Knowing when a contractor's needed

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Do I need a contractor? Well, that depends. If you are a homeowner and want to work on your own home, you can perform that work under a Homeowner’s Permit. State law allows you to act as your own general contractor in this case by obtaining a homeowner’s permit. Under that permit you can do any general construction that you want by either performing the labor yourself or contracting out various aspects of your project.  
Additionally, if you want to take a state administered test – and, of course, pass the test – you can perform the electrical and or the plumbing portion of the work for your project. The only part of your project that you cannot undertake is the mechanical portion. This includes the heating and air conditioning. For that, you will have to hire a licensed contractor.
If you are a business owner and want to have work done on your place of business, other than painting and cleaning, you do need a contractor. State law does not provide for any type of ‘owner permit’ that would allow you to undertake that work on your own.  Thus, a business owner cannot act as a general contractor.  Any contractor you hire for that work will need to be a commercially licensed contractor.
If you choose to act as your own contractor there are some general things you should know about.   First, you should have as accurate and as complete a set of plans and specifications as possible.
The ideal situation is to have a design professional prepare these for your project. However, if you think you have the skills to prepare your own plans you can do this as well. A complete set of plans will help you in assembling your budget and your construction schedule.
Like a general contractor, you should have a liability policy to cover your work. This is often provided through your homeowner’s policy. You will have to check with your insurance provider to see if this is adequate protection for your project. Also consider a workman’s compensation policy to cover anyone you might hire to work on your project that does not have their own policy coverage.     
Do not underestimate the impact of weather on your construction schedule and budget. Just as it can be too cold to pour concrete or plaster, it can also be too hot if you don’t take proper precautions. Also be aware of what are commonly known in construction as ‘false economies’.
For example, for your new home or room addition, having an insulation contractor provide and install the insulation can often cost the same as your purchase of the same materials. Similarly, there are certain tasks like drywall and others that, when done by an expert, can save a lot of time. Remember, even for owner builders, time is money.  
 So what is the advantage of being your own contractor?  The biggest advantage is control over the costs and the pace of your project. The extra time can allow you the opportunity to consider items that were hard to see when all you had were the plans – things like adding a skylight or extra ceiling light, colors, wall and floor finishes and adjustments to the locations of windows to capture a view you hadn’t considered.
With any project, no matter how large or how small, whether you want to be your own contractor or hire one, take the time to plan carefully and consider all your options.
If you have any questions please call or write us at the Building Safety Division at 195 East Road, Suite 104, Los Alamos, NM 87544 or email at building@lacnm.us. We look forward to hearing from you.
 Chris Williams,
building official