Is Contractors Using Subs A Bad Thing?

Are subcontractors a good or bad thing for your remodeling project? I was recently asked if a contractor using subs was a bad thing. The answer to that question will be discussed, along with their various roles during a home renovation. 


Generally speaking, sub contractors are widely used and are essential partners in a home remodeling project, such as a kitchen renovation. 

What is a General Contractor?

A general contractor (GC) is the prime contractor that manages the project on behalf of the owner. Since they are the party hired directly by the owner, it is their obligation to coordinate and oversee all of the work to be completed. The GC is responsible for daily operations and the project as a whole. 

What is a Subcontractor?

A subcontractor (sub) is a separate business entity that is hired to complete certain task. Subcontractors are not employees of the prime contractor. A sub can be an individual person, or a company with a full staff. 

They are completing work as obligated in the contract with the GC. Being an independent entity, subs are required to carry their own insurances and manage their employees directly. 

In summary- the contractor is hired by the owner, the subcontractor is hired by the contractor. The GC sources the subs to complete the work. 





Who are subcontractors? 

In the construction industry, subs can cover a variety of trades from electricians to carpenters or painters. They can also be general laborers or a cleaning crew. Nearly anyone on a construction site could be a subcontractor.

Why are they used? 

Subs are utilized under many circumstances. They can bring expertise, additional manpower, lower cost, and specialty licenses to the table. There are several benefits to having specific trades assigned to various areas of work. 

There’s a saying: “jack of all trades, master of none”. There’s a lot of truth to that statement. It usually takes many years of experience, training, or education to become highly skilled and highly proficient at their work. 

Expertise:

Repetition can build competency that only comes with time. No amount of YouTube videos or “how to” articles with turn a handyman into a master plumber. It simply will not happen. A trade specialist is better aligned for success and can help your project more forward.

Painters, tiles installers, carpenters should be the subject matter experts on the job site. Unfortunately, that not always the case. It’s very common for under-qualified contractors to be bought in on a construction project. Specialty trades and subcontractors must be properly vetted before being awarding the job. 

Some GC’s have outstanding, loyal subcontractors while other contractors may hire the lowest bid or whomever is available to do the work on time. Hiring the right contractor is essential. 

Additional Manpower:

Let’s face it, the demand for remodeling and home improvement projects is through the roof. Reputable remodeling firms simply cannot keep up with the high demand for their services. These company’s may rely upon subcontractors to ease their labor burden on existing jobs or allow them to take on additional projects. 

Subs may assist with a single project or could build a long term relationship with a builder or remodeler. Often when a contractor finds a good crew, they hold onto them. Qualified manpower is an asset to any remodeling company.

Here in Pennsylvania, exterior painting projects have a limited season to be completed. A company may have requests for 40 homes to be painted, but only have the capacity to complete 30 of the jobs. The company may partner with another local painter and assign 10 homes to them. 

This relationship allows more customers to be served in a short window of time. The painting workload is spread across a larger labor force and can complete the work without working 13 hour days, working weekends, paying over time, and losing their work/life balance. 

Contractor Licensing:

Sometimes a contractor may be required to subcontract work to a specialty trade. In many locations, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, or asbestos abatement will require specialized licensing to lawfully complete the work. For example, in the city of Scranton a contractor must hold an electrical license to apply for an electrical permit. A contractor must hold  the appropriate license to obtain the permit. This policy is to help ensure qualified individuals will be doing the work.


What are the benefits of a sub?

Subcontracting can bring many benefits to the home remodeling industry. Multiple service providers that are focused on dedicated areas of work can complete the work in an efficiently and reduce construction cost. 

A hierarchy of leadership and accountability is created. The general contractor, project manager, or foreman oversee the project and are the facilitators. They control the project and determines who completes the work and when it is to be done. The additional layers of supervision can be beneficial. Especially on large projects. 

The subs working on the job are the ones responsible for the hiring, training, and performance of the employees. This reduces the burden on the GC by bringing in labor that is already experienced with the work to be completed. 

Employee training is costly and time consuming. Subcontracting allows a project to be staffed with out the  general contractor making the investment in education of line level workers. It has been done for them. 

Can I choose my own subcontractors? 

Perhaps. That really depends upon the contractor and particular details of the project. We have our preferred partners that we use on our projects. Their skills and professionalism has already been validated to meet our standards. 

When a customer request that their own plumber, or flooring installer be utilized, we entertain their request with caution. If we approve the clients requested service provider, we must ensure the work meets our standards and timelines. This ensures a streamlined workflow. 

There are many times where an owner will not be permitted to bring in their own contractors on a project. Some general contracting companies do not want the risk or added complexity of coordination with a separate contractor sourced by the owner. 

What happens when something goes wrong?

The various companies working on a remodeling project are responsible for their own work and actions. They are responsible for completing the work in accordance with local building codes/regulations and fulfilling their obligations to the prime contractor. 

In the event an issue were to arise with a subcontractor, the general will normally be the one to coordinate resolution. This keeps the GC the main point of contact with the owner. It’s the GC’s role to manage the work and make things happen. 

Issues that arise can range from unforeseen circumstances, change orders, schedule conflicts, employee performance, or material deficiencies. The leadership team will work to find solutions and keep things on track. 


Problem During Remodel

Summary

Remodeling and building projects can be complex. Hiring a qualified remodeler or general contractor is of utmost importance. 

Your contractor will be a partner throughout the entire construction process. From the planning/design phase to completion, there are many pieces of the puzzle that must fit perfectly. 

Choosing the contractor that is the best fit for your project will help things go smoothly and give you the results you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask your contractor questions. If you would like to know what subcontractors are going the be used or how they are selected, don’t hesitate to ask. 

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