Lawrence City officials are trying to show that one of the more important tools in a home improvement project can be a computer.
The city today announced that it has created an online database that allows anyone to search to find out whether his contractor of choice has the necessary city licenses.
"There are a lot of advantages to having a licensed contractor do your work," said Barry Walthall, the city's building safety manager.
Plus, many jobs, a licensed building contractor is a required by law, unless you also are the owner-occupant of the home and are tackling the job yourself.
In 2005 the city broadened its contractor licensing code to cover professionals such as framing contractors, concrete installers, and general contractors, in addition to more traditional licensed trades of plumbers, electricians and heating and cooling professionals.
But the city hasn't had an easy system to allow residents to verify whether a contractor is licensed by the city. Walthall said the new database should make checking the license of a contractor as easy as logging onto a website.
"We have some new technology in place, and it allows us the capability to do this online," Walthall said. "We want to make it as easy as possible."
The online database is available at ci.lawrence.ks.us/pds/contractor-license-search. The city licenses 11 types of contractors. They include:
• Energy conservation specialist, who can conduct home energy audits and other such work.
• General contractor, who can do all sorts of commercial and residential work.
• Building contractor, who can do a variety of commercial and residential work, generally on structures less than four stories in height.
• Residential contractor, who primarily works on single family or duplex structures.
• Framing contractor, who is limited to construction of the walls and framework of a building.
• Concrete contractor, who includes the pouring of concrete and reinforcement work for concrete walls and pavement.
• Mechanical contractor, who can do all sorts of heating, ventilation and air conditioning work.
• Plumbing contractor
• Electrical contractor
• Fireplace contractor
• Sign-hanging contractor
The city long has required plumbing, electrical and mechanical contractors to be licensed. But Walthall said the city expanded the licensing program in 2005 because it wanted to ensure that consumers were dealing with contractors who had a certain level of training and experience for other projects, such as remodeling, residential additions, and certain types of concrete work.
The city's licensing program requires all contractors to carry an adequate amount of bonded insurance, requires license holders to take at least one day of continuing education classes per year, and requires that licensees either pass a certification test or hold a specific degree. The program also requires license holders to have various levels of industry experience. A general contractor, for example, must have at least six years of experience in the industry, while a residential contractor must have at least two years.
Walthall said he doesn't think there are a lot of Lawrence contractors operating in the community without a license.
"But there is always the issue of contractors coming from out of town," Walthall said. "We want to steer them to go through the licensing process."
He said some consumers may have unintentionally had work done by an unlicensed contractor because they weren't aware that the work was covered under the code. He said there are remodeling projects — like finishing a basement — that aren't considered major structural changes that still require a building permit and a licensed contractor.
Walthall said the new database system should help consumers feel more secure about their choice of contractors. But just like a good carpenter measures twice and cuts once, Walthall said consumers should have at least a two-part process in checking out building contractors.
"The licensing ensures they have good qualifications, are insured, and have some experience," Walthall said. "But you'll still want to check their references. The licensing program is not an indication of the contractor's reputation."