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Guide to General Contractors

Whether you’re building a new commercial or residential building or tackling a renovation, you may be wondering whether you need to hire a general contractor. Perhaps you have experience managing projects previously or you’re a handy DIY enthusiast. While people can complete construction projects on their own, certain types of projects and scenarios run more successfully with the help of a licensed general contractor specializing in construction management services.

This guide to hiring a general contractor will cover how to hire a general contractor for residential or commercial construction and what qualities to look for in a construction management services company.

Do You Need a General Contractor?

A general contractor has specific responsibilities that alleviate pressure from the customer so the project finishes in a reasonable timeframe. As industry experts, they also know the best ways to approach projects, including which permits to obtain and how to obtain them. These professionals have the industry connections that are necessary to assemble a qualified team of subcontractors and suppliers to tackle the job.

If you’re debating whether you need a general contractor, consider the following three factors:

  • Project timeframe: In the construction industry, the longer projects take, the more they end up costing, which is why it’s critical to have a well-developed production schedule before starting construction. If a project is going to take longer than a week in total labor time, hiring a general contractor may help you to keep projects on track and on time.
  • Building codes: If your project involves tasks that are regulated by local or state building codes, you’ll likely need a professional who holds a general contractor’s license to obtain the building permit. Any projects that involve plumbing or wiring almost always depend on the building code, which guarantees you’ll need someone with a license.
  • Subcontractor requirements: Often, jobs that involve multiple different tradespeople become complicated, so it may be difficult to find and hire the contractors you need. A general contractor will hire and manage the subcontractors so you have everyone you need for the job under one construction manager.

If you don’t have the time or desire to manage the project yourself, you may want to hire a construction management firm instead.

Common General Contractor Responsibilities

A general contractor is the lead manager of an entire construction project from start to finish. These building contractors essentially take on every responsibility involved in the project, including timeline, budget, liability, inspections, communication, materials, labor and more.

Below are the critical duties that fall under the purview of general construction services:

  • Confirming designs and drawings: The contractor’s first job is to get designs and drawings for the building. Whether it’s a renovation or a new build, construction teams require designs and plans to complete their work. Therefore, they work with engineers, architects, designers and other professionals to draw up and confirm the plans.
  • Applying for permits: After the drawings are confirmed, construction managers take the plans to the local building permit authority to obtain authorization to go ahead with the project as planned. Then, they need to coordinate with the permitting department to obtain the completed permit or revise the plans so they meet the building code.
  • Scheduling project timeline: Once the local authority approves the building permit, contractors can launch the project. To properly manage projects, construction managers put together a timeline that coordinates labor and materials in a methodical and efficient way. Overall, contractors take care of the day-to-day operations, including managing the budget.
  • Coordinating with suppliers: Additionally, contractors need to order and purchase the materials from their building suppliers. From lumber to trusses to roofing materials, contractors make sure the project has the necessary building materials and work with equipment suppliers to make sure the required equipment, tools and machinery are available when needed.
  • Hiring subcontractors: One of the most critical roles of a certified construction manager is to recruit, hire and manage the necessary subcontractors and service providers for the project. Though contractors may have general laborers and carpenters on staff, they’ll also need to hire other tradespeople, like painters, floor layers, roofers, plumbers and electricians. Additionally, general contractors need to schedule and coordinate when workers can perform their jobs and verify their work and inspect the final quality.
  • Validating product warranties: Many construction materials and products come with warranties that guarantee the long-term quality of the installation. In order for the manufacturers to validate warranties, they may require a licensed general contractor to be overseeing the project and the installation. Some of the most common materials that come with warranties are windows, doors and roofs.
  • Obtaining general liability insurance: Also, contractors are responsible for construction risk management. In construction project management, general contractors hold general liability insurance for the whole project. This insurance protects the project from liability due to accidents, property damage, theft and more.

In addition to the above responsibilities involved in project management, general contractors also maintain ongoing communication with the client, keeping them abreast of progress, setbacks, timeline changes and more.

What to Be Aware of When Hiring Subcontractors

Whether you’re hiring a general contractor or managing your construction project yourself, it’s important to be aware of the extent of the responsibilities that come with hiring subcontractors. This process requires knowing what qualifications and licenses matter, inspecting their quality of work and ensuring you pay them on time. Plus, you need to know how many contractors you need to hire.

