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General Contractor vs Subcontractor: What’s the Difference?


A group of contractors on a job site going over plans.

Hiring a construction company to build out a space often starts with talking to a builder and architect. They work with you to scope out the project and determine the plan. Once the work gets done, the right people are assigned to the project, typically starting with a general contractor. Often, a general contractor will work with the buyer or construction company, providing a go-to resource for the buyer. Then, to help get the work done, subcontractors are hired, who will do very specific jobs.

It's important to understand the different roles a general contractor and subcontractor provide so you know who to work with and who is responsible for any task.

What Is a General Contractor?

A general contractor is an overseer. Though they may do some of the actual work themselves, their ultimate goal is to ensure all of the individual pieces of the project come together properly.

The client hires the general contractor to manage those who complete the work, including both subcontractors and vendors. Their job typically entails:

  • Project management and coordination

  • Hiring and overseeing subcontractors

  • Obtaining all necessary permits for the work

  • Ensuring proper licenses are in place

  • Ensuring contractors do the job properly

The general contractor is the main point of contact for the owner or client on the project. They are ultimately responsible for the work completed by the subcontractor.

What Is a Subcontractor?

A subcontractor works for the general contractor, providing specific services for the project. The subcontractor often has specialized skills and provides only specific components of the job. This may include, for example, a licensed plumber or the subcontractor may be a general laborer that does repairs. Their job typically entails:

  • Providing specialized services in a trade or area for the project

  • Understanding the task at hand and completing it to industry standards

  • Meeting with and communicating with the general contractor

  • Maintaining their own business and appropriate licenses

  • Ensuring all steps are met within their assigned tasks

General Contractor vs Subcontractor

Take a look at the differences a bit more clearly here.

Scope of Work

A general contractor will oversee the project from start to finish. They are responsible for scheduling, budgeting, and quality control.

The subcontractor will focus on a particular trade or provide a service, such as plumbing, HVAC, electrical, drywall, or other needs. They will complete their assigned tasks to the specifications set by the general contractor.

Contractual Relationships

The general contractor engages with the project owner through a contract. They assume the project's overall legal and financial responsibilities as defined within the contract.

The subcontractor enters into their own contract with the general contractor. They must perform the work ordered within that contract to the standards set by the general contractor. This contract is not with the project owner.

Risk and Liability

The general contractor assumes a higher risk level and liability with the project. That means the general contractor should carry liability insurance to protect them from risks. They need this coverage to protect themselves from legal claims and financial responsibility or losses.

The subcontractor will enter into a contract with the general contractor, and they assume the specific risks and requirements set within that contract. They are responsible for providing quality work and meeting time deadlines based on the contract terms and conditions.

Communication and Coordination

The general contractor communicates with both parties – the project owner and all subcontractors on the project. They communicate to ensure timelines, manage the process, navigate the deadlines, and assess the progress with the subcontractors. They also handle all conflicts that arise and any issues during construction.

The subcontractor communicates with the general contractor regarding all aspects of the project, including providing progress updates and addressing any specific issues they have. Typically, the general contractor will stay in constant communication with the subcontractor to alleviate any need for the subcontractor to interact with the project owner.

Understanding the Conditions

A general contractor is likely the party you will deal with hands-on when hiring a construction company for any type and scale of the project. They take a lot of the responsibility for finding the qualified professionals needed for the job, and they work closely with the team to ensure communication at all levels.

Subcontractors are quite valuable to the project, though, and often handle the bulk of the work. As a result, you want to ensure you know who they are and what services they are providing as well.

Your Go-To General Contractor

From ground-up construction to service and maintenance, Buildout Pros does the work for you. Don't settle for mediocrity. Buildout Pros is your go-to general contractor. We pride ourselves on exceptional craftsmanship, attention to detail, and unmatched customer satisfaction. We prioritize your needs, delivering results that exceed expectations.

Contact us today to take the first step toward creating your dream space.

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