furnaces, boilers, whole-house fans and more. They calculate your home’s energy requirements to right-size new systems or modify existing ones to match your needs. Like most pros, they go through rigorous training that includes on-the-job training under a licensed HVAC contractor, followed by a test to receive a license and become bonded. HVAC contractors will offer a bid for a particular job, and rates range from $250 for the first hour and $150 every hour after that.    


Handymen might have the stigma of being unskilled labor, but a good handyman is a seasoned jack-of-many-trades with invaluable knowledge on a variety of home improvement jobs. Need gutters cleaned, a deadbolt installed or maybe an extra hand to hang drywall? Call a handyman. Many municipalities offer professional handyman services with bonded workers and technicians that are specialists in various trades, ensuring you get the expert help you need. Hire a handyman if you don’t have the time or ability to do it yourself. Rates run from $50 to $125 per hour. Note that a handyman may not be bonded for damage to your property or improper workmanship, so consider a licensed pro for more technical work.    


A carpenter is a skilled, versatile woodworker who’s familiar with all phases of construction — from framing subfloors to delicate trim work. A carpenter typically knows how to install windows and doors, hang cabinets and put together outdoor features like gazebos and decks. An experienced carpenter has a full set of tools and a bag of tricks gathered over the years to help fix problems that inevitably arise during construction. Carpenters don’t have an official licensing program, but some learn their skills at vocational schools or through an apprenticeship with a general contractor. If you need to hire a carpenter, check with general contractors who are familiar with the local labor pool and can recommend reliable folks. Expect to pay a carpenter $15 to $35 an hour.    

Interior Designer

Interior designers plan interior spaces. More than simply arranging furniture and picking wall colors, interior designers create lighting schemes, figure sensible traffic patterns, address storage needs and ensure everything works together. They must be able to read blueprints, know building codes and be aware of universal design standards. Many work hand-in-hand with architects to create great interior spaces. Typically, a pro gets a degree in interior design from an accredited university or completes a training program to become a Certified Interior Designer (CID). Several states require certifications and/or licenses. Costs vary from an hourly rate of $50 to $500, a flat fee that ranges from a few thousand dollars to five figures or a percentage of the total cost of the project.

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