Streetsmart insurance Blog
For outsiders, the world of contracting can be a bit difficult to understand—at least at first. Whether you are building an addition on your home or renovating your office, you would probably hire a “general contractor” to do the job. But what is the difference between a general contractor and an artisan contractor? When does someone qualify as a “subcontractor”? What about less-used terms like “prime contractor” or “main contractor”? What do all of these terms mean, and how can you demystify them to make an education decision about who to hire.
Simplifying the Conversation
Let’s start by boiling down the conversation a bit. Above, we brought up a lot of different terms in a relatively short amount of space: general contractor, artisan contractor, subcontractor, prime contractor, main contractor. If all of these terms were used to refer to different types of contractor classes, then the contractor professional would be incredibly convoluted. Luckily, you only really need to remember two of these terms.
A general contractor is the same thing as a prime contractor or a main contractor. You can use these terms interchangeably, and “general contractor” has undoubtedly become the go-to term for most people. An artisan contractor, meanwhile, is often the same thing as a subcontractor. Artisan contractors won’t market their services as “subcontracting,” but they will “subcontract” out their services on larger projects in many instances.
Bottom line, you only really need to remember three terms here: general contractor, artisan contractor, and subcontractor.
General Contractors: What They Do
A general contractor is essentially the leader of a contracting team. If the job involves adding a new addition to a home, the general contractor would be the person to communicate with the client and oversee the project work. For smaller renovation projects, the general contractor might even perform some or much of the actual work. General contractors, by definition, have a “general knowledge” of the different fields of construction, so they are qualified to manage teams or perform labor themselves.
In most cases, a general contractor is the project manager for a construction project. They will communicate with the clients to give them updates on the work and collaborate with the construction manager (if there is one) to understand the goals and plans for the project. He or she would also hire the subcontractors, coordinate a schedule for the project, supervise or manage the subcontractors throughout the job, and pay the subcontractors once they complete their parts of the project.
Artisan Contractors: Their Role in the Narrative
Particularly in larger construction projects, the general contractor needs help to get the work done on a reasonable deadline. They might be capable of doing the entire job, due to a broad skillset that spans numerous trades and specialties. However, to get the job done on time, the general contractor would have to bring in subcontractors to perform different parts of the project. When hiring subcontractors, the general contractor wouldn’t necessarily look for someone with general skills, but someone specialized in a certain trade or field.
Here is where artisan contractors enter the narrative. Artisan means “a worker in a skilled trade.” In other words, artisans aren’t necessarily renaissance men but are extremely experienced and qualified in the one or two niches they have chosen to master. Artisan contractors, then, are contractors who focus specifically on a small handful of trades within the construction sphere. For instance, plumbers are artisan contractors, as are electricians, roofers, and carpenters.
A general contractor looking for the best person to install the wiring on a new addition would call an electrician for the job. The general contractor’s goal would be to get the most qualified subcontractors possible to complete the project. Hiring the best people would lead to a higher-quality finished product, which would reflect well on the general contractor. As a result, the general contractor would likely rely exclusively on qualified artisan contractors when choosing his or her project team.
However, it’s important to remember that artisan contractors are not always subcontractors. On larger projects where they are brought in for their specialties, artisan contractors would be taking on a subcontracting role. However, artisan contractors also frequently own and operate their own businesses. As a result, if you need help with a faulty circuit breaker or a leaking pipe, you don’t have to call a general contractor. Instead, you can go right to the artisan contractor by finding a qualified electrician or plumber in your area.