Types of Subcontractors in Construction

Published on 18th February 2022

Construction is a team effort. A general contractor rarely builds or beautifies a construction structure such as a residential or commercial building without any support from a specialty contractor.


Subcontracting is the process of assigning or outsourcing some obligations or tasks of a contract to another construction company or individual known as a “subcontractor.”


A detail-oriented industry such as construction needs the right expertise and experience to complete a project on budget and on time. Also known as “subs,” subcontractors are experts with experience.


Proper planning, collaboration, and execution are key success factors for achieving subcontracting goals.


Whether it is a residential construction project or new commercial construction, who are the subcontractors responsible for turning a bare building into a unique personal or professional space?


Read on for common types of subcontractors in construction.

  • Prime Contract vs. Subcontract
  • Types of Subcontractors
  • How to Find the Right Subcontractor
  • Benefits of Subcontracting
  • Risks of Subcontracting
  • Wrapping Up


Prime Contract Vs. Subcontract


When a new construction project begins after winning a construction contract, a general contractor brings together different types of subcontractors—companies or individuals—to work on pre-assigned project deliverables from start to finish.


Do you want to know the difference between a prime contract (main contract) and a subcontract? A prime contract is awarded directly by a project owner such as the federal government.


A subcontract is a contract between a general contractor and a third-party (subcontractor) toward providing products or services necessary to complete a project.


Types of Subcontractors


The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) grouping includes key construction specialists who work on subcontract from general contractors or work directly for project owners to perform a wide variety of construction activities.


Here are the main types of subcontractors:


Carpentry and Flooring Work





Building and installing cabinets at a job site is the specialty of carpentry subcontractors. From folding door installation and store fixture installation to custom cabinet works and framing, decorative woodwork and other carpentry work make a building look beautiful and functional. Flooring work includes carpet laying or removal, hardwood flooring, vinyl floor tile and sheet installation, etc.


Concrete Work





Concrete subcontractors focus on fundamental concrete work that consists of culvert, curb, patio, parking lot, and sidewalk construction. Residential and commercial concrete work also includes asphalting of private driveways and parking areas, grouting and gunite work. 


Electrical Work





Electrical subcontractors take care of the wiring, lighting, and repair work for a structure. Faulty electrical work can spell damage and distress for a general contractor. Typical electrical work includes burglar alarm installation, electronic control system installation, fire alarm installation, cable splicing, cable television hookup, highway lighting, and electrical signal construction.







Proper heating and cooling are indispensable for comfort. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) subcontractors ensure the installation and maintenance of climate control systems for residential and commercial properties. HVAC work includes boiler erection and installation, furnace repair, heating equipment installation, etc. 







A good-looking building never fails to catch your attention. Landscaping subcontractors play a major role in adding curb appeal and giving a finishing touch to a construction site. Landscaping includes installing gardens, walkways, attractive accents, and repairing ground damage caused by heavy equipment.


Masonry and Stone Setting





Masonry work includes bricklaying, concrete block laying, chimney construction and maintenance, marble work, retaining wall construction, and stonework erection. A masonry subcontractor usually oversees project work from the beginning to the closeout phase.


Painting and Paper Hanging





Painting work includes bridge painting, electrostatic painting on a site, house painting, ship painting, and traffic lane painting. Paper-hanging subcontractors decorate walls with wallpaper. Only a specialized subcontractor can perfectly balance the job requirements and client expectations.







Plumbing subcontractors are essential to install, maintain, and manage effective plumbing systems. Typical plumbing work includes drainage system installation, sewer hookups and connections for buildings, water pump installation and servicing, water system balancing and testing, etc.


Roofing, Siding, and Sheet Metal Work





Following the building code is important for any construction project. From gutter and skylight installation to ductwork and architectural sheet metal work, roofing specialists assist a general contractor with a host of roofing applications. A reliable roofing company or roofing subcontractor uses quality materials and has the right licenses with excellent warranties.


Water Well Drilling





Drilling an oil or a gas field is paramount to specialty construction projects. Water well drilling includes drilling and servicing water wells. Some projects require geothermal drilling for high-temperature applications and larger well diameters.


