What Is a General Contractor and What Do They Do?

The PropertyClub Team
Oct 28th 2020
If you are looking into building a home or remodeling your existing home, you probably have seen the term general contractor while searching on the internet. But what is a general contractor, and what do they do?

Put simply, a general contractor oversees larger construction projects. A general contractor is in charge of managing the big-picture, top-level facets of the construction process. Their duties include hiring subcontractors, sourcing materials for the project, and finding suitable equipment and tools. 

If you want an analogy, the general contractor is kind of like the office manager. They are the ones who make sure everyone is where they are doing what they need to do. They also handle more administrative aspects such as developing a timeline of the project and managing safety standards on site. 

General Contractor Duties

General contractors typically work with the property owner to visualize and decide on the construction or renovation project’s scope and features. They are seasoned veterans when it comes to home improvement and have experience working on several different types of properties, including residential, commercial, and industrial projects. They have a high-level knowledge of the construction process, which is why they are in charge of everything. 

For the average homeowner, the most important thing a general contract does is ensure that the project meets specific quality standards and proceeds according to plan. They are the person who makes sure building construction is up to code and that the construction crew has all the necessary permits. A good general contractor will make sure that all construction aspects are amenable to existing legal regulations and building codes. 

General contractors also handle liability issues that might occur during the construction process. A common saying is that a good general contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured. This means that they are licensed by the relevant local authorities, and they carry insurance that can protect you from liability if something goes wrong. 

In other words, a general contractor is essentially a project manager. They will handle all the technical and legal details of completing the project and ensure that it sticks to an established timeline. If there are any problems on the construction site, then they are the one who handles them. 

General contractors also handle less obvious tasks, such as managing the cleanup, disposing of trash, and ensuring that safety standards are followed. Hiring a general contractor ensures that the project is followed in a way that meets all local building manufacturing codes and regulations. 

Types of General Contractors

Generally speaking, there are two types of general contractors: traditional and design-build pros. Traditional contractors will implement project plans designed by someone else and implement them as close to the original design as possible. Traditional contractors typically use designs made by architects or engineers. 

In contrast, design-build contractors will usually work with the client to conceptualize and put together a final design for the project. Design-build contractors take a more comprehensive role and assist with the planning and implementation of design features. This allows them to make changes more dynamically on site. 

What Kind of Licensing Do General Contractors Have?

Every state in the US has specific licensing requirements for general contractors. They must pass a test showing competency and provide other things like proof of liability coverage and a business address.

Although it is not required in all states, most general contractors have a college degree focusing on construction management or civil engineering. General contractors can be licensed with just a high school diploma, though. 

However, the most important qualification you should look for in a general contractor is practical experience. Most have spent years on the construction site in different areas, so they have broad and general knowledge about the construction process. Experience also helps them estimate costs and timeframes for projects. 

How Do I Know If I Need a General Contractor?

If the construction project or renovations you want to do requires multiple tradespeople, you will most likely want to get a general contractor’s assistance. Similarly, any building project that requires you to get permits will be well-served by getting a general contractor’s help. Things will be much easier on you if you hire a professional to deal with all the technical and legal details of implementing the projects. 

That being said, there are many home projects and renovations that you probably do not need a general contractor for. Something like laying down new pipes or fixing your wiring will not need the high-level management that a general contractor will bring. For smaller projects, it will most likely be more cost-effective to hire the tradesperson directly rather than going through an intermediary as there isn’t a need for complex project management. Or if it's something even simpler like painting a room, you can do it yourself. If you know what you're doing it takes 4 to 6 hours to paint a room

What Is the Difference Between a General Contractor and a Subcontractor?

While a general contractor is responsible for overseeing the entire project, subcontractors are in charge of specific aspects of the construction process. For example, they will hire a subcontractor to handle plumbing or electrical work. The general contractor makes sure that the subcontractors are all coordinated and doing what they need to be doing. 

A lot of people think that a general contractor is a jack of all trades. While it is true that they typically have experience in multiple aspects of construction, they do not perform tasks in all areas. General contractors also do not employ the tradespeople involved in the task. Some may keep tradespeople on staff, but most of the time they are project managers and will find other agencies to handle specialized tasks. 

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a General Contractor?

The exact cost of hiring a general contractor depends heavily on the type of project, length of the project, location, and other factors like the need for permits, and other legal documents. Most of the time, a general contractor will give you an initial quote for their services. 

While exact figures differ, general contractors usually charge between 10%-20% of the project’s total cost. Some charge a flat fee for their services, but these are the minority. The project’s total cost includes things like materials, permits, labor, and any other relevant expenses.  

Conclusions

If you are preparing a project involving multiple aspects, your best bet is to hire an experienced general contractor. A good one will make sure that the project is completed in a timely manner according to any necessary codes and regulations. Unless you yourself are an expert on construction management, then you should always look for the services of a pro for any building or renovation projects.