What is a general contracting?

General contracting involves overseeing and managing construction projects from start to finish, including hiring subcontractors, coordinating schedules, and ensuring quality work.

General contractors are required in most places to hold a General Contractor (GC) license. This is a certification that permits a contractor to legally operate and manage construction projects within specific jurisdictions, demonstrating their competence and adherence to local regulations.

george nicola

By George Nicola (Expert Stager)

Table of Contents

Who To Hire General Contractor Vs Subcontractor?

When it comes to renovation projects, deciding whether to hire a main licensed contractor or subcontractor can be a difficult decision.

In this article, we’ll explain why choosing between a main contractor and subcontractor is often necessary, and how you can determine which one will serve your project better. The choice of whether to hire a main contractor or subcontractor should not be taken lightly.

It’s important to weigh all factors such as cost, timeline, complexity of work, experience level and quality of craftsmanship before making any decisions.

With some research and due diligence you can ensure that your renovation project is completed on time and within budget with minimal disruption.

In need virtual design project for your project? Free estimate from TALLBOX >

Key Roles in the Construction Industry

team members and roles in construction industry
team members and roles in construction industry

There are numerous types of contractors and roles in the construction industry, including:

  1. General Contractor (GC) – manages entire projects
  2. Subcontractor – specializes in specific trades or services
  3. Framing contractor
  4. Plumbing contractor
  5. Electrical contractor
  6. HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) contractor
  7. Masonry contractor
  8. Concrete contractor
  9. Roofing contractor
  10. Flooring contractor
  11. Drywall and insulation contractor
  12. Painting contractor
  13. Landscaping contractor
  14. Handyman – performs minor repairs and maintenance tasks
  15. Laborer – assists skilled workers on-site

Roles within the construction industry include:

  1. Architect – designs buildings and structures
  2. Civil Engineer – plans infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, etc.
  3. Structural Engineer – ensures structural integrity of buildings and structures
  4. Construction Manager – oversees construction projects from start to finish
  5. Project Manager – responsible for planning, executing, monitoring, controlling & closing projects  
  6. Site Supervisor/Foreman – manages daily site activities & workers
  7. Estimator – prepares cost estimates for construction projects  
  8. Quantity Surveyor/Cost Consultant – manages project finances & contracts  
  9. Health & Safety Officer – ensures compliance with health & safety regulations  
  10. Building Inspector – checks code compliance and quality control
  11. Skilled Tradesperson (e.g., carpenter, electrician, plumber)

These lists are not exhaustive but represent many common types of contractors and roles in the construction industry.

Can you be your own General contractor?

Acting as your own general contractor can offer some benefits, such as reduced fees and material costs without mark-ups.

However, many states and municipalities require licensing and insurance for general contractors. Managing your own project allows customization to fit your needs, schedule, and preferences but also entails significant risks.

While acting as your own general contractor might seem cost-effective, potential savings may be minimal or even lead to increased expenses due to the absence of established relationships with subcontractors and tradespeople.

Before opting to be your own general contractor, it is crucial to weigh the pros and cons while comparing cost variances.

What does a general contractor do? 

what is a general contractor
what is a general contractor

Main contractors are a key part of any renovation project.

The main contractor (prime contractor)or general contractor, has a critical role in any construction project. Their responsibility is to oversee the entire scope of construction work and ensure that it is completed on time, possibly within budget, and as per the agreed-upon specifications.

To fully understand the role of main contractors, here is a list of their various duties and responsibilities during a construction project.

  • Project Management: One of the main functions of a main contractor is project management. Organizing, planning, and executing and most of the aspects of construction process is their responsibility.

This includes coordinating with architects, engineers, subcontractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders involved in the project. So if something goes wrong with a bad contractor, things can often escalate pretty quickly.

  • Hiring Subcontractors: Main contractors typically employ specialized subcontractors to perform specific tasks or trades within the overall construction process. These subcontractors may include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and more. 

The main contractor is responsible for selecting qualified subcontractors based on their expertise and ensuring that they perform their duties according to the established quality standards.

  • Quality Control: Ensuring high-quality workmanship throughout every stage of construction is another crucial responsibility of a main contractor. They must monitor each phase of the project closely to guarantee that all materials utilized meet industry standards while adhering to safety regulations.
  • Budget Management: A fundamental aspect of a main contractor’s role is managing the financial aspects of a project effectively. This involves creating accurate cost estimates at various stages throughout construction while monitoring expenses closely to prevent overspending or delays due to productivity barriers or insufficient funds.
  • Obtaining Permits & Licenses: Before commencing any work on a construction site or building project requires obtaining various permits/licenses from local authorities depending on regulations for each location and type.
  • Health & Safety Compliance: Maintaining health and safety standards at job sites falls under the purview of main contractors. They must ensure that all workers follow established safety protocols and that the construction site complies with relevant regulations to minimize any potential hazards or accidents.
  • Communication & Coordination: A main contractor acts as a central point of contact between clients, subcontractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders within a construction project. Effective communication is key to keep everyone informed about progress updates, changes in plans, and any issues that may arise during the course of the project.

