All About Contracts
Professional contractors always work with a thorough written contract that includes a detailed project plan and specifies exactly what you and your contractor have agreed to. A contract is the best way to protect yourself and to ensure things go as planned — in fact, it’s a valuable part of what a professional contractor provides.
Sample Renovation Contract Looking for an example to follow? Download the Sample Renovation Contract from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
What kind of contract do you need? For a minor home repair, like replacing a kitchen faucet, a simple work order may be adequate. For more substantial repairs, such as roof re-shingling, you’ll want detail on the materials to be used and on the contractor's warranty. For complex repairs, renovations and custom home construction, the contract can become fairly lengthy and will need to include full plans and specifications.
For more details on contracts, visit the following sections:
Developing a Complete Contract
How do you develop a contract that meets the needs of both you and your contractor?
Usually, your contractor will prepare a standard draft contract for you to review. Read through this document carefully to ensure it accurately reflects what you want. If your project is high value or complex, you may also want a lawyer to review the draft contract. If you don’t agree with or understand aspects of the draft, or if details are missing, discuss and resolve this with the contractor before you sign the contract.
What is a good contract? Essentially, a contract is good if it treats both parties fairly. You want assurance you’ll get what you agreed to, on the schedule agreed to, at the price agreed to. Contractors want their obligations clearly spelled out, and assurance that you will pay in full and on time.
Essential Contract Information
Most contracts include at least two kinds of information.
First, the contract defines what you and the contractor have agreed to. This includes basic information such as:
- who the contractor is
- what the contractor is responsible for doing, what work you will do yourself or have another contractor do
- who is responsible for obtaining necessary building permits and inspections
- when the work will be done (start and estimated completion dates)
- how much you will pay the contractor for the work
- when payments are to be made
- what warranty the contractor provides for the work
Second, the contract addresses what happens if there is an accident or if the contractor fails to conduct business properly. To achieve this, the contract should specify that your contractor:
- has adequate business liability insurance
- is enrolled in your province's Workers' Compensation program, or if exempt, carries equivalent private disability insurance
- agrees to payment holdbacks in accordance with your province's lien legislation
- has a Business or GST/HST Number
- is bonded if your province requires bonding
- has a license number if your municipality requires contractors to be licensed
Disputes and Defaults
What about disputes between you and the contractor? For construction and larger renovation projects, contracts commonly specify that mediation or third-party arbitration is required when disputes cannot be resolved.
It is also common for contracts to include provisions that allow either party to be released from the contract if the other party defaults in specific ways. For example, the contractor defaults if he or she declares bankruptcy or abandons your project. Similarly, you default if you declare bankruptcy or fail to pay the contractor.
How Prices are Determined
Contractors typically use one of four methods to set the price of a project.
Each one is suited to a particular type of work. On larger projects, there may be one contract between the owner and the person who is doing the construction (the contractor), and a second (separate) contract between the owner and the person who is doing the design work (an architect or designer).
Fixed Price Contracts
A Fixed-Price Contract (also called a Lump Sum Contract) sets out the total price for the work, including all labour, materials, subtrades, equipment rentals and other expenses. Taxes are either included in this price or additional to it — this must be clearly stated. Fixed-Price Contracts are suited to small repair or renovation projects that are straightforward and easy to plan. Any changes or adjustments to a fixed-price contract require a written Change Order signed by both parties.
A Cost-Plus Contract is based on the cost actually paid for labour, subcontracted services, materials and other direct expenses, plus a fee to cover the contractor's time managing and coordinating the required sub-trades, materials and inspections. The fee can be either a fixed amount or a percentage of the costs. A Cost-Plus Contract is often used in larger renovation projects when the exact extent of the work to be done cannot be accurately determined in advance. The project budget set out in the contract should provide estimated costs for major elements of the work. To ensure that the project costs are kept under control, a maximum budget can also be set out in the contract.
A Design-Build Contract is a variation on either a Fixed-Price or Cost-Plus contract. The distinguishing feature of a Design-Build Contract is this: instead of the owner signing one contract for design and a separate contract for construction, the whole project is covered in a single document. One firm designs and builds the project. This approach is most common with custom home construction and large-scale renovations. For example, architects often manage an entire custom home project, designing the home and then hiring contractors to build it. Most often, design-build management fees are a percentage of all costs.
Unit Price Contracts
A Unit Price Contract is based on a given rate per unit of measurement. For example, backfill or decorative stone can be charged by the cubic meter or by area.