Finding A General Contractor

Is construction and remodeling interesting to you? Obtain your general contractor license to turn that interest into an income source.

If you love hands-on projects, construction, and design elements, a general contractor position is an ideal job for you. As a general contractor, you can stretch your design talents, as well as expand your construction skills. You can also enjoy the satisfaction of helping clients achieve their ideal design goals. However, you need the proper training to legally and successfully make general contracting a career.

You can become a general contractor in a relatively short amount of time compared to the time it takes to enter into other fields. On-the-job training can also help you break into the general contracting field. Therefore, it is a good career to try when you want a fast start. It is also a potentially lucrative and stable career. The designing and building skills of a general contractor are always in demand. There are more than 36,000 U.S. general contractors. Here is what you need to know before you become one of them.

What is a General Contractor?

Legally, a general contractor is a contractor responsible for overseeing at least two aspects of construction under one contract on a building project. A general contractor is a person or company hired by the property owner. Responsibilities of a general contractor also include:

  • Hiring Subcontractors

  • Ordering Materials

  • Overseeing All Aspects of Construction

General contractors traditionally oversee the construction aspects of building projects. They perform or delegate tasks based on plans provided by separate design teams or the property owners. However, some general contractors opt to become design-build specialists. Individual design-build specialists work one-on-one with property owners to come up with design and construction solutions. Large general contracting firms have construction and design departments, which allows clients to receive assistance with all aspects of a project from one source.

When a General Contractor is Required

There are several scenarios requiring general contractors. Some depend on the state in which the work is being performed, but most are common in all states. For example, general contractors are required most of the time for any projects that require building permits. Some projects typically requiring permits are:

  • Creating New Windows in Existing Structures

  • Electrical Upgrades, Installations, or Replacements

  • Plumbing Upgrades, Installations, or Replacements

  • Installing Certain Types of Fencing

  • Water Heater Replacement

In some cities and towns, general contractors are necessary for projects costing more than a certain amount. Sometimes an amount is set at the state level, but municipalities within the state have more strict guidelines. For example, if a state sets a minimum of $10,000 and a town sets a minimum of $5,000 then a contractor is required for any local job costing more than the local limit. Additionally, some projects have no contractor requirement but go more smoothly when contractors are present. For example, projects with many subcontractors are usually completed more efficiently when overseen by general contractors. The same is true for projects that are expected to take longer than one week or involve many components requiring coordination of teams and schedules.

General Contractor Licensing Requirements and Costs

A general contractor's license is not required to oversee every home improvement project. You can start your career by gaining experience as a handyman, if you choose. However, many cities and towns require licensed contractors for large projects. Some states also set licensing requirements. For instance, Tennessee law states you must have a license to work as a general contractor on any project costing $25,000 or more

In many states, you must have a college degree to get a general contractor license. A job as an apprentice to a general contractor can also help you obtain the experience necessary. However, obtaining a degree can make hiring you more appealing to potential clients, even in states where one is not required.

When you have completed the educational or apprenticeship requirements in your state, you must take the licensing exam and pay a licensing fee. Every U.S. state charges a different amount for a general contractor's license, and most also charge exam registration fees. In general, the cost ranges from approximately $50 to $300. Each state also sets its own rules for how long a general contractor license lasts. For example, Florida issues a two-year license.

Other General Contractor Prerequisites 

There are several prerequisites you must adhere to before you become a general contractor. The first is age. In most cases, such as in the state of California, you must be at least 18 years of age to take a licensing exam. Check the requirement in your state. Other steps your state may require you to take before you become licensed include:

  • Provide your GED or high school diploma.

  • Present proof of degree or at least four years of relevant experience.

  • Obtain an endorsement from a licensed contractor in good standing.

  • Present proof of legal United States residency or permission to work within the United States.

  • Pass a criminal background check.

  • Have a business address.

  • Have a tax ID number.

  • Obtain liability insurance.

How Long it Takes to Become a General Contractor

The length of time it takes to become a general contractor depends greatly on how you go about the process, as well as the requirements in your state. You may have to pursue a four-year degree, such as in civil engineering or construction management. In some states you must complete an apprenticeship in addition to a degree or show other proof of practical experience. Other states allow a degree or an apprenticeship. In certain states, you do not have to complete a lengthy apprenticeship or four-year degree. Instead, you may take an accelerated online course to learn information necessary to pass the licensing exam. You can complete such a course in as little as one to two weeks, depending on how much time you have to devote to studying the course material.

Continued Learning as a General Contractor

There is an ongoing time investment required to have a successful career as a general contractor. You must keep  studying, even after you receive your license. Construction and design trends change constantly as safety rules are updated, trends change, and new materials are developed. Groups like the Associated General Contractors of America can assist you. The more experience and knowledge you have, the more likely clients are to hire you. Make the most of your career by attending extra classes and seminars on a regular basis and constantly coordinating with other contractors.