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What is a General Contractor and What can a GC do for Construction?

what is a general contractor

In the construction industry, a general contractor is a professional who oversees and manages construction projects. They are responsible for all aspects of a project, from start to finish.

 This includes working with architects and engineers to interpret project designs and specifications, obtaining necessary permits, hiring and overseeing subcontractors, scheduling project timelines, procuring materials, adhering to budget parameters, ensuring quality workmanship, and more.

As an expert in the industry, property owners will always hire a general contractor to make sure their job is completed safely, on time, and according to specifications 

 General contractors, often called GCs may work on a range of construction projects, from residential homes to commercial buildings and industrial facilities. They serve as the central point of contact for the client and are accountable for completing the project safely, on time, and to the client’s specifications. 

 While GCs handle both complex and straightforward commercial and residential projects, note that specific tasks like roof replacement or roof repairs may be outsourced to any kind of subcontractors 

However, choosing an experienced general contractor is important for any major construction project that requires coordinating several stages or multiple specialty contractors to ensure proper project management and delivery.

Read this post to learn more about the roles general contractors play in the industry, how to determine when they are required for a project, and how GCs are licensed and paid.

What Does a General Contractor do

The role of the GC is one of the most important elements when it comes to bringing your vision to life. The GC is responsible for seeing your project from start to finish. They act as the mediator between the property owner and everyone who contributes to bringing your structure to life, including materials suppliers, vendors, and tradespeople.

Here’s a further breakdown of the role of General Contractor:

  • Meet with clients to understand project requirements, budget, timeline, etc. and provide project estimates.
  • Create an overall project schedule and timeline. Coordinate timing of subcontractors, inspections, materials delivery, etc.
  • Obtain necessary permits and comply with local building codes and regulations.
  • Hire, manage, and supervise specialty trade subcontractors like carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.
  • Manage procurement and purchase of construction materials.
  • Oversee job site safety procedures and ensure proper use of safety equipment.
  • Implement quality control standards and procedures throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Coordinate inspections throughout construction to meet local codes and ordinances.
  • Manage budgets, cash flows, pay applications during project to stay on budget.
  • Provide regular project updates to clients regarding schedules, costs, changes, etc.
  • Manage change orders due to any client request or work modifications.
  • Schedule necessary inspections for completed work before client turnover.
  • Coordinate any last steps like final walkthroughs, punch lists, final payments, etc. before project completion.

In addition, the GC’s responsibilities also depend on the delivery method used in the project. For instance, design-build projects can be managed by the GC or the architect from beginning to end. This means the GC may be responsible for both the design and execution of the project

Here’s how it works, the design team and the GC will both report to the owner under separate contracts. The team will develop the contract documents: drawings, specifications, and other exhibits.  Once they are finished, the designs are sent out  for GCs to provide a bid on the project and then see the project to completion

The responsibilities of the GC are not one size fits all, they have responsibilities before, during , and after the actual construction process that help get the project to completion.

Before Construction

Before construction begins, a general contractor (GC) performs several key pre-construction roles and tasks:

  • Design Coordination – Work with architectural and engineering teams to review drawings, provide value engineering input, and ensure constructability
  • Budgeting & Estimating – Create detailed project estimates and budgets by soliciting and evaluating subcontractor bids
  • Scheduling – Develop master project schedule and timelines for tasks, milestones, inspections, and deliveries
  • Vendor/Supplies Management – Research equipment/material suppliers and coordinate supply chains and orders
  • Contracting – Establish subcontractor agreements to manage risk and contractual obligations
  • Permitting – Handle building permit applications and any necessary code compliance with local authorities
  • Safety Planning – Put together project safety plans and ensure protocols are in place
  • Team Assembly – Hire and onboard qualified construction staff to execute the project

While all of these responsibilities begin before construction starts, the GC will continue to manage the budget, work with the architect, and interact with other contractors throughout the course of the project.

During the Construction

Here are the key roles of a general contractor during the construction phase

  • Oversee and manage all construction activities daily
  • Coordinate work of subcontractors and tradespeople
  • Verify quality workmanship meets specifications
  • Enforce safety protocols and job site security
  • Manage staff, personnel issues, schedules
  • Handle material/equipment procurement and deliveries
  • Coordinate necessary inspections and testing
  • Manage all financial aspects including payments
  • Process change orders and updates as needed
  • Implement technical problem-solving as issues arise
  • Maintain positive communication with client and project team
  • Drive overall progress by adhering to schedule and budget
  • Document project activities like daily logs, photos, as-builts
  • Manage punch lists, turnover, closeout, and handoff to client

