What Do General Contractors Do and Why are They So Important?

When it comes to the world of construction it's pretty obvious what plumbers, roofers, and bricklayers do, but have you ever asked yourself 'what is general contracting'? General contracting is the most vital position on a construction site requiring a lot of skills and expertise. At Fortress Home we have been building commercial and residential projects around Chicago for over 20 years and are proud of the work that we do as high-quality general contractors. When planning a new residential construction project, it makes sense to Google “New home builders near me”, the results of the search would be more accurate.

General Contractors - a brief overview

A general contractor can work on both commercial and residential projects but may choose to focus on one area, or cover both. They usually focus on major projects, rather than smaller DIY home projects.

To give you a quick overview of what they do, the general contractors oversee the construction site and manage all the laborers, tradespeople, and craftspeople working on the project. They will be the main point of contact and will be responsible for communicating with everyone involved in the construction project, from you, the client to all the people working on site.

How do general contractors work?

Here are some of the many things that might be included when hiring a contractor to build your home:

  • Managing an entire construction project
  • Developing plans for the project with an architect
  • Estimating costs for all materials and setting a budget
  • Setting a timeline for the project and keeping everything on schedule
  • Making sure all permits and permissions are in place
  • Purchasing all materials
  • Supervising everything that takes place on the construction site
  • Employing or subcontracting all the workers, including electricians, plumbers, and carpenters
  • Ensuring all work is completed to a high standard and meets all current building codes
  • Ensuring health and safety requirements are met on the construction site
  • Keeping their building contractors license up to date
  • Looking after all insurance for the construction project
  • Keeping the building site clean and secure

What else are they responsible for?

General building contractors also ensure that all the people working on your construction project are qualified and experienced, and all their work is completed accurately and to a high standard.

Did you know that if your air conditioning or window units are poorly installed by people without the right experience, the warranty might be invalidated?

So having a reliable general contractor will make sure that doesn’t happen to you - that’s the kind of peace of mind you want with your new home.

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How to check if your general building contractors are legitimate?

You’re about to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars to your general contractor, and for larger construction projects you might be about to spend millions of dollars so you want to ensure that everything is above board and official. So how to check that?

Licenses and Certifications

All general contractors should have a general contracting licence that proves they are suitably qualified and experienced. They will have had to take an exam and provide various paperwork and documentation to achieve this.

To check on the status of a general contractor’s license you can contact your local city or state government, in the case of Chicago you can visit the City of Chicago’s Building Department website.

What about insurance?

One vital part of getting licensed is showing proof of insurance. This means that you, the customer won’t be liable in case of any workplace accidents or injuries.

Your general contractor will have both liability and worker’s compensation insurance for your whole project, ensuring that if a worker gets injured or your property is damaged the general contractor will deal with it via their insurance.

A very important part of the licensing process is providing proof of insurance. As a customer, it's vital to know that your contractor is fully insured so that you won't be liable for any workplace injuries or accidents

Did you know that general contractors can also be referred to as main contractors or prime contractors? If they are working for government agencies they're often called 'prime contractors. In the UK and British Commonwealth, they are referred to as 'main contractors'.

How to find the best general contractors?

Here are some tips for finding a general contractor construction manager for your project:

  1. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations
  2. Check with your local homeowners’ association
  3. Look in the local paper's property listings
  4. Ask who built any local properties you admire

We recommend drawing up a contractor list for building a house with all the potential general contractors, so you can check in with your local government that they all have a general construction licence. Then you can interview them and get references from their previous customers about their expertise in general construction work. Here are some things you should check when you have your shortlist:

  1. Are they fully licensed and insured?
  2. Have they built similar projects to yours?
  3. Can you contact some previous customers as references?
  4. How long have they been operating?

What contractors do you need to build a house or extension?

If you have a smaller project like a bathroom remodel you may not need a general contractor, but contractors needed to build a house or home addition should really be general contractors as they will manage the entire project for you. Practical experience developing the type of structure you're looking for is an important qualification too. If you are looking for a custom-designed, modern glass structure you might want to avoid working with a general contractor who specializes in standard tract housing.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of work do general contractors do?

As general contractors usually manage larger construction projects, you're unlikely to find them working on smaller home repairs or redecoration. Some of the types of work they may be doing include:

  • Commercial construction — building a new office block
  • Residential construction — building a custom home or housing development
  • Home additions — adding an extra room or floor to an existing property
  • Major remodels — converting an empty basement into a fully functioning room
  • Renovation — upgrading an old house

How do general contractors get paid?

General contractors will generally charge a percentage fee, of around 10-20%, on top of the cost of your project which covers their overheads as well as giving them a reasonable profit. Occasionally they will agree to an hourly rate, although this is usually dependent on a minimum number of hours. Usually, they will ask for a portion of the fee upfront and the remainder at stages throughout the project, or upon completion. It's very unlikely they'll ask for the full fee upfront.

As they will be managing all costs for the project you will be also paying for the total construction through the general contractor. A payment plan should be set up at the start of the project so you'll know how much you have to pay and when

What is the difference between a subcontractor and a general contractor?

On a large construction project, the general contractor will manage the entire building project and will hire and manage any other contractors or subcontractors working on the project. A contractor or subcontractor will usually have a specialist skill e.g. plumbing, masonry, bricklaying, or roofing.

Will the bank let me be my own general contractor?

Unless you are very cash rich you're unlikely to be able to pay for the entire construction of your new home up-front. Most people need to get a loan when building their own home and unfortunately, most banks will not give you an owner-builder loan. While it's not impossible, you will need to show the bank that you have both experience and knowledge in house building and provide them with a well-developed construction plan, with a contingency budget for unexpected occurrences.

However, this does not mean that you can't get financing to build your own home. You are much more likely to be approved for a construction loan when you employ the services of a reputable, licensed general contractor, like Fortress Home.

Why Fortress Home?

At Fortress Home we take quality and family seriously. We are a fully licensed general contractor and have been working in Chicago for over 20 years so we know and love the city. We employ a large team of experts so we don't have to rely on subcontractors for most projects. This means we have exceptional control over the finished project, and this also enables us to manage your budget with great accuracy and insight. So if you're hiring a contractor to build a home or commercial building, speak to us today, at +773-770-8607 or [email protected].

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Fortress Home understands how important it is for the customer to implement the future home project at the highest level. And our clients understand that achieving such a level is possible only by choosing a reputable and competent general contractor. If you are one of those customers, you can always rely on us when looking for a reliable construction partner for your new home or renovation.

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