What is a General Contractor

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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What is a General Contractor

If you’re considering a career in the construction industry or want to learn more about general contractors, we got you covered.

In this comprehensive “What Is a General Contractor” guide, we’ll take a deep dive into what general contractors do, explore the various types of contractors, and provide a step-by-step guide to obtaining a general contractor license.

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What Does a General Contractor Do?

General contractors are the backbone of construction projects, overseeing every phase to ensure the successful completion of a building or renovation. They act as the project manager, bringing together all the moving parts, from planning and budgeting to execution and inspection.

Below, we’ve broken down the typical responsibilities of a general contractor in the three key phrases of construction:

Before Construction

Before construction begins, general contractors play a crucial role in preparing the groundwork for a successful project. A general contractor’s responsibilities, include the following:

  • Project Planning and Development: General contractors engage in extensive project planning — collaborating with clients, architects, engineers, and other stakeholders, including the project owner and property owner, to define a project’s objectives, scope, and constraints. This typically includes setting project goals, establishing timelines, and determining budgets, ensuring that both the project owner’s vision and the property owner’s requirements are met
  • Budgeting and Cost Estimation: To create precise budgets, general contractors working for construction companies meticulously estimate costs, factoring in materials, labor, equipment, permits, and any unforeseen expenses. These detailed estimates, crucial in the operations of construction companies, are essential as they allow clients to make informed financial decisions and avoid budget overruns. This careful financial planning is a key aspect of the services provided by construction companies through their general contractors
  • Permit Procurement and Compliance: Dealing with regulatory permits and compliance is a critical aspect of a general contractor’s role, especially in building projects and home construction projects. It’s their responsibility to ensure that all necessary permits and approvals are obtained and that the project, whether it’s a large-scale building project or a more focused home construction project, aligns with local building codes and regulations

After the groundwork is set and the initial preparations are complete, the focus then shifts to the next crucial phase, which focuses more on the translation of plans into tangible structures, oversight and management to ensure that the project stays on track.

During Construction

During the construction phase, general contractors take charge of overseeing every aspect of the project’s execution. Here are the critical responsibilities they handle during this period:

  • Subcontractor Management: One of the key responsibilities of a general contractor is to hire subcontractors — which may include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and masons. As part of this, general contractors are often required to coordinate schedules, supervise their work, and maintain quality control throughout the project
  • Material Procurement and Management: Another key duty of general contractors is the organization of construction materials. This involves coordinating their timely arrival, ensuring they meet quality standards, and optimizing their usage to prevent delays and maintain construction quality
  • On-Site Supervision and Quality Assurance: In addition to the above, general contractors also serve as on-site leaders in construction work, closely monitoring daily operations at the job site, addressing issues as they arise, and ensuring that all work follows the project timeline. Their presence and oversight at the job site are important for the smooth progression of the construction work, maintaining both quality and efficiency

With the construction phase covered, it’s crucial to understand the phase that follows as well as the responsibilities that come with it.

After Construction

After the construction phase, general contractors continue their critical role in ensuring the project’s success. Here are the essential tasks they handle once construction is complete:

  • Final Inspections and Compliance: General contractors are expected to guarantee adherence to building codes and safety standards by sorting out the arrangements for final inspections. These inspections confirm that the project meets all necessary legal and safety requirements, ensuring the safety and legality of the structure
  • Client Walkthroughs and Satisfaction: Client walkthroughs are essential for ensuring satisfaction. By facilitating these inspections, general contractors allow clients to identify any remaining issues or desired modifications so that they can be addressed promptly
  • Documentation and Project Handover: Finally, general contractors are expected to compile and organize all of a project’s documentation — which includes warranties, permits, operational manuals, and maintenance guidelines. This comprehensive documentation package is then handed over to the client, facilitating future maintenance and operations

Having covered the responsibility of general contractors in the post-construction phase, it’s also crucial to recognize the different classifications within the profession — which we’ve explored below in greater detail.

Types of Contractors

Under the coordination of general contractors, a diverse range of specialists collaboratively work to bring construction projects to life. These experts, each with their unique expertise, play integral roles in different aspects of a construction project.

In this section, we’ll delve into some of the more common contractor types involved in construction and take a close look into their distinct roles in these types of projects.

