Syllabus / Professionals 101
What a General Contractors do (and do not)
What do general contractors, user interface designers, actuaries and data scientists all have in common? They all top the list of misunderstood professions.
What a General Contractor does
When you hire a general contractor, their principle role is to marshal and manage the necessary human and material resources to achieve the agreed-upon design and scope of work for your project.
Their years of experience in the field, management ability, business acumen, familiarity with current construction methods and access to skilled tradespeople is the cornerstone of your project’s success.
Your general contractor will be expected to take full responsibility for estimating your project’s material and human-resource cost and is highly motivated to find the best possible price among their subcontractors and suppliers without compromising on quality. Then once you have accepted their bid, they are responsible for sequencing, managing and integrating all suppliers and subcontractors into a seamless workflow to successfully deliver your project to quality, on schedule and on budget.
They are required to do all of this while fielding the unexpected– from unexpected issues in construction, managing the expectations of understandably emotional owners to material delays, inclement weather and traffic. It is no easy task.
What a General Contractor does not do
There are several myths about general contracting. Here are a few of the things that experienced, successful general contractors do not typically do:
Work on site: although most general contractors have “come up through a trade” (mostly via carpentry as its the profession that interacts most with all others), a general contractor is too busy managing a project, or several*, to be available to carry out construction work on site– this is best left to the dedicated and specialized skilled labor the general contractor has hired.
Specialize in a certain style: Owners often worry about the general contractor’s ability to meet the demanding or aesthetic style of their design vision. “Has the contractor done a modernist home before?”
This actually speaks to the experience level of the architect more than the general contractor. When architect’s interview general contractors, they typically ask them about their company’s history, management structure and experience level of various employees and sub-contractors. These are considered the fundamental metrics of a general contractor.
That said, a general contractor with only traditional work in their portfolio may be rusty in the nuances, traps and tricks of a modernist vocabulary. For example, the preparation work involved after rough framing for reveal bases, frameless grilles and jambs is very different on a modernist home than on a traditional one.
All that said, a good general contractor with good repeat business* rarely finds it difficult to hire away the best skilled labor to suit a projects design style.
Offer design input: Experienced general contractors understand the tremendous value they add as builders and leave design and style to the architects and interior designers. They know their core competencies lay in being able to offer superior construction methods and coordinate and manage the skilled labor needed to achieve the design.
Having a contractor that interjects aesthetic and design opinions can only dilute a design scheme, create confusion and potentially add cost and delays to a project.
* If a general contractor only does one project at a time, they're unlikely to have access to diverse trades of various skills or the volume of work to attract the best talent.