Wisconsin Contractor License

Written by: Nik Ventouris

Wisconsin stands out because it does not offer a “general contractor” license. Instead, individuals or businesses that intend to work on building and remodeling projects, particularly for one and two-family dwellings, will be required to obtain a Dwelling Contractor License or a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier Certification.

In our Wisconsin Contractor License guide, we’ve broken down everything you need to know to navigate the licensing process effectively.

Let’s take a closer look!

Tip: If you’re planning to work as a general contractor in Wisconsin, we recommend forming an LLC. This is an affordable business structure that protects your personal assets against debt and/or lawsuits.

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Do You Need a Contractor License

In Wisconsin, whether you will need a contractor license will ultimately depend on the type of construction or home improvement services you are wanting to provide.

We’ve provided a detailed breakdown in the following sections.

Dwelling Contractor on One and Two-Family Dwellings

If you plan to engage in the construction, alteration, or improvement of one and two-family dwellings, you will need a Dwelling Contractor License.

Before obtaining this, you will need to first secure a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier License, which demonstrates that you have completed the required approved initial qualifier course and passed the necessary examination.

Specialty Trades

In Wisconsin, specialty contractors — such as electricians and plumbers — are required to secure trade-specific licenses through the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).

Additionally, both electricians and plumbers are required to fulfill continuing education requirements in order to maintain their licenses:

  • Plumbers: Regardless of whether you’re a Master Plumber or a Journeyman Plumber, Wisconsin law mandates 24 hours of continuing education every four years in order to maintain your license
  • Electricians: Electricians must also engage in continuing education to renew their licenses, with requirements ranging between 18 and 24 hours depending on the type of electrician in question

Note: While not required at a state level, your business may still need to obtain a general contractor license at a local level; this is because each municipality has its own rules and regulations when it comes to this.

How to Get a Contractor License in Wisconsin

In order to get a Contractor License, there are certain steps your business will need to follow.

Step 1: Choose Your Business Structure

Before starting the application process for a contractor license, you’ll first need to decide on the structure of your business. Since this decision will impact your liability, tax obligations, and how you run your business, it’s vital you’re informed about the details of each structure so that you can effectively determine which one is best suited to your needs.

Many contracting businesses in Wisconsin, particularly smaller ones, decide to structure themselves as a limited liability company (LLC) because it grants them tax flexibility, limited liability protection, and credibility in the eyes of their clients.

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Step 2: Meet the Basic Requirements

After forming your business, you’ll need to confirm that you meet the minimum basic requirements.Specifically, you’ll need to:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a US citizen or legally reside in the country
  • Have no convictions of a disqualifying offense
  • Enroll in and complete the required 12-hour initial training course for the Dwelling Contractor Qualifier Certification, or fulfill the equivalent educational requirements or apprenticeships as required for your specific trade

Step 3: Submit an Application

Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the basic requirements of the license your business needs, the next step is to complete and submit the appropriate application form to the relevant regulatory body along with any associated fees.

Here’s what’s involved for some of the most common specialist trades in Wisconsin:

  • Dwelling Contractor License: You will need to apply through the LicensE portal and pay all applicable fees. The portal also allows you to pause and resume your application as needed
    • Should the Department of Safety and Professional Services request additional documents, you will need to ensure they’re uploaded within three months from the request date to avoid reapplying and incurring new fees
  • Specialist Trades – Electrical and Plumbing Contractor Licenses: The application process for these licenses follows the same procedure as for the Dwelling Contractor License, and is conducted through the LicensE portal
  • HVAC Contractors: Unique among trades, HVAC contractors are not required to obtain a specific license but must register with the DSPS to operate legally in Wisconsin. To do so, you will need to visit the DSPS website and navigate to the HVAC contractor registration section: DSPS HVAC Contractor Registration

Step 4: Pass a Licensing Exam

While not a universal requirement, many contractor licenses in Wisconsin require applicants to pass a licensing exam in order to qualify. For example, electricians will need to pass an open book examination with a minimum score of 70%.

Many candidates struggle with these exams as they will often test both their knowledge of the trade and their understanding of Wisconsin’s specific regulations and laws.

To avoid this, many applicants take advantage of online study guides and preparatory courses in order to give themselves the best chance of passing on their first attempt.

Step 5: Satisfy Insurance Requirements

In order to protect both your business and the client in case of accidents and damages, most contractors in Wisconsin will need to provide proof of insurance coverage in order to get licensed.

For example, Dwelling Contractors must secure a surety bond of at least $25,000 and provide proof of liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $250,000 in order to meet the state’s licensing requirements.

Be sure to check the specific insurance prerequisites for the license you’re seeking as well as the surety bond requirements of your local municipality, as these can be unique to each trade and city.

Other Licenses You May Need

Below, we’ve explored the various additional licenses and permits that your Wisconsin contractor business may need in more detail.

State Business Licenses

While general contractor licenses aren’t required at a state level in Wisconsin, there are certain state business licenses you may need to obtain before you can get up and running.

Because the building materials and services a general contractor provides to their clients as part of a construction project are generally taxable, for example, you’ll likely need a sales tax permit.

Additionally, your general contractor business may require an environmental permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources if it takes on certain types of projects with the potential to impact the environment.

To explore business permits or other licenses your contractor business may need in Wisconsin, be sure to visit the One Stop Business Portal on Wisconsin’s official website.

City and Municipal Licenses

Many local municipalities often impose their own additional requirements that you may be required to satisfy for your business to operate legally in that area.

For example, in the City of Milwaukee, anyone engaging in home improvement activities must obtain a Home Improvement Contractor’s License from the city.

This applies to contractors working on single-family homes, duplexes, and small apartment buildings (with six units or less), as well as any improvements to the properties on which these buildings are located.

To secure this license, applicants must submit an application to the Office of the City Clerk License Division, provide proof of insurance meeting specific minimum coverage levels, and pay a $250 fee.

Note: To find your city’s government website and read more about its specific licensing requirements, you can visit the League of Wisconsin Municipalities website.

Wisconsin Contractor License FAQ

How do I get my contractors license in Wisconsin?

To obtain your contractor’s license in Wisconsin, you will need to choose your business structure, ensure you meet the basic requirements, and submit an application via the LicensE portal.

Interested in finding out more? Check out our How to Get a General Contractor License article.

Do contractors in Wisconsin need a license?

Yes, most contractors in Wisconsin, including those involved in dwelling construction and specialty contractors such as electricians and plumbers, need a license.

Keep in mind that the type of license required will generally depend on your work’s scope and area of expertise.

For more information, see our Wisconsin Contractor License article.

Do you need a license to be a handyman in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, whether a handyman needs a license or not will depend on their project’s scope.

For minor repairs, you might not need a license. Having said that, for larger projects, especially those requiring you to pull building permits, obtaining a state license will likely be mandatory.

What is the difference between a dwelling contractor and a dwelling contractor qualifier in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a Dwelling Contractor License is for businesses doing construction or remodeling on one and two-family homes.

A Dwelling Contractor Certification, however, is for the individuals managing these projects, and is meant to confirm that they have the specific training and knowledge required by the state.