General contractors are knowledgeable professionals who can handle a wide variety of tasks on a job site. General contractors commonly solicit and accept projects that include everything from basic remodeling projects to overseeing the construction of a new home or office building. During the course of a large job, contractors may find themselves performing carpentry, electrical, plumbing, or painting projects. However, there are limits on the types of work general contractors can do while staying within the confines of their licensing.
Rules and regulations vary significantly between states, so it is always a good idea to consult your local licensing board for specifics. However, in the following guide, we provide general answers to “what work can a general contractor do?” and also highlight some specialty work that may require additional licensing or insurance.
What Work Can a General Contractor Do?
The types of work a general contractor can do depends on several factors. One factor is the local or state restrictions placed on a contractor’s license. For example, California allows licensed general contractors to accept jobs that include multiple types of work, such as a kitchen remodel that includes plumbing, electrical, and general construction. However, this can vary widely between states, so you should always check with the local licensing board to see what is and is not allowed.
Another factor that can affect what types of work you perform is your knowledge about and proficiency in a particular specialty. For example, you may be highly skilled in carpentry and are therefore comfortable taking on a custom cabinet project but unfamiliar with atypical electrical installations.
What jobs you undertake will be influenced by those and other similar factors. However, most general contractors are qualified to do the following types of work.
Demolition projects may be dismantling a kitchen for a complete remodel or tearing down an entire house to make room for a new one. However, it involves more than just destroying things. Every aspect of a demolition project must be planned based on the electrical, plumbing, and structural components involved. As the general contractor, you must obtain any required permits, perform the demo work, and then complete the site cleanup.
General contractors are often tasked with structural construction tasks. These require the skill and knowledge gained through training and an apprenticeship and are usually off-limits to unlicensed handymen. In addition to new construction, any repairs, remodeling, or renovations that alter the structural components of a house fall under this category.
Roofing is another area where general contractors are usually able to operate. A project like this might include measuring the roof surface, ordering materials, removing old roof materials, and installing new ones. However, you should check with the local licensing board since some states, such as Alabama and Nevada, restrict this work to licensed roofing contractors.
A contractor often oversees larger landscaping projects. These typically include components such as patios, lighting, and integrated sprinklers. Contractors should also oversee grading or site management to limit erosion and ensure proper drainage away from structures. Failure to do this can severely damage homes and other buildings.
For the most part, a general contractor can provide landscaping design and installation services. However, like with other specialties, there may be local restrictions. For example, a few states require landscape contractors to obtain a specialty license in place of or in addition to their general contractor credentials before taking on landscape projects.
Painting is a common part of larger projects, and among the types of work that general contractors can do. However, it is not common for a general contractor to be called to perform painting independently.
Can a General Contractor Do Electrical Work?
Many new general contractors are unsure of the limits imposed by a professional license. Sometimes, this is because licensing boards post confusing or conflicting information. Other times, it results from misinformation provided by coworkers, previous supervisors, or training programs. As a result, there are many questions related to can a general contractor do electrical work.
Electrical work is a grey area for general contractors. License limits vary between states, so what is allowed in one place may not be in another. However, it is often permissible for a general contractor to perform minor electrical work. This includes things like installing or updating light fixtures or hooking up appliances, which generally do not require a permit. Consider hiring a subcontractor with an electrician license for other larger projects.
Can a General Contractor Do Plumbing?
Basic plumbing is often allowed for general contractors. However, there are some exceptions. For example, a recent law change in Washington requires general contractors to subcontract plumbing to a licensed plumber. Situations like this reinforce the importance of keeping up with any changes to licensing limits in your state and any municipalities where you conduct business.
In places where you can complete plumbing work with a building contractor license, limiting your projects to the types of work you are comfortable completing is advisable. A good rule of thumb is to hire a licensed plumber subcontractor whenever a permit is needed for your plumbing project.
Recommended: Plumbing License Requirements By State
Can a General Contractor Do Plumbing On Gas Lines?
Gas line work is typically considered a sub-specialty of plumbing. In most cases, a special certification or license is required to work with natural and bottled gas. This ensures proper knowledge of safety procedures for working with these potentially hazardous materials.
Like with other construction specialties, it is always a good idea to know what work a general contractor can do on gas lines before accepting a contract. For example, some states and municipalities allow a general contractor to complete gas plumbing. In contrast, others require gas certifications for installing gas appliances, such as ovens, clothes dryers, or outdoor firepits.
Can General Contractors Do HVAC Work?
Many states have restrictions on who can design and install HVAC systems. This highly specialized field requires a specific body of knowledge to be done correctly. However, a general contractor may be able to perform basic repairs or modifications to HVAC systems as part of a larger project.
