General contracting is often simplified as simply being the manager of the whole project, but what does that mean? What goes into a general contractor’s day-to-day duties, and what does that mean for you as the property owner? By understanding construction as a whole, it’s easier to understand more about the project you are endeavoring to undertake.

A general contractor is an individual who oversees the entire construction job from pre-construction through to completion. This person does not do the direct hard labor, but oftentimes they have spent many years putting in the hours to learn their trade and the work the people they will lead do. They oversee all of the work of all the specialists including:

  • Plumbers
  • Commercial and residential painters
  • Electricians
  • Skilled tradesmen in welding and other specialized fields

When they are in charge of much larger construction jobs then they will often outsource the work to subcontractors, who they do not hire directly. One of the disadvantages of using a general contractor who outsources too much is that they aren’t sure if all of the workers on the job site are experienced and licensed. They are the main point of contact between you and the other important leaders on the crew. They are also responsible for the safety and well-being of all workers.

Snohomish County

Licensed And Bonded

According to the law in Washington, the following will require a license in order to prevent being shut down and fined:

  • Construction, remodeling, or repairing property such as buildings, houses, and roads.
  • “Flipping houses” or remodeling existing residential properties significantly to sell at a higher price
  • Demolishing any structures

Be sure to ask to see your general contractor’s license and proof that they are bonded. A surety bond guarantees that the agreement will be upheld no matter what, and that the contractor will complete the job and all duties listed in the contract.

Making Safety The Number One Priority

A general contractor may be required to hire additional contractors, called subcontractors, who may hire their own workers. On large jobs, they cannot be expected to interview each person that will come in to lay grout on the tile, but for small residential jobs, they should be able to know the team and have personally interviewed workers themselves.

The advantage to this is that your general contractor knows that everyone on that site is not only capable of doing their job well, but while also following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards as required by law. According to them the most common causes of fatalities on construction sites were electrocution, a worker being struck by object, electrocution, and a worker getting caught-in/between spaces. They also reported that one in five worker deaths in 2017 was in the construction industry.

Most of the fatalities were preventable. Reasons cited for these fatalities include falling, insufficient eye and face protection, insufficient respiratory protection and insufficient protections against being crushed or caught in between materials and equipment. 

Traits of a Great General Contractor

Remember that this person will be the main point of contact between you and everyone else. So above all else, they have to have tact, superior communication skills, be reliable, and be honest. While a college degree is not required, they should possess at least a high school diploma. But even if they are well-educated and have attended college or even graduate school, you still want to ask yourself if you think you will enjoy working with them. This is the time to think about 

  • Do you get a sense of trust in the person? 
  • Would you feel comfortable expressing concern or a conflicting opinion about your own property and the structure being built for you?
  • Are they open to communication, or does every response have some sort of know-it-all attitude or tone of condescension? Or are they a joy to get along with? 

You can also ask about their educational background. While a college degree is not required to become a general contractor, many do have degrees in fields such as civil engineering or construction management. Their coursework will have focused on case studies of real construction site failures and disasters to prepare them to respond to anything.

There are many skills a general contractor must have. These include:

  • Have an understanding of inspection procedures
  • Understand and know all building codes and laws
  • An understanding of basic architecture and engineering
  • Project management and development
  • Site planning
  • Construction methods and materials
  • Designing
  • Be able to follow safety procedures dictated by OSHA and other laws
  • Budgeting and accounting

Keep in mind that OSHA also discovered that the second most common reason why construction site fatalities occurred was because of improper communication, which came after falls, which caused 39.2% of deaths in 2017. All general contractors must understand the hazards associated with the job and ensure that only qualified people who are informed and experienced are on a job site.

What A General Contractor Expects from Property Owners

Now that you know what kind of technical and people skills general contractors should possess, it’s time to think about your role in your construction project. You have probably asked realistic questions such as “do I need to vacate my property during a renovation?” or “should I be home during the day with my kid if my roof is being replaced?” But other than making basic preparations for the actual construction itself, there are some things general contractors expect of clients.

There are lots of ways to ensure that your vision is being carried through, and will also facilitate communication with your general contractor, who will expect this of you. One way is to build a vision board. Whether one or several, these boards have pictures, textures, and swatches that help them to understand what your vision is. After all, they may have worked on projects similar to what you want and can help you customize the look to suit your space. The clearer you are, the better.