General Contractor vs. Subcontractor: What's The Difference?

General Contractor vs. Subcontractor: What's The Difference?

Construction projects require the work and dedication of many key players, whether they involve the building of a school, a commercial business, or an entirely new residential neighborhood. 

General contractors and subcontractors are two primary parties typically involved in construction projects, but how are they different from each other? Is one more essential to a construction project than another? Below, our team of experts at My Site Plan explains the key distinctions you’ll want to understand going forward, so you’ll know who you need to hire for your next construction project. 

Related: Contractor Payment Schedules: What's the Best for My Project

What is a General Contractor, and What Do They Do?

A contractor going over plans with a client.

In short, a general contractor (often just called a contractor)- which can be an individual or company- does it all when it comes to construction projects, from the initial development of project plans to managing the project’s labor forces. Basically, general contractors take complete control of the project and are tasked to ensure that everything is going to plan. They’re typically hired to run commercial or residential construction projects and are almost always licensed by their state to help ensure that their work meets a specific set of code requirements. 

Some primary examples of the work that general contractors do include:

  • Maintaining records of project details
  • Monitoring administrative details, like scheduling, payments, and cash flow
  • Overseeing the timeline of work
  • Ensuring worker safety, compliance with protocols
  • Ensuring work quality
  • Supplying all materials and labor needed for the project
  • Supplying the vehicles, tools, and other equipment needed for the project
  • Working directly with clients to negotiate deals
  • Hiring subcontractors (more on this below)

Related: Read This Before You Become Your Own Contractor

What is a Subcontractor, and What Do They Do?

A subcontractor is a specialist hired on a contractual basis by a general contractor to do work in a specific niche of a construction project. Subcontractors can refer to an individual or a company, but their fundamental purpose is to handle a particular range of tasks needed to complete individual assignments. In short, they complete smaller, more specialized projects that are part of a more significant construction endeavor. There are also several different types of subcontractors that specialize in various tasks.

Some primary examples of the specialized work that subcontractors do include:

  • Carpentry and woodwork
  • Electrical work
  • Masonry work and stonework
  • Sewer work
  • Foundations and flatwork
  • Excavation
  • Roofing
  • Plumbing
  • Drywalling
  • Tilling
  • Painting and paper hanging
  • Framing
  • Plastering
  • Installing insulation
  • Installing appliances
  • HVAC installation 

While subcontractors can perform some quality work regarding the specialized tasks they’re hired to take care of, they can be incredibly costly to hire on, which many see as a significant disadvantage. Their hourly expenses can be very high, and they also tend to operate as independent professionals, meaning they don’t report to supervisors within a specific construction company. These elements can make it difficult for some construction companies to control the costs of their subcontractors effectively. 

Are you ready to start construction, renovation, or demolition projects on your property but still need to get the required permits and other paperwork? Our team of professional experts at My Site Plan is here to help, so please contact us today to learn about what we can do for you!

What is The Difference Between a General Contractor and a Subcontractor?

a general contractor Holding White Paper on Concrete Wall

While you should now have a more thorough understanding of how general contractors and subcontractors are different, thanks to the lists provided above, let’s take a moment to help simplify things even further by directly summarizing the key differences between the two types of contractors. The essential elements to note between general contractors and subcontractors are that:

  1. General contractors work directly with clients and oversee the entire construction project, from hiring laborers to acquiring materials and more. They can do anything from construction and renovation to repairs and are essentially in charge of everything, including hiring subcontractors.
  2. Subcontractors are hired by and follow the instructions of the general contractor as contracted employees. They never have to work directly with clients or customers of a construction project and are hired to perform specialized tasks as part of a larger construction project. They typically work in one specific construction area, such as painting, plumbing, carpentry, or appliance installation.
  3. Not every general contractor will choose to hire a subcontractor to assist in every construction job. Depending on the skills that a general contractor possesses or who they’re able to hire as regular laborers, they may not require the services of subcontractors at all. 

Related: What Does A General Contractor Do: A Guide For Homeowners

Final Factors to Consider Going Forward

Understanding the key differences between general contractors and subcontractors is essential, especially if you plan to undergo any intensive construction projects soon. The key distinction to note is that general contractors are in charge of almost everything. They are in charge of hiring subcontractors to come in and perform specific tasks needed to complete the construction project. 

Our experts at My Site Plan sincerely hope that the above information has helped clear up any misunderstanding regarding the roles and responsibilities of these two types of contractors. If you’d like to learn even more about other essential information within the realms of construction, demolition, or remodeling, please consider contacting us today, exploring the wide array of specialized services on our website, or reading through some of our other expertly written resources!

Getting everything you need to build or renovate your dream home can be a challenge, especially since there are so many permits involved! Thankfully, our experts at My Site Plan are here to help ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible for your project!

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  • Ryan Crownholm