One example of this is moving ductwork during a remodeling project or adding ductwork for an addition. Replacing or upgrading a thermostat could also be considered HVAC work and can often be completed by a general contractor.
Recommended: HVAC License Requirements: State-by-State Directory
Do You Need an Additional License for Specialty Work?
For the most part, licensing is handled at the state or local level. Because of this, what is allowed in one state may not be permissible in a neighboring one. This is why it is critical for all general contractors to stay abreast of current rules and regulations that apply where they are working.
For example, suppose you are licensed in one state that allows general contractors to complete plumbing and electrical work, but you routinely work in another state that does not. In this case, you must secure licenses and follow all applicable restrictions for both states. Which rules apply will depend on where the work is completed.
There is one certification that applies nationwide; it is an EPA certification that is required for anyone who is or will be working with refrigerants. A Section 608 Technician Certification does not expire, so you only have to take the exam and complete your paperwork once.
What Type of Insurance Does a General Contractor Need?
Insurance requirements for general contractors carry. If you must have a policy or surety bond, you will be asked to provide proof of coverage when applying for your license. However, even when it is not required, contractors may want to consider the following types of coverage to protect business and personal assets.
Professional and General Liability Insurance
Some states, but not all, require general contractors to carry liability insurance. This protects customers against damages but can also save you from financial distress.
Liability insurance protects you against claims made by others, such as clients whose property is damaged during a project or someone who is injured on a job site. It usually pays for legal costs and any monetary awards or settlements. However, negligence on your part can affect coverage, so it is crucial to limit projects to the types of work general contractors can do.
Tool and Equipment Coverage
The tools and equipment you use during a typical workday are expensive. If you have to replace them because of theft, vandalism, or a fire, it could seriously impact your business’s financials. Tool and equipment coverage removes some of this risk. If you routinely rent large equipment, consider asking how to ensure coverage extends to those items as well.
Commercial Auto Insurance
You want to look into commercial auto policies if you operate a vehicle specifically for work, such as a truck to transport tools and equipment. Commercial insurance policies typically offer higher limits and more comprehensive coverage than personal ones. Additionally, they help keep risks associated with a general contracting business away from personal assets. Keep in mind this does not apply to personal vehicles used to commute to and from a company.
Most, but not all states require employers to maintain worker’s compensation insurance. This coverage protects employees who get injured on a job site or become ill because of workplace conditions. It is a good idea to check with your state office overseeing workers’ compensation insurance to verify requirements.
Does the Type of Work Affect Insurance Requirements?
Insurance requirements are one of the things you should look at when asking questions like can a general contractor do electrical work. The reason for this is relatively simple: If you perform work that is outside of what is permitted by your general contractor license and something goes wrong, your insurance may not approve any claims. This can be a costly mistake if someone is injured or personal property is damaged during the course of a project.
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When Does a General Contractor Need To Hire Specialty Subcontractors?
After exploring what work can a general contractor do, you may already have a good idea of when hiring a subcontractor is necessary. However, there are often still questions. After all, every subcontractor you work with adds extra expenses to a project. This results in a higher cost to the customer or lower profits for you. Of course, neither outcome is ideal, but there are times when you need to hire a subcontractor.
As a general rule, if a permit is required for specialty work (i.e., plumbing, electrical, gas applications, HVAC, etc.), you should explore hiring a subcontractor. Their knowledge and experience will have several advantages in this situation. For example, their familiarity with the work will allow for a quicker completion time. Additionally, licensed specialty contractors know exactly what permits must be obtained and can arrange for post-work inspections.
Liability is another factor to consider when deciding whether or not to hire a subcontractor. If you operate outside the types of work general contractors can do according to license restrictions, you could be responsible if something goes wrong.
What Happens if I do Work That Requires a Specialty License or Subcontractor?
There are often severe penalties for general contractors who perform work that is beyond the limits of a general contractor license. This could be anything from a contractor completing plumbing or electrical work to a residential contractor completing a commercial project. Penalties can include:
- A warning from the licensing board
- Fees that can reach into the thousands of dollars
- Jail time
- Loss of your license
The higher penalties are usually reserved for severe infractions or repeat offenders. In addition to these actions, many state licensing boards also compile and publish lists of contractors who have complaints or violations against them. Being added to this list could seriously impede your ability to attract new clients.
Because regulations are usually handled at the state or local level, the answer varies to what work can a general contractor do depending on where the work is performed. For the most part, general contractors can perform general construction, plan drawing, carpentry, and some plumbing or electrical work. However, it is always a good idea to check with your local contractor licensing board to ensure compliance with regulations.