Types of contractor: two construction contractors reviewing documents

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There are many different types of contractors in the construction industry, and they each have a specialized job. Other than very small construction projects, it’s almost impossible to take a project from a set of plans to a finished structure without a team of these specialty contractors. 

But many roles on a project fall under the category of “contractor,” and they’re not always as obvious as you might think. This article will cover what a contractor is and some of the most common types of construction contractors you might find on a construction project, as well as how to find the right type of contractor.

What is a contractor?

A simple definition of a contractor is anyone who provides labor or services on a construction project. They deliver the labor or services according to the terms of a contract between themselves and the project owner or another contractor. It’s actually an umbrella term that describes almost everyone involved in a construction project. 

In a typical construction contract, “contractor” typically refers to the general or prime contractor. This contractor would be the one engaged in a contract with the project owner, but the term can actually mean anyone working under the contract. While businesses hired by the general contractor are typically referred to as subcontractors, they’re just a lower tier of contractor.

Also, unless an individual is an employee of the property owner or another contractor, everyone contributing labor to a project is technically a contractor. This includes architects, designers, engineers, and others. While it’s more common to refer to them as “design professionals,” these persons can also be considered types of contractors.

But overwhelmingly, the term “contractor” most often describes the companies or individuals providing physical labor of some sort. 

20 types of contractors in construction

Large construction projects might require a ton of contracting companies to make them happen. Many times, there can even be several different types of contractors performing the same work in different areas on the job. Even a small residential home build can require upward of a dozen contractors and subcontractors before the job receives its certificate of occupancy.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common types of construction contractors.

1. General contractors

The general contractor is the person or firm who contracts directly with the project owner. The role includes hiring, scheduling, and managing subcontractors, as well as generally steering the ship. There may also be some additional aspects of the project that the GC might handle.

2. Excavation

An excavation contractor is typically the first subcontractor on the job. They’ll dig foundations, drill for columns, grade the land, and cut trenches through the ground for utilities.

3. Concrete

Concrete subcontractors will often frame and pour foundations, floors, pads, parking lots, and other concrete surfaces. Some specialty concrete subs will also build concrete-reinforced slabs in a shop and deliver them to the site, acting as much as a supplier as they are a contractor.

4. Framing

The framing contractor will typically build the structure of a building. Their job involves wood and metal framing, depending on the project at hand. They will also typically sheath the building and might even install windows and doors.

The general contractor will often take on this contractor’s role, depending on the licensing requirements where the project is taking place.

5. Steel

For buildings where wood framing isn’t an option, the steel contractor will erect the structure. They often build the steel beams themselves, deliver them to the site, and install them in place. They’re commonplace on commercial projects, but they could be called upon to build and install a steel beam in a residential structure.

6. Window and door

Installing the windows and doors might typically fall under the tasks of the GC, framing crew, or even the finish carpentry sub. But, with custom orders, manufacturers often like to use their own installation crews to ensure the job is handled correctly for warranty purposes.

7. Electrical

The general contractor will typically hire an electrical subcontractor to run wires through the house and install the electrical service box. They’ll also install outlets, switches, and lighting throughout the building.

8. Plumbing

Plumbing contractors are responsible for a few aspects of any project. They install backflow preventers and water supply pipes to bathrooms, kitchens, break rooms, and utility closets on a typical project. They also install drains and tie them into the existing sewer or septic systems. 

9. HVAC

The HVAC subcontractor is responsible for keeping everything comfortable. They install air conditioning systems, air handlers, heat exchangers, boilers, and more systems to both heat and cool a building. In some cases, they might also handle refrigeration tasks for large cold storage warehouses, restaurants, and more.

10. Fire alarm and sprinkler

The fire alarm and sprinkler subcontractor is responsible for installing the fire control panels, smoke detectors, and other alarm devices through the structure. They might also install the sprinkler system and piping for fire prevention. These roles can often be contracted to the electrician and plumber, but commercial projects require a specialty contractor.

11. Roofing

Roofing subcontractors are responsible for protecting the structure from the top down. They install asphalt shingles, rubber roofing membrane, and metal roofing products to keep the elements out — and protect the project owner’s investment. 

12. Insulation

Insulating used to be a job that general contractors would handle, but with the advancements in energy-efficient building, the job has become far more specialized. These subcontractors use a wide range of materials like foam, batts, mineral wool, and other materials to keep extreme temperatures on the outside of the building.

13. Drywall

Once all the in-wall utilities and insulation are ready for covering, the drywall subcontractor will come behind and hang up the wallboard. On smaller jobs, the GC’s carpentry crew might hang the drywall, but dedicated crews are a necessity for larger projects.

14. Taping

If the GC’s crew handles the drywall installation, they’ll often sub-out the actual taping of the seams. Taping subs are experts in making drywall with whips and bows look like a perfectly smooth flat surface, so they’re usually worth paying for.

15. Plaster

In addition to drywall, some walls are made of plaster. Plastering a wall is a totally different process than drywalling — so there are plastering subcontractors who specialize specifically in plaster.