Miscellaneous Special Trade Contractors


Subcontractor - Demolition



In addition to regular subcontractors, special trade contractors possess proficiency in glass and glazing work, excavation, structural steel erection, wrecking and demolition, and so on.


Such subcontractors are also competent to install or erect building equipment, including conveyor systems, dust-collecting equipment, elevators, incinerators, pneumatic tube systems, etc.


Now that we have seen common types of subcontractors, it would be interesting to know how to find the right subcontractor for your project.


How to Find the Right Subcontractor


It is believed that more than 20 types of subcontractors are necessary for a residential construction project, i.e., an average home. You can imagine the magnitude of subcontractor efforts required for commercial construction work!


It is important for general contractors to choose trustworthy subcontractors who can understand the project requirements well and fulfill them on time without compromising quality or overshooting the project budget.


Having an appropriate subcontractor agreement is essential to minimize risk and maximize construction work efficiency.


While a large prime contractor works directly with a project owner (client), a subcontractor doesn’t work directly with the government. Instead, a subcontractor works with the main contractor or primary contractor responsible for contract execution.


Generally, a subcontractor is liable to the general contractor and not the client. The liabilities are different for both.


Some government construction contracts require large businesses to subcontract with small businesses. A small business subcontracting program helps in outsourcing a portion of federal dollars to small businesses.


The U.S. small business administration (SBA) is a government agency that promotes the empowerment of small businesses and provides a wide variety of subcontracting opportunities.


Construction-related agencies and websites can also help find construction project leads, including subcontractors.


Benefits of Subcontracting


An independent contractor may not manage an entire project alone. However, a subcontractor can work in collaboration with other subcontractors to fulfill contractor work obligations.


Prequalifying subcontractors for project execution is crucial to bring specialized workmanship and experience to a project.


From an HVAC subcontractor and a plumbing subcontractor to an electrical subcontractor and a masonry subcontractor, there is always a specialist contractor available for a specific task.


For example, a demolition subcontractor can help with a home renovation or new construction project. An HVAC subcontractor can make sure that a construction project adheres to environmental standards and energy regulations.


What are the benefits of hiring subcontractors for residential or commercial construction?


  • Better access to skilled professionals, especially, for big projects
  • Cost savings (Lower labor costs and overhead costs)
  • Fewer legal and tax-related obligations
  • Increased project intake capacity
  • Time savings
  • Timely assistance for specialized projects


Trusted subcontractors never experiment with project success. Rather, they will make every effort possible to make a project successful.


Risks of Subcontracting


Like any other construction risk in the construction industry, subcontracting presents certain risks to the main contractor in charge of contract work. However, doing your homework goes a long way in hiring quality subcontractors without wasting time and money.


Incompetent subcontractors not only derail project progress but also put a project at risk.


There have been instances when subcontractor default led to losses due to delay and poor quality. Furthermore, if you hire an uninsured subcontractor not covered under workers’ compensation insurance, you may not save money but instead pay for the lack of insurance policy.


Let us look at some risks of subcontracting:

  • Increased risk of litigation with co-employment
  • Project delays
  • Subcontractor audit and insurance risks
  • Subcontractor default
  • Subcontractor execution risk
  • Statement of work (SOW) mismanagement
  • Worker misclassification related to independent contractor engagement


Superior subcontracting work ensures safety, success, and sustainability. So, select a subcontractor wisely.


Wrapping Up


Construction is more than building a brick-and-mortar structure. It involves the work of various types of subcontractors to ensure timely and tasteful completion of a project.


It takes the collaboration of several subcontractors to receive a certificate of occupancy for a home or an office. Therefore, suitable and skilled subcontractors are necessary for building work.


Finding uniqueness in diversity is the hallmark of the construction industry. For example, a subcontracting plan for a large business may differ from a small business subcontracting plan in construction management.


That is why an individual subcontracting plan may work well to realize contract objectives and alleviate small business concerns.


As the construction sector continues to evolve and innovate, changing the status quo is the norm than the exception.


Many general contractors hire subcontractors to keep innumerable projects on track. The scope of subcontracting goes beyond a simple construction site.


Even mission-critical large-scale projects such as solar power plants and wind farms depend on specialty contractors for safe and successful project completion.


The right subcontractor makes a phenomenal difference!

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