  • Steel contractors are the experts in metal mastery. They erect steel structures, including beams, which are a common feature in commercial projects. While less frequent in residential construction, their expertise proves invaluable when structural steel is required
  • Concrete contractors are experts in working with concrete to create essential building components like foundations, floors, and parking lots. They handle tasks such as framing, pouring, and shaping concrete to ensure structural integrity. Some specialize in crafting prefabricated concrete-reinforced slabs, making installation more efficient
  • Framing contractors play a crucial role in constructing a building’s structural framework using materials like wood or metal. This framework serves as the skeleton of the structure, providing support and stability. In addition to framing, they may also take on tasks such as installing windows and doors, contributing to the overall structure’s integrity and functionality
  • Electrical contractors manage all electrical aspects of construction, from wiring and electrical service boxes to outlets, switches, and lighting installation. They ensure safe, compliant electrical systems, troubleshoot issues, and collaborate with other contractors for seamless integration. Their work is vital for a building’s functionality and safety
  • Excavation contractors play a crucial role as the initial builders of a construction project. Their responsibilities include excavating foundations, leveling the terrain, and creating essential utility trenches. Their work sets the stage for the entire construction process, ensuring a solid foundation for the project’s success

If you’re interested in managing these specialist contractors through a construction project, it’s essential to understand the steps involved in getting licensed to do so.

How to Get a General Contractor License

Obtaining a general contractor license can vary considerably based on your location and the scope of your intended construction projects. This is largely due to differences in state regulations and the size and complexity of the projects you plan to undertake.

Here are the key steps to help you obtain a general contractor license:

1. Determine Your License Type and Location

Before you begin the licensing process, you need to identify the type of general contractor license that suits your aspirations. You should keep in mind that the classification of general contractor licenses varies from state to state.

In California, for instance, there are four primary CSLB license classification groups:

  • A: General Engineering Contractors
  • B: General Building Contractor
  • B-2: Residential Remodeling Contractors
  • C: Specialty Contractors

Each of these authorizes contractors to work on specific types of projects based on their scope and scale.

2. Research Local Regulations

Familiarizing yourself with local regulations is crucial on your journey as a general contractor since each state has its own unique licensing process.

For instance, the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) requires applicants to obtain a minimum of three years of construction industry experience, pass the Massachusetts Construction Supervisor License Exam, and demonstrate financial responsibility.

However, these criteria can vary greatly depending on your location.

3. Fulfill Education and Experience Requirements

To become a licensed general contractor, you’ll typically need to meet the specific education and experience criteria set by your state’s licensing board.

For instance, in Arizona, candidates are required to complete at least four years of hands-on experience or hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field along with two years of experience. These requirements ensure that contractors have the necessary knowledge and practical skills to oversee construction projects in compliance with state regulations.

4. Pass Required Examinations

In most states, the relevant licensing authority will administer a series of examinations that you’ll need to pass in order to obtain a general contractor license.

In Florida, for instance, the Construction Industry Licensing Board oversees these exams — which cover a range of topics from construction laws and business practices to trade-specific knowledge. General contractors in Florida must successfully complete both a business and finance exam along with a trade-specific general contractor exam.

5. Secure Insurance and Bonds

General contractors often need insurance coverage, like general liability insurance, to safeguard against property damage or injury claims. In most states, obtaining a surety bond is common practice, providing assurance to clients, meeting financial obligations, and adhering to legal requirements.

6. Submit Your Application

The specific requirements and process can vary from state to state, but you’ll generally need to provide details about your experience, references, and financial information.

For example, the Construction Contractors Board (CCB), which oversees the licensing process in Oregon, requires applicants to submit a comprehensive application that includes information about their work experience, references, and financial standing. Accurate and complete documentation is essential to meet the licensing requirements in this state.

7. Stay Compliant and Renew

After obtaining your general contractor license, remember to stay compliant with renewal requirements, which can greatly vary from state to state.

For instance, in Texas, licenses may need to be renewed annually, and contractors often have to complete continuing education to stay current with industry standards and regulations.

What is a General Contractor FAQ

What is the meaning of general contractors?

Whether a commercial or residential general contractor, they play a pivotal role in construction projects, overseeing all phases from planning to execution. They manage budgets, coordinate subcontractors, and ensure projects meet safety and legal standards. Interested in finding out more? Check out our How to Get a General Contractor License article.

What is the difference between construction and general contractor?

While construction refers to the physical process of building structures, a general contractor, often working within a construction company, is like the project manager. They oversee construction, manage budgets, coordinate subcontractors, and ensure projects are completed successfully. Interested in finding out more? Take a look at our What is a General Contractor article.

How do I become a successful general contractor?

To become a successful general contractor, you need to meet your state’s licensing requirements, gain relevant experience, pass required exams, and stay updated with industry standards. As a construction professional, you should keep in mind that effective communication and project management skills are also essential for success in this field.

How much do most general contractors make?

General contractor earnings can vary widely, depending on factors like location, experience, and project scope. On average, they earn between $50,000 and $150,000 per year. Those with more experience or working on larger projects, especially in roles like construction manager, can earn significantly more.