What Kind of Contractor Do You Need?

Here are some guidelines to use when you begin searching for licensed contractors. By following these steps, you could save yourself from financial risk and other problems associated with unlicensed individuals.

CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications. This ranges from general contractors to landscapers, painters, electricians, plumbers, and many more. It will be easier to decide the right type of contractor if you carefully plan your project in advance and clearly define what you want done to your property. In California, anyone who contracts to perform work that is valued at $500 or more in combined labor and materials costs must hold a current, valid license from CSLB.

ALERT Unlicensed operators pose a risk to you and your family's financial security. They expose you to significant financial harm in the event that a worker is injured while on your property, or if your property is damaged. Few, if any, unlicensed operators are bonded or have workers' compensation insurance. The quality of their work usually doesn't compare to that of a licensed contractor. Don't take the chance to save a few dollars—you'll probably end up paying more in the long run.

TIP Click Contractor License Classifications to read the definitions of contractor specialties.

Understanding the Difference Between a General and Specialty Contractor

General building contractors usually oversee projects and coordinate the specific subcontractors for a job. There are two general contractor classifications:

"A" General Engineering an "B" General Building contractors. "A" contractors principally work with fixed works that require specialized engineering knowledge and skill; "B" contractors work on existing structures, structures being built or to be built that require at least two unrelated building traded or drafts during the construction.

"C" Specialty contractors are those who specialize in a particular skill or trade. Specialty or subcontractors usually are hired to perform a single job. For example, if you want only roofing or plumbing work, you may want to hire a contractor licensed in the particular specialty. Manufacturers are considered to be contractors if they engage in on-site construction, alteration, or repair.

A general building contractor also may contract for specialty work, but must hold a specialty license for that work or actually have a specialty contractor do the work. The only exception is if the job requires more than two types of work on a building. Then it is appropriate for a licensed "B" contractor to contract for and oversee the entire project. For example, if your kitchen remodeling will involve plumbing, electrical, and carpentry work under one contract, you should hire a licensed General Building contractor. Under these circumstances, the "B" contractor may perform all of the work on a building, or subcontract parts of the job to contractors with specialty licenses.