In summary, the role of a main contractor is indispensable when it comes to managing and executing successful construction projects.

They are responsible for overseeing all aspects of the building process while ensuring quality workmanship, maintaining budgets and schedules, complying with health and safety regulations, obtaining necessary permits/licenses, coordinating with various stakeholders involved in each stage of development.

By understanding their critical functions within this industry allows clients to make informed decisions when selecting a reliable contractor for their projects.

What does a sub-contractor do? 

what is a sub contractor
what is a sub contractor

Subcontractors play a vital role in the construction and home improvement industries, ensuring that various specialized tasks are completed efficiently and to a high standard.

By understanding their responsibilities and how they fit into the overall project, you can better manage your construction or renovation project and ensure its success.

Specialization: One of the primary reasons subcontractors are hired is because they possess specific skills and expertise in certain trades such as plumbing, electrical work, HVAC installation, roofing, or tiling. This specialization allows them to focus on their area of expertise while maintaining quality standards and adhering to industry regulations.

  • Collaboration with Main Contractor: When working on a project, subcontractors typically collaborate with the main contractor who oversees the entire construction process.

The main contractor is responsible for managing subcontractors’ work schedules, ensuring that they have access to necessary resources and materials, coordinating communication between different tradespeople involved in the project, and addressing any issues or conflicts that may arise during construction.

  • Design Input: In some cases, subcontractors also contribute to the design of their specific trade within a project. 

For example, an HVAC contractor might help determine optimal unit sizes and placement for efficient heating or cooling systems; an electrician could recommend appropriate wiring layouts for lighting fixtures; or a plumber may suggest ideal pipe routes for water supply lines. This design input helps create cohesive building plans that account for every aspect of construction.

  • Compliance with Building Codes & Regulations: Subcontractors must be aware of relevant building codes and regulations for their particular trade.

They need to ensure their work complies with these standards so as not to jeopardize the safety or integrity of the final structure.

  • Responsibility for Their Work: Subcontractors are generally responsible for providing their own tools, equipment, materials (unless specified otherwise), insurance coverage (for themselves/workers), permits/licenses required by local authorities in order to perform their work. They are responsible for rectifying any defects or issues arising from their trade within a specified warranty period

Evaluating Project Size And Complexity

hire general contractor for large project and sub contractor for specific specialized jobs
hire general contractor for large project and sub contractor for specific specialized jobs

When deciding whether to hire a main contractor or subcontractor, it’s important to evaluate both the size and complexity of your project.

For larger projects with an increased amount of detail needed, hiring a main contractor is likely necessary.

This type of contractor will be responsible for managing all aspects of the project from beginning to end; they will ensure that the work meets quality standards and regulations while also coordinating the labor and materials associated with the job.

For smaller projects that require minimal supervision, however, a subcontractor may be ideal. Subcontractors specialize in specific elements such as carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing or masonry – allowing them to provide more focused attention on their part of the job than if you were to employ one general contractor for everything.

By outsourcing certain parts of the project instead of taking care of it yourself you can save time and money – plus it frees up other resources for use elsewhere.

No matter which approach you take, always remember that when it comes to home renovations having properly qualified people working on your project is essential – so make sure to ask any contractors you’re considering plenty of questions about their experience before making your decision.

In need of professional virtual staging for your project. Free estimate from TALLBOX >

Assessing Your Budget And Time Constraints

main contractor managing entire project and cost-effective sub contractor tasks
main contractor managing entire project and cost-effective sub contractor tasks

When choosing between a main contractor or subcontractors, budget and time constraints are crucial factors.

Assess your financial resources and estimated timeline before searching for potential contractors.

If money isn’t an issue but time is, consider a main contractor who can manage the entire project. They have access to staff and equipment that enable them to complete work quickly with minimal disruption.

However, if funds are limited, subcontractors may be more cost-effective as they provide specific services like tiling or electrical wiring.

Before making a decision, keep these points in mind:

  • Ensure the chosen contractor has adequate insurance cover to avoid liability for accidents
  • Check references from previous customers to gauge work quality
  • Ask friends and family members for recommendations – word of mouth is invaluable
  • Research online reviews – consider both positive and negative feedback

In conclusion, thorough research when selecting professionals for home improvement needs is essential. 