Below is a more detailed look at what to be aware of when subcontracting:

  • Ensuring qualifications: When you hire subcontractors, it’s important to make sure the person you hire is fully qualified. At a minimum, they should have a certification in their trade and an up-to-date license. Consider asking for references from past clients to verify their work experience.
  • Hiring enough tradespeople: The next key to hiring subcontractors is knowing which tradespeople you need for the job, including any specializations, such as the type of materials they work with or the techniques they use. In addition to hiring the correct tradesperson for the job, you need to hire the correct number of subcontractors to get the job done efficiently.
  • Inspecting the quality of work: When subcontracting, you’ll also be responsible for inspecting the final outcome. This step involves verifying the quality of their work and asking the right questions to ensure the work was done correctly. It’s also important to find out the policy for following up on quality issues that may arise later.
  • Paying tradespeople: Finally, you’ll be responsible for securing the capital that’s required to pay tradespeople directly. When hiring subcontractors, be sure to ask about their payment terms ahead of time so you know what financial responsibilities are involved.

By hiring a general contractor, you don’t need to worry about any of the responsibilities that are required when working with subcontractors.

General Contractor Licensing and Accreditation

If you’re planning to hire a general contractor or thinking of applying for your general contractor’s license, you’ll want to know a few points about hiring or becoming a certified construction manager.

The licensing and accreditation requirements for general contractors depend on the type of construction, the state where the project is located and insurance requirements.

Below is a look at each aspect and how they affect general contractor licensing and accreditation:

  • Types of licenses: The primary categories of general contractor licenses are general residential construction and commercial construction. While residential general contractors are licensed for projects like single-family homes and low-rise multi-family residential projects, commercial general contractors are licensed for large projects that often involve heavy-duty equipment. There are also different types of general contractors, like general building and general engineering contractors.
  • Licenses by state: Each state has its own criteria for how to issue general contractor licenses. Some require that applicants provide a certain number of references to be eligible. Other licensing criteria may involve setting a maximum project value your license permits you to manage. Every state also has its own fees and renewal costs involved in obtaining and maintaining your license. Certain states don’t require a general contractors’ license for one-off projects, like with Pennsylvania residential construction contractors.
  • Insurance requirements: Some states require license holders to carry a certain amount of liability insurance. While your state may not require that you obtain a certain amount of liability insurance to maintain your license, it’s still a highly recommended business practice to follow to protect yourself and your assets. Because construction is an inherently risky line of work, having insurance can help protect you from any type of liability that occurs within the scope of the project.

Check with your state’s building permit and licensing department to find out what’s required of general contractors to obtain their licenses. When hiring a general contractor, ask to see a copy of their license and their insurance policy.

What Is Lean Construction?

This is an approach to construction that seeks to eliminate various types of construction waste. The construction industry is known for many inefficiencies that drive up costs and push projects well over their scheduled timeframes. By approaching projects using the lean construction philosophy, contractors can deliver higher value to their clients.

The following are a few lean construction principles:

  • Just-in-time materials delivery: One of the biggest areas of waste in construction is with materials — either in wasted time when the materials aren’t ready when needed or wasted resources from over-ordering materials. By using the just-in-time inventory approach, contractors can ensure projects receive the exact amount of materials they need precisely when needed.
  • Continuous improvement: When construction management firms take a lean construction approach, they focus heavily on how to streamline their practices so they’re the most efficient. These companies will typically standardize their procedures, which allows them to measure them and improve on them as needed. By prioritizing continuous improvements, firms can prevent wasted time and financial resources.
  • Talent utilization: The lean approach to construction also takes into account how to better utilize talent based on workers’ experience and skill levels. On any given construction project, you’ll find different workers with a range of talents, and matching worker talents with job duties ensures you maximize labor resources and increase employee satisfaction.
  • Construction risk management: In construction, risk management requires that contractors anticipate and resolve problems before they occur, preventing wasted resources. In lean construction, project managers implement risk management frameworks, like contingency plans, to ensure projects stay on time and budget. Overall, risk management helps projects run smoothly and stops costly bottlenecks from growing.
  • Quality assurance: A final way to implement a lean construction model is to have quality assurance standards in place. By ensuring quality standards are met on an ongoing basis, contractors can prevent mistakes that require costly re-work. In construction projects, re-work eats into the budget and drags out the timeline, so ensuring a quality final product at each stage helps prevent waste.