After construction

Here are the key roles of a general contractor after construction is completed:

  • Oversee and verify punch list completion for outstanding minor work items
  • Coordinate any final inspections and obtain a certificate of occupancy
  • Manage project closeout paperwork like lien releases, warranties, manuals, etc.
  • Obtain final building department sign-offs and approvals
  • Wrap up financial aspects – process final invoices, payments, change orders
  • Consolidate and deliver as-built drawings, maintenance docs, warranties
  • Host client walkthroughs and formally turn property
  • Offer support during initial building operations and warranty period
  • Solicit client feedback, reviews, and testimonials for future business
  • Document project recap and best practices for company knowledge
  • Close down temporary utilities, remove equipment, and demobilize site
  • Confirm all contractual obligations are officially completed
  • Celebrate and publicize project results within the network

The general contractor handles all administrative, financial, contractual, and operational loose ends after construction to formally wrap-up the project. This transitions the property fully to the owner.

GC licensing requirements

State laws require all contractors including the General contractor to be licensed. This is done because licensing benefits all the stakeholders involved in a construction project. Here are some of the ways  licensing requirements benefit all the parties involved:

For Government:

  • Enables regulation of contractors
  • Ensures compliance with codes and safety standards
  • Facilitates collection of taxes where applicable

For Property Owners:

  • Provides means to validate contractor qualifications
  • Confirms financial protections are in place
  • Offers project recourse options if needed

For Contractors:

  • Allows them to legitimately promote credentials
  • Preserves lien rights on projects
  • Creates industry standards for performance

Working with contractors who are licensed is an important part of ensuring all parties involved in the construction project get paid

The Bidding Process for General Contractors

Here is an overview of the bidding process for general contractors:

Request for Proposals (RFPs)
The property owner or developer issues an RFP inviting bids from interested general contractors. This provides project details like plans, timelines, and requirements.

Pre-Bid Meetings 

A pre-bid meeting allows GCs to review plans, walk the site, ask clarifying questions, and gather more data to inform estimates.

Calculate Bid 

The general contractor thoroughly reviews project information to create a comprehensive, competitive bid including materials, labor, and timeline commitments.

Submit Bid Package

The GC submits a complete bid package by the RFP deadline that covers project pricing, project team, experience, equipment, project schedule/approach, and other stipulated bid bonds or requirements.

Bid Evaluation 

The property owner evaluates all bid packages submitted, conducts bid leveling to normalize bids, scores bids using weighted criteria, and verifies references, licenses, capacity, etc. before selecting a winner.

Contract Awarded
The property owner notifies and awards the construction contract to the winning general contractor based on the best value bid. Contracts are signed finalizing project agreements.

Differentiating Between Construction Contractors

While it’s noted that GCs are important for managing the overall building process, they aren’t the only ones in the construction industry. For, large-scale projects, you may require other contractors or managers to contribute their quota to the completion of the projects. Here are some of them you should know.

Prime Contractors: Whoever holds the main contract with the owner is considered the prime contractor. Note that the GC can also be the prime contractor, but some of the project delivery methods need non-GCs to be prime contractors.

Construction Manager: The construction manager has a similar role to the GC but they are most times employed by the owner, who tasks them with the duty of estimating costs, hiring a GC, or performing any other duties needed to manage a project.

Specialty Contractor: These contractors are specialists hired by the General contractor to perform specific tasks on the construction site. In the hierarchy of the project, the GCX is paid directly by the owner while the specialty contractors are paid by the GC.

These are just a few mentions of the key members working on a construction project, and there are many others who work for construction companies in many capacities.

A General Contractor’s Role in the Payment Process

As the manager of the overall construction project, the general contractor plays an important role in the payment process:

  • The GC included payment terms and application schedules in their original contract with the property owner to set expectations. Typical payment term schedules cover down payments, progress payments, final payments, and retainage.
  • As work is completed each month, the GC will submit a monthly application for payment to the owner requesting payment. This covers work performed and materials currently purchased for the job.
  • The GC verifies completion of work and approves invoices from all subcontractors and suppliers to incorporate into payment applications to the owner.
  • For transparency, the GC provides lien releases and conditional waivers of lien from subcontractors. This shows the owner that subs have been paid for past payments issued.
  • Once the owner processes payment to the GC, they are responsible for paying all outstanding subcontractor and supplier invoices related to that payment application.
  • Final payment application and lien releases take place before the owner issues final payment to close out the job.

The general contractor serves as the payment and approval hub for all the contracted work completed during the project between the owner-GC-subs/suppliers payment chain. This facilitates cash flow for all parties.

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