The Difference Between General Contractors and Subcontractors

Published: 13th August 2010
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The Difference between General Contractors and Subcontractors

When considering a construction project, an important factor contributing to its success is the people you hire to help complete the project. General contractors and subcontractors can be hired to work on the project together as a team or separately. Many people unfamiliar with the world of construction might use the terms "general contractor" and "subcontractor" interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing.

General Contractor

A general contractor, also known as a prime contractor, is a person or group that contracts with another organization for the construction, renovation or demolition of a building or other structure. When working on a construction project, the general contractor is responsible for supplying all material, labor, equipment and services necessary to get the job done. General contractors either have their own employees that work on the project or they may choose to work with subcontractors for certain tasks.

Not only is the general contractor responsible for supplying all materials, labor and equipment for the project, but they are also in charge of scheduling, supervision and payment of subcontractors. One of the advantages to hiring a general contractor is their vast knowledge of all construction work including building codes, materials, proper construction methods and safety precautions on the job site.


Based on the needs of the construction project, a general contractor might choose to hire subcontractors to help. While general contractors can see the overall big picture of the construction project, subcontractors specialize in specific areas and are considered experts in those fields. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, a subcontractor might be necessary.

When hired, the subcontractor signs a contract to perform part, or all of the obligations in the contract. A subcontractor enters the project, performs their particular task and then leaves when they are done. These workers can specialize in areas such as electricity, plumbing, carpentry, concrete and more. While the subcontractor performs their work, the general contractor is overseeing everything that is being done to ensure that the work is done correctly, on budget and on time.

Choosing to work with general contractors and subcontractors all depends on the scope of your project. One thing to remember is that where you lack experience and knowledge, there's always someone out there that knows more than you and can help your construction project be a success.

Kurt Koepf is an employee for Bay Mechanical & Electrical, an Ohio electrical contractorand Ohio HVAC contractor based in Lorain, Ohio. The company is state-certified in and also works in other construction specialties, including: fire protection, plumbing, HVAC, and process piping.

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