Increasingly, contractors are adopting the lean construction philosophy to better serve their clients. When you hire a general contractor, ask them about their approach to construction and how they plan for waste reduction.

Tips for Hiring a General Contractor

If you’ve decided you need a general contractor to manage your construction project, it’s important to choose your contractor carefully. This professional should be someone you trust, with a demonstrated record of high-quality work and integrity. Since you’ll be working directly with your general contractor, you should enjoy working with them.

Whether your project is commercial or residential, the following tips can help you when hiring any type of construction manager or contractor:

  1. Get multiple bids: Don’t automatically hire the contractor with the lowest bid — focus on value instead.
  2. Have a detailed contract in place: Sign a thorough contract and have a contract lawyer review it.
  3. Ask for references and samples: Assess the pros and cons of each contractor you’re considering hiring.
  4. Ensure qualifications, licensing and insurance: Hire contractors that are operating within the legal requirements.
  5. Ask about subcontractors: Find out which tradespeople they normally work with and ask for their references. too.
  6. Find out your responsibilities: Know what will be required on your end throughout the project.

Hiring a Residential General Contractor

When hiring a residential construction company in Pennsylvania, you have many contractors to consider. To narrow down your choices, you need to be able to match the services to your specific project. Consider your unique situation and find a contractor that can accommodate your needs.

Below are some considerations to look at when hiring Pennsylvania construction companies for residential projects:

  • Experience in residential construction: Since general contractors can specialize in different areas of the construction industry, it’s important to find a contractor who focuses on residential construction exclusively. Within residential construction, a contractor may focus on custom home-building or construction multi-family units. Be sure to confirm in which area of residential construction the contractor is most experienced. 
  • New builds vs. renovations: Additionally, residential general contractors can specialize in home renovations or new construction. These are two different areas of residential construction, so it’s important to find a contractor that matches your project needs. If you’re doing a renovation, look for contractors that primarily focus on upgrades and renovations rather than new construction.
  • Worker guidelines: Another essential factor to consider when hiring a residential general contractor is the expectations of the site workers. During renovations, for example, homeowners tend to set schedules that allow for workers to access the home and do work during a certain window of time. Setting guidelines on who has access to the home can help establish communication and improve cooperation between everyone.
  • Project schedule: Finally, when hiring a general contractor, you’ll want to get an idea of how long the project will take. If it’s a renovation, you may need to vacate your home for a period of time, and knowing how long you need to seek alternative accommodations can help you plan. If you’re building a new home, knowing the general contractor’s process and timeframe will help you know whether you should stay in your current home or rent until your new home is ready.

When meeting with prospective general contract contractors, it’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions in advance so you know everything about their process.

Hiring a Commercial General Contractor

Hiring a commercial general contractor is different than hiring a residential one. In commercial construction, you use different equipment, and the project is often restricted to a specific timeframe due to it happening exclusively during business hours. There’s also usually more planning that goes into commercial projects, as commercial building codes are typically more robust, especially when it comes to mechanical requirements.

Here are some of the top considerations when hiring a commercial general contractor:

  • Business references: Ask other business owners if they can refer you to a reputable commercial general contractor. Likewise, if you have a contractor in mind, ask them for local business references you can contact.
  • Bidding and negotiating: Because commercial construction is a business investment, it’s important to have a thorough bidding and negotiating stage to ensure you get the best value for your budget. Many experts recommend avoiding contractors with the lowest bid since some firms may rely on poor quality materials and building practices to obtain jobs.
  • Authorized workers: Ask the general contractor about the subcontractors and other workers who will be on site — your business may have security protocols in place and will need to authorize certain workers to perform work after hours or on weekends.
  • Regular meetings: It’s critical for business owners to meet with their general contractors regularly. When hiring a contractor, ask about their communication style and how often they like to meet. This ensures you can develop a strong partnership from the beginning.

When you hire a commercial general contractor, you enter into a business partnership with them. It’s critical to find a trustworthy contractor who’s experienced in commercial construction and can successfully deliver your project.

Choose Clark Contractors Inc.

Hiring a general contractor you can trust is critical to the success of your project. When looking for the best general contractors in the PA area, choose Clark Contractors. With decades of experience in commercial contracting and construction management, we’re a top PA construction company. 

Contact us today to find out more about our commercial and industrial construction services, including construction management and office renovations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Fill out an online contact form or call us at 814-619-0395 to discuss your project.