What is a General Contractor?
A general contractor, or GC, in a construction project is the party responsible for scheduling and overseeing the day-to-day activities of a construction project. General contractors are hired to manage the project from groundbreak to its completion, providing the materials, labor, and equipment.
In the UK, general contractors are more commonly known as “main contractors.” Additionally, main contractors who work primarily with government agencies are known as “prime contractors.”
Usually, a general contractor is hired by the owner or the construction manager, who serves as a direct extension of the owner. General contractors then hire specialty tradesman or subcontractors to manage more specialized aspects of the project, like plumbing, concrete, and electrical work.
For large projects, the general contractor is most often a construction company, or a developer, who manages projects for numerous clients. If the project is smaller, the general contractor can be an individual. In fact, for residential projects, the general contractor is often an experienced “Jack of all trades” who doesn’t just manage, but physically performs the task at hand him/herself.
Responsibilities: What Does a General Contractor Do?
For commercial and large residential construction projects, the scope of the general contractor’s responsibilities is broad. But their specific responsibilities are likely to vary by project and owner. However, common responsibilities of a general contractor for a construction project include:
- Creating and managing the construction schedule
- Organizing and managing the jobsite
- Hiring subcontractors and managing their quality
- Contracting suppliers and vendors
- Licensing and renting equipment
- Providing field management and labor
- Assisting with cleanup, safety procedure, and demolition
On projects that require this level of project management, the general contractor usually submits a bid, or a project proposal, which outlines the scheduling, cost, and labor details of the project. Often, creating these proposals demands significant effort from the contractor, requiring quantity and material takeoff from the project specifications to create detailed cost estimates. In creating these cost estimates, the contractor considers and bills for materials, equipment rental, labor, office space, insurance expenses, worker’s compensation, and time.
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License Requirements & Qualifications for General Contractors
In the United States, there are no federal license requirements for individuals to work as general contractors. However, most states require that individuals working as general contractors be licensed locally. Additionally, the contractor may be required to obtain various licenses to work on specific types of projects like electrical, plumbing, and HVAC installation or on projects that exceed a certain value.
No state sets educational qualifications for general contractors; however, many aspiring general contractors choose to obtain degrees in construction management, construction science, surveying, building science, or other similar fields. This can increase earning potential and the number of jobs that the contractor will qualify for.
Below is a list of the license requirements for general contractors operating in various states:
In order to perform any work worth over $500, a general contractor in California must be licensed with the California Contractors State License Board. In order to become licensed with California, contractors must have at least four years of experience working as or with a contractor in the field. Additionally, general contractors will need to obtain a surety bond and take exams for their specific trade, business, and relevant law.
Florida has one of the most extensive lists of requirements for general contractors of any state. To work as a general contractor in Florida, individuals must be licensed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation of the State of Florida. In order to even apply, applicants must have four years of experience, or a combination of construction education and experience. Additionally, a general contractor must verify their financial stability and submit proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance. They must also pass state-level trade, law, and business exams. There may even be county- or city-level certifications, depending where the contractor operates and what trades they work in.
New York state does not require that general contractors become licensed with the state (except for those working with asbestos), but many of the local governments do have licensing requirements.
In New York City, any general contractor who builds one-, two-, or three-family homes must register with New York City’s Department of Building in order to obtain the permits.
The state of Texas imposes no state-level license requirements on general contractors. However, many specialties like plumbing, well-drilling, and HVAC do require state-level licenses with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Every state will have their own requirements, and those interested in becoming a licensed contractor should search for the requirements of their particular state.