16. Flooring

Flooring subcontractors’ jobs are to put the finished floor down through the project. They’ll install vinyl flooring, tile, hardwood, or carpet, though each might require its own specialty flooring sub. The flooring sub will usually cover the floor with protective paper to allow the other subs to continue working without damaging the floor.

17. Finish carpentry

The finish carpentry sub will install door trim, baseboards, crown molding, and other decorative woodwork throughout the project. In a traditional residential build, they’ll usually hang the doors as well. It’s best to get them in ahead of the painters, especially if the trim requires painting.

18. Painting

Painting contractors have the job of putting a fresh coat of paint on everything. They’ll start by patching any damage caused by the flooring or finish carpentry subs, and then painting the ceiling, walls, and trim according to the specs.

19. Masonry

Masonry subs might handle a few jobs on a build. They might be installing fireplaces, building patios, constructing stone walls, and plenty of other brick and stone-related jobs. 

20. Landscaping

The landscaping sub will handle most of the work around the project. These subs repair the ground damage caused by heavy equipment, as well as install gardens, water features, walkways, and other accents to bring a site to its finished state and add curb appeal.

How to find the right contractor

Whether you’re a new GC looking to build an army of dependable subcontractors or a project owner running a job for the first time, finding the right contractor can be tricky. The following are some avenues you can go to find a contractor or sub, and what you can do to vet them before hiring.

GCs and project owners looking to connect with prospective contractors should check some of the many construction-centric websites. Check with organizations like the Associated General Contractors (AGC), your local chapter of the Building Industry Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, and other local trade organizations.

You can get your name in front of these possible business associates by posting a Request for Proposal on the local section, job board, or whatever option the particular website has. Just be sure to provide enough information about what you’re looking for so you’re not wasting anyone’s time.

Check social media

Social media remains one of the most effective ways to find and connect with anyone, and that includes contractors and subs. Every business has a social media presence, including contractors and subs.

The benefit of social media is that the contractor’s profile often serves as a portfolio and as a window into what they’re like to work with. If their posts are vulgar or politically charged, or you’re spotting some unprofessional behavior in their images, you’ll have an idea of what you’re getting into.

Use word-of-mouth

Construction has survived on word-of-mouth marketing for centuries, and it’s still a valuable tool. If you have just a few industry-related contacts, you’re opening up a world of possible contractors. Just be sure you trust those contacts, and do your research before hiring anyone.

Suppliers can also be a bottomless well of information. They know every contractor, the materials they buy, and the jobs they work on. They typically have their finger on the pulse of every project in the area. Asking them who the good contractors are and who’s available will usually provide some fairly positive results. 

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Additionally, suppliers know who not to hire. They know who’s in hot water, who’s not paying their subs, who’s not paying for their materials, and much more. If there’s information out there, suppliers are likely to know it. 

Research your contractor before you hire them

Unless you’re okay with endless headaches, payment problems, and shoddy workmanship, you can’t just hire any contractor willing to take the job. You need to do a little research first to ensure you’re choosing the best from the different types of contractors. 

Ask the right questions

There are some basic questions you need to ask every prospective contractor before you hire them to work for you or on your project. These are a good start:

  • Have you handled projects like this before?
  • Can I have a copy of your insurance documents?
  • Do you have the appropriate license for this line of work?
  • Can I see your safety records?
  • Will you provide a credit check?

With those questions, you’ll have a good idea of what the contractor is capable of and what they’re like to work with. If they have experience with these projects, ask for references and a portfolio. They should be used to providing insurance and license information, so they should have it readily available (if they carry it).

For safety records, no news is good news, but you should ask. Regarding the credit check, it’s crucial to hire fiscally responsible contractors, and we’ll go over why in a bit.

Consult their contractor profile

One of the most important steps you can take toward vetting your contractors is to consult their contractor profile. These profiles are a compilation of important data that can tell a story about what it’s like to work with a particular contractor. 

Contractor profiles contain data about a construction company’s payment practices, dispute history, past liens, and reviews left by other contractors. This data is then compared to thousands of other contractors and results in a Payment Score. That score is extremely helpful in comparing different types of contractors against one another as it provides a simple benchmark for reference.

For additional guidelines on how these contractor profiles work, click here.

Illustration of three contractors standing together

View your contractor’s score

Search Levelset’s Contractor Profiles to view recent payment problems, liens, subcontractor reviews, and more.

Protect your project by choosing the right types of contractors

Choosing the right type of contractor comes down to more than just a trade or specialty. The right types of construction contractors will also be qualified, insured, and licensed. They also need to be fiscally responsible, which is one of the most important aspects of making a job go smoothly.

One of the most difficult things for a project owner or GC to deal with is a mechanics lien filed on their project. And, if you hire a contractor or sub that isn’t so great with money management, one could easily land on the property.

Even if the owner is cutting the checks and the GC’s distributing them, a sub might not be paying its subs, or more often, its suppliers. If those subs and suppliers aren’t getting paid, they have a right to file a mechanics lien or materialman’s lien on the property, even if the owner and GC are trying to do the right thing.

One way to avoid this is to require preliminary notices from every contractor on your project. These notices ensure that you know who’s working on the project and the type of work they’re performing. With this complete roster of contractors, you’ll be able to ensure that everyone’s receiving their checks and that no one is holding up their payment.