General Contractors, Subcontractors and Trade Contractors
General Contractors, Subcontractors and Trade Contractors

General Contractors, Subcontractors and Trade Contractors: Choosing The Right One for Your Construction Project


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In managing construction projects, you may encounter various types of workers, supervisors, and contractors who work hand-in-hand to attain one goal: the project’s overall success. Just like the scale of a structure about to be built, the same volume of people is also involved in a project— to the point that everyone, inside and outside construction, is confused with the responsibilities to be expected from the people involved.

In this blog, we will help you identify the differences between the three most confusing contractors in construction: the general contractors, the subcontractors, and the trade contractors.

Read on to learn more.

What is a General Contractor?

A general contractor in a construction project is essentially the overall supervisor. A general contractor is responsible for overseeing the construction site and, most of the time, the construction crew management of all the parties involved. What activities go on daily, the management of vendors and suppliers, and ensuring that everyone is on the same page are the primary tasks a general contractor would need to take care of. General contractors are the ones who hire trade contractors and subcontractors.

Trade Contractor vs. Subcontractor

The terms trade contractor and subcontractor are often used interchangeably due to their similarities, but there is a comparison. Generally, both roles demonstrate the required knowledge and skill for a specific aspect of a construction project. Even though they both have many commonalities, minor differences make subcontractors and trade contractors different.

A significant distinction between trade contractor vs. subcontractor is that the former are contracted by the client, whereas the latter is contracted directly by the construction manager. This separation between trade contractor and subcontractor substantially reduces costs since the construction manager is responsible for the project task management aspect. However, the motivation for hiring subcontractors usually comes from the reduction of cost and the alleviation of potential risks that come along with it.

What is a Subcontractor?

A subcontractor is only a type of contractor. Subcontractors, like general contractors, work contractually, which means they are hired specifically for a specific project. This contracting arrangement is used a lot in the construction industry. Construction firms win these contracts by competing with each other; the winner gets the contract for the project. Likewise, to trade contractors, subcontractors concentrate on a specific part of the project.

What Do Subcontractors Do?

A subcontractor is hired by a general contractor and assigned a specific task or activity part of an overall construction project. Commonly, subcontractors are those in construction and civil engineering. Currently, subcontractors have recently been expanding to other industries such as information technology and incorporating advanced tools in their systems, such as subcontractor scheduling software to streamline their processes. 

Variety in Subcontractors

Like trade contractors, there is a variety of types of subcontractors. The most common subcontractor is a construction subcontractor who is in charge of the majority of the activities in a construction project. “Building” includes the foundation, framing, finishing, roofing, and all of the other elements to make a building. 

8 Types of Subcontractors in Construction

Many construction companies are usually involved in construction sites since various specialized subcontractors are needed to manage construction projects. It’s true that general contractors might perform some of the significant work themselves; however, most will hire subcontractors to ensure that they complete the projects efficiently and on time. Let’s look at the various types of subcontractors one would see in a construction site and uncover the specialty they essentially provide.

1. Plumbing, Heating, and Air-Conditioning

One type of subcontractor critical in construction projects is plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning. These specialty contractors or subcontractor is also addressed as “mechanical contractors” when they can handle all three specializations. Furthermore, subcontractors sometimes opt to specialize specifically in plumbing or heating and air conditioning or cooling, respectively. Subcontractors that specialize in heating and air conditioning are referred to as “HVAC contractors.” 

2. Painting

Another type of subcontractor in construction is painting, which primarily engages in various painting and paper hanging jobs. Painting subcontractors might paint bridges, pipes, electrostatic, and more. According to OSHA, companies that are classified as painting subcontractors don’t engage in roof painting. As a whole, the painting jobs are of great value to every project as it adds aesthetic, accentuates the design and provides a pleasing to the eye effect to any structure.

3. Electrical Work

Electrical subcontracting is a broad type of construction trade. Essentially, there is a lot that an electrical subcontractor could work on in a project. OSHA 

identifies electrical subcontractors as those that work on electrical work on-site rather than in a repair shop or something similar. Electrical subcontractors might work in telecommunications equipment, and installation might be fire alarm installers or handle the wiring and lighting work for a structure.

4. Masonry, Stonework, Tile Setting, and Plastering

OSHA classifies these four types of specialty contractors in construction under one umbrella. However, it can be further broken down to be more manageable. It can include stone setting, plastering, masonry, drywall, insulation, and more. Plastering, insulation, and drywall are vital to most structure types since, commonly, buildings have a thick layer between the exterior walls and internal walls or sections. These types of subcontractors in construction typically handles projects from foundations up to the finishing phase.

5. Carpentry and Floor Work

Carpentry and floor work are very crucial types of subcontractors in construction. Carpenters can fabricate and install cabinets, but they also work in joinery, framing, and various doors. Often they are in charge of all trim and finishes in the project. Since flooring is a must in every project, these subcontractors are often present on construction sites.

6. Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal Work

Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal Work subcontractors are highly sought after for construction projects as they can accommodate various jobs. From working with architectural sheeting and skylight installation for buildings, they are the ones to call. Moreover, they are also responsible for the roofing works, ductwork installation and fabrication, and gutter installation. Sometimes, roofing, siding, and sheet metal work specialty contractors manufacture their materials for the jobs themselves. With more industrial spaces opening up in the construction industry and new changes in roofing, siding, and overall design of structures, these subcontractors are certainly busy in the field of subcontracting.

7. Concrete Work

Concrete contractors are one of the most extensive types of subcontractors in the construction industry since most of the structures we see in our society are made up of concrete in one way or the other. These subcontractors can work on a variety of projects in different phases of construction; some may focus on the foundation of structures, some on the asphalting of roads and highways, and some on the fabrication of fabricated concrete building materials like precast concrete. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s a truly popular field for workers with a high opportunity for growth given the wide range of projects they handle.

8. Special Trade Contractors

OSHA leaves this category to all the other minor subcontractors in the construction industry that didn’t fall under the major types. Glass and glazing work, demolition, steel erection, excavation, and more are lumped into special trade contractors. Ironworkers, excavators, and the like fall under this category.

What is a Trade Contractor?


A trade contractor is a subcontractor specializing in an exclusive aspect of a construction project. Specializations can range from electrical to painting and even site preparation. The term “trade” refers to skilled jobs, one that requires a particular type of training and manual skillset. Trade contractors are highly knowledgeable about the plans of their projects. They study the project details to keep the construction project on schedule. Trade contractors are usually cost-conscious and try their best to minimize them as much as they can.

What Do Trade Contractors Do?


There are many varieties of responsibilities trade contractors take on, such as repair, remodeling, refurbishing, and construction operations. The term trade contractor in itself can be referred to many roles such as carpenters, electricians, or plumbers. Every official trade contractor has a craft that they specialize in. One example of a responsibility that falls under an electrician’s role duties is installation. Some trade contractors, like electricians, install air conditioning systems, heating, ventilation, and everything else related to controlling the atmosphere and temperature.

Another example is trade contractors who specialize in the installation of safety systems in buildings. These safety systems include sprinklers, alarm systems, and the attention to fire codes of the building. Additionally, these trade contractors are in charge of installing and repairing these systems and usually do so within residential, commercial and industrial, buildings.

Variety in Trade Contractors


There no such thing as a single type of trade contractor. A few variations of trade contractors may include roofers, drywall installers, and even plumbers. Most trade contracting only requires some training which usually covers some trade shadowing and hands-on exercises, and a high school diploma. Civil engineering-based trade contractors are typically hired by the government infrastructures such as roads, highways, bridges, etc.

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