What’s The Difference Between a General Contractor and a Subcontractor?

What’s The Difference Between a General Contractor and a Subcontractor?

Choosing who to hire for your construction project can be a daunting task—particularly when it comes to general contractors and subcontractors. Now, these two types of contractors come with numerous skill sets and benefits to a project. However, determining the kind of contractor you need entirely depends on the project. And, while they might seem similar, their roles do differ significantly. 

In this post, we shall break down the differences between a general contractor and a subcontractor. This should help you to make an informed decision about the contractor you need for your project. Let’s delve in!

General contractor

A general contractor can be a company or an individual hired to manage the entire scope of a construction project—from the initial plan assessments to managing the workers, budget, and sourcing of raw materials. Typically, general contractors are hired to manage residential or commercial projects. 

Characteristics of a general contractor

A general contractor is the backbone of any construction project. And, we can compare a general contractor to a general of the construction project. The primary function of a general contractor is to search for contracts and offer the oversight and coordination required to complete a project on time and within budget. 

That means a general contractor focuses on the client, as well as the larger picture issues. A general contractor manages the daily oversight, coordinates the subcontractors and vendors, and serves as the contact person between all the parties involved in the project. 

Typically, a general contractor is a person or company in charge of hiring the other subcontractors and supervising and coordinating their work. This, in turn, helps to keep their job on track for on-budget and timely completion. At times, a general contractor can be hired by an architect, construction manager, or the owner of the project. 

Any successful general contractor comes with one valuable resource—their network of professional and reliable subcontractors. In the past few years, general contractors were a one-stop shop for every service required in a construction project. As such, general contractors handle all the aspects of a project—especially the in-house aspects. 

However, things have changed—and the construction industry has made notable advancements towards specialization. In the past few years, a general contractor performed numerous functions and took care of an entire project by themselves—from top to the bottom. However, today’s general contractors hire subcontractors to do specialized work on a certain project. 


Typically, subcontractors are hired by general contractors on a contractual basis. Subcontractors are specialists who handle different scopes of a construction project, such as, plumbing, electrical installation, painting, and roof installation, among other things. And, just like general contractors, subcontractors can be a company or a person. 

Characteristics of a subcontractor

If we call a general contractor the general of a construction project, we can call subcontractors the soldiers. Subcontractors are the ones on the ground, getting different aspects of the project completed. As said earlier, a subcontractor can be an individual or a company. However, it’s important to note that subcontractors are not employees. Rather, they work as independent contractors, under the supervision of a general contractor. Besides, homeowners can hire a subcontractor for some minor projects like repairing plumbing fixtures, roof repairs or replacement, electrical installation, and interior design among other projects. 

This is very important when it comes to tax and labor law regulations, and liability issues, among other reasons. However, while a subcontractor is not an employee, the general contractor has certain rights over the subcontractor, depending on their relationship or contract. In some states in the United States, the general contractor can inspect the books of their subs to make sure that they are in line with the tax regulations. 

Now, unlike general contractors, the work of subcontractors focuses on specific tasks. Subcontractors are specialists, well-trained to handle specific tasks like roofing, HVAC, drywall, and plumbing, among other tasks. Because of their expertise and experience in specific tasks, subcontractors are very good at service delivery. They know the materials needed to complete their work, where to source them, as well as the time needed to complete their work. Besides, they have access to the quality and expensive equipment required to complete the project successfully. By hiring subcontractors, general contractors can reduce overall project costs, as well as mitigate possible risks. 

Bottom Line

If you want some simple repairs or renovation works, a subcontractor is the right person for such a job. However, it’s important to note that there isn’t that subcontractors lack the motivation and personal connection you’d find with a general contractor. Typically, general contractors are hired to oversee large-scale projects. That means they are committed to quality. 

The contractors at AFS General Contracting advise project owners to take their time to research the best option before making their choice. Yes, any contractor will boast about their qualifications and experience. However, it’s important to verify this. Make sure that you have a list of testimonials and recommendations before settling on your preferred option. Both subcontractors and general contractors have their specific roles in any project. So, focus on your project requirements and then make an informed decision about the contractor you need for your project. 

In direct contrast to a general contractor, a subcontractor is hired by a general contractor to perform specific and specialized tasks. They complete smaller projects that are part of a larger project or whole. Just like with general contractors, a subcontractor can be an individual or a business.

What’s The Difference Between a General Contractor and a Subcontractor?

Liver Strong

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