One of the principal benefits of becoming a licensed general contractor (besides complying with the law in most states) is to distinguish your firm from the masses of ‘unwashed’ building tradesmen who operate illegally, under the table, and unethically. By becoming registered, bonded and carrying insurance you can assure your potential clients that you are qualified to do the work required and that you won’t run off with their money.
However, since more and more general contractors see the value of becoming licensed (especially as states and consumer protection agencies crack down), how do you market yourself to stand out? Moreover, what if you live in a state and county or city that does not license contractors? Some states only require construction contractors to register in order to obtain permits. Some only require certain sub specialties to become licensed like plumbers, mechanics or electrical contractors.
How do you make your construction contracting firm stand out from the competition and stay in business?
In order for a general contractor to thrive and grow in an increasingly competitive marketplace, for all of these reasons listed above, it is important to join relevant associations, and develop one or more specialties and get the certification from the association or institute that oversees the specific specialization. Some example contractor specialties are in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), remodeling, energy retrofit, aging in place remodeling, and green (environmentally friendly energy saving) building construction.
What are your specialization options?
- Develop additional skills and follow the steps to become licensed in the sub specialties required in your state (like plumbing or mechanical contracting work).
- Develop one or more specialty areas, such as energy auditing or air sealing retrofit to replace standard installation, and take the tests to obtain certification for it.
Often the institutes and associations that certify contractors will feature you in a directory indicating your specialization. Government agencies and other networks will direct consumers to such directories to find contractors with the right specialties to do specific kinds of work. Just obtaining a certification can have a built in marketing advantage. Such associations also tend to have local branches in your area. These organizations are also a great way to stay connected with the latest developments in the building industry and network with other professionals, which could lead to further work for you and your firm.
Here are the top sites where you can get additional certifications that will confirm your expertise, impress potential clients, and help you land more jobs.
Let’s get started!
Energy Contractors and Auditors
The two certifications recognized nationwide for home energy contractors and auditors are the Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Analyst certificate and the HERS Rater certification given by the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET). Certificates from both agencies are recognized by the mortgage industry, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Homeowners that have retrofit work done or who buy homes certified by such certified professionals can quality for special energy mortgages (to purchase energy efficient homes or to improve existing homes) and tax credits. For the energy mortgage, the anticipated savings in home heating and cooling costs allows the borrower to qualify to be financed for a higher priced, higher quality home. The advantages of energy retrofit are great benefits you can market to your potential clients and a lucrative source of new revenue for your contracting business.
BPI has developed accreditation and quality assurance programs for contracting companies, as well as professional credentialing for individuals. They also maintain a searchable and mappable directory of accredited contractors and their specialty certifications and provide other marketing support. In addition to the Building Analyst Certificate, BPI awards specialty certifications. Individuals can obtain one or all of these. Energy Auditor, Retrofit Installer, Crew Leader and Quality Control Inspector are advanced certificates also promoted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of the Department of Energy. Other certified professional specialty certifications include:
- Building Envelope
- Residential Building Envelope Whole House Air Leakage Control Installer
- Manufactured Housing
- Air Conditioning and Heat Pump
Obtaining individual certification (or hiring individuals who have BPI creden tials) is among the steps in the process towards becoming a BPI accredited company.
Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)
RESNET is focused on making homes more energy efficient. They are responsible for national training and certification standards for the mortgage industry’s National Home Energy Rating Standards (HERS) Raters and Home Energy Survey Professionals. Each of these professional designations are recognized by federal agencies and the mortgage industry (e.g. FHA, VA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
LEED Green Building Certification
USGBC sponsors the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) green building program, promoting energy efficient building design and construction. The program includes the main LEED program, a certification that homes, buildings and communities can achieve. Certification means the design, construction, operation and ongoing maintenance is energy and cost efficient. USGBC also provides credential to individuals knowledgeable about how to design, build, operate and maintain green buildings. The credentials are the LEED Green Associate and LEED AP. The organization also provides ongoing education, conferences, local chapters and advocacy. Nationally, LEED certified buildings are a small but rapidly growing segment of the building market. However, there are certain locales and states where having LEED credentials is a real leg up, including Washington DC, Colorado, Illinois, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, Texas, California, Minnesota and New York.
NAHB Certified Professional Designations
As a trade association, NAHB offers its own certifications (called Designations) such as Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist or Certified Graduate Remodeler, among others. They also maintain a variety of directories for the public indicating the specializations of member contractors and companies, such as particular construction materials, panelized building systems, or aging in place home modifications.
The list of NAHB Designations includes:
- Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS)
- Certified Graduate Associate (CGA)
- Certified Graduate Builder (CGB)
- Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR)
- Certified Green Professional (CGP)
- Certified New Home Marketing Professional (CMP)
- Certified New Home Sales Professional (CSP)
- Graduate Master Builder (GMB)
- Graduate Master Remodeler (GMR)
- Housing Credit Certified Professional (HCCP)
- Master Certified Green Professional
- Master Certified New Home Sales Professional (Master CSP)
- Master in Residential Marketing (MIRM)
Public Sector Contracting Certifications
The APWA provides three credentials, two of which pertain to the building industry. These are the Certified Public Infrastructure Inspector (CPII) and Certified Stormwater Manager (CSM). CPII certified individuals are trained to inspect how public infrastructure, buildings and other forms of construction and materials to make sure such structures and facilities comply with plans, regulations and specifications. Those certified as CSM are able to manage stormwater programs for city, county, state, and federal agencies. Both designations can open your business to an entirely new market segment, public buildings, infrastructure and facilities.
The Bottom Line
As a general contractor, whether you are required to be licensed or not, it is important to stay up to date with what is going on in the constructing industry and building trades. Becoming a member of relevant associations and pursuing a specialization through experience, coursework and exams and maintaining your certifications with ongoing continuing education is a great way to stay abreast with this rapidly changing industry, while simultaneously enhancing your business in the eyes of past and new clients, and making sure you are not at risk of losing business to the competition.