With careful consideration, homeowners can make informed decisions on whether to hire a single main contractor or multiple subcontractors.

Considering Communication And Management Preferences

communicate right with a contractor
communicate right with a contractor

When deciding whether to hire a main contractor or subcontractor, the thought of communication and management preferences can be daunting.

But before you let it overwhelm you, consider this: when done right, these two roles have much to offer in terms of collaboration and coordination.

Working with a main contractor allows for more streamlined management. They become your go-to person for all matters related to the project – from budgeting, scheduling and design decisions, to hiring sub-contractors and managing daily operations on site.

This centralized approach makes it easier for everyone involved to stay informed about progress throughout the job without having too many conflicting points of view or agendas getting in the way.

On the other hand, working with multiple subcontractors can benefit greatly from an open line of communication between them and yourself as the client. Subcontractors often bring specialized skills that might not otherwise be available through one company alone.

By fostering consistent dialogue amongst each party involved in the project, misunderstandings are less likely and timelines are better maintained so that projects don’t get delayed due to miscommunication.

With both options offering possible benefits depending on what is needed for your specific circumstance, it’s important that you consider how well they suit your own needs prior to making any final decisions.

Being proactive about understanding what kind of communication methods work best for your situation will help ensure success every step of the way no matter who you decide to work with.

The Pros And Cons Of Each Option

pros and cons of general and sub contractor
pros and cons of general and sub contractor

When it comes to deciding between hiring a main contractor or subcontractor for your renovation project, there are many factors to consider.

Communication and management preferences were discussed in the previous section, but now let’s analyze the pros and cons of each option.

Hiring a main contractor has its benefits; they will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the job – from budgeting to scheduling and managing subcontractors – so you don’t have to worry about any hiccups along the way.

Having one single point of contact also makes communication easier as compared to dealing with individual contractors who might not always follow through on agreements made.

On the other hand, if you choose to hire several subcontractors directly, there is more of an opportunity for specialization since different tradespeople may have a deeper understanding of certain skillsets than generalists do.

Subcontractors can also provide creative solutions that fit your vision better than generic options presented by larger firms. Plus, working with multiple parties means you’ll get competitive bids which could lead to cost savings down the line.

Just bear in mind that when going this route, it’s important to ensure everyone is on the same page throughout every stage of construction; otherwise coordination issues can arise and cause delays in completion times due to miscommunication among various stakeholders involved in the process.

8 Red flags when hiring a general contractor

spot red flags when hiring contractors
spot red flags when hiring contractors

1. Lack of proper licensing and insurance: A reputable contractor should possess the required licenses and insurance for your area.
2. Poor or no references: Be cautious if the contractor cannot provide satisfactory references from previous clients or has multiple negative reviews.
3. High-pressure sales tactics: Beware of contractors who pressure you to sign contracts quickly or offer limited-time discounts.
4. Incomplete or unclear contracts: Avoid contractors whose contracts lack detailed information about the scope of work, timelines, materials, costs, and payment terms.
5. Requesting large upfront payments: Contractors asking for significant deposits before starting work may be unreliable or financially unstable.
6. Extremely low bids: If a bid is significantly lower than others, it could indicate poor-quality work or hidden costs that may emerge later in the project.
7. Poor communication: Difficulty reaching the contractor or receiving inconsistent information can signal unprofessionalism and potential future issues.
8. No physical address or online presence: A legitimate business should have an established location and online presence (website, social media) for credibility.

Tips For Effective Construction Project Management

manage contractors easy
manage contractors easy

Construction projects have a success rate of only 61%. That means that almost four out of every ten projects fail to meet their budget or timeline goals.

To ensure successful project management and maximize productivity, contractors should consider these tips:

  1. Have clear communication between all parties involved in the project from start to finish.
  2. Develop an organized plan with measurable milestones for each stage of the project.
  3. Monitor progress regularly and promptly address any potential issues before they become major problems later on.
  4. Implement quality control measures throughout the entire duration of the undertaking to maintain consistent results and satisfaction among customers.

When you take into account both short-term goals such as meeting deadlines, budgets and customer expectations.

Long-term objectives like maintaining relationships and building your reputation, being proactive is key in ensuring positive outcomes for all stakeholders associated with your constructions projects!


The decision of whether to hire a main contractor or subcontractor is an important one. It will determine the success and efficiency of your project.

When making this choice, it’s essential to weigh all factors carefully – from size and complexity to budget and communication preferences – before settling on the best option for you.

With proper research and consideration, you’ll be sure to find the perfect fit for any construction job!

In need virtual design project for your project? Free estimate from TALLBOX >