What is the difference between a general contractor and a home improvement contractor?

General Contractor

When hiring a contractor to do a construction or renovation project, it’s best to find the one specialized in the job at hand. It’s often easy to get baffled at which contractor is the right one for the project. Should you go for the all-around general contractor or the more specialized home improvement contractor? What is the distinction between these two contractors? With the help of Atelier Architecture Croisette, we will take you through everything you need to know about a general contractor and a home improvement contractor.

Who is a General Contractor?

A general contractor is a person or company hired by a property owner to coordinate and oversee a construction project. The project can be of any kind, from site work to renovations to remodelling a building.

A general contractor is sometimes referred to as a direct contractor because he deals directly with the property owner. In a case where he is hired by somebody else other than the property owner, he will still be referred to as a general contractor, only this time, he will not bear the name, direct contractor, but rather a subcontractor.

A general contractor hires subcontractors or gets his internal crew to manage different parts of the building project. Some general contractors even have in-house architects to take care of the house plan and design. To put it in a nutshell, a general contractor acts as a project manager for a construction or renovation project.

Who is a Home Improvement Contractor?

A home improvement contractor is a person or business entity that coordinates and oversees home improvement and renovation projects. Unlike a general contractor, a home improvement contractor specializes in home improvement projects like kitchen remodelling, room reinvention and deck addition. He cannot oversee a building project from the ground up.

Home improvement contractors are responsible for all phases of a home renovation project. Their work entails dealing with the client, creating a budget, meeting renovation codes and regulations, and finding a team to perform the renovation work. He can also hire an architectural firm for large projects like an entire-house renovation or find subcontractors such as interior decorators for specific portions of the home improvement project. In most cases, he operates as a one-person show and only hires a small number of people.

Home improvement contractors can also be referred to as direct contractors if they deal directly with the property owner. If they are hired by someone else other than the owner, in this case, they will be a subcontracted home improvement contractor.

Licensing Required to Become a General Contractor

To become a qualified general contractor, you need to hold a local license in the country or state where you conduct your business. The licensing requirements are different in each country, although there are some commonalities. For instance, most countries require you to take and pass an exam to get a license. The exam covers skills like business management, law, and construction codes and regulations.

Other countries might require you to have a general contractor insurance to be eligible for a license.

Other requirements include:

  • Criminal background check
  • Have a certain amount of skillset and experience
  • Years of education
  • Financial competency

The type of license you get will also dictate the scope of projects you can oversee and those you cannot. Some licenses might limit you to residential projects, while others allow any building project, whether commercial or residential.

Licensing Required to Become a Home Improvement Contractor

A home improvement contractor license is easier to acquire than a general contractor license. The licensing required to become a home improvement contractor also varies with the local and country laws and the type of home renovation project. Some countries might require you to pass a trade exam, while others only need you to fill out an application. The license covers renovation works like installations, painting, and remodelling but rarely covers electrical and plumbing works.

Requirements that you might have to submit include:

  • Proof of home and business address
  • Insurance coverage for example, surety bond and general liability insurance
  • Processing and application fee
  • Criminal background check

When to Hire a General Contractor or Home Improvement Contractor

Choosing the right contractor for a construction or renovation project can be a headache. Here are four factors to help guide you as you gauge whether to go for the general contractor or the home improvement contractor.

Scope of Job

Constructing a house or apartment from the ground up will definitely call for a general contractor. A home improvement contractor, on the other hand, is necessary if the building requires internal renovations.

Type of renovations

Some home improvement projects call for a general contractor as opposed to a home improvement contractor. Any renovation projects that affect the structural integrity of a house, for instance, changing the flooring plan, are better handled by a general contractor. And possibly also hire an architect or architectural firm.

An apartment renovation might also call for a general contractor since this project is large and more complicated than renovating a house.

Multiple Specialties

If the renovation project requires multiple specialists, for instance, electricians, plumbers, architects, interior decorators and roofing specialists, then it’s better to work with a general contractor.


If you are looking to do a renovation project in a specific area of your house, for instance, kitchen or bathtub remodelling, it’s best to go for a home improvement contractor.

To Sum Up

A general contractor coordinates and oversees an entire construction while a home improvement contractor coordinates home improvement and renovations projects. Both contractors require licensing, although it is easier to get licenses for home improvement contractors than general contractors. They both can hire subcontractors though in most cases, a home improvement contractor only needs a small number of people in his team.

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