What do Commercial Contractors do?

B. Turner

Commercial contractors perform renovation and building services on commercial construction projects. These projects may include things like schools, roads, office buildings, and shopping centers. While some commercial contractors may also focus on large multi-unit residential projects, the majority of housing work is performed by residential contractors. Because of the differences in materials, construction methods, and skills required, it is rare to find a company that performs work in both of these markets.

Commerical contractors perform renovation and building services on commercial construction projects.
Commerical contractors perform renovation and building services on commercial construction projects.

There are many different types of commercial contractors, and each plays its own unique role in the construction process. The most common type of company one associates with commercial construction is the general contractor. General contractors are responsible for the construction of a project from start to finish, from the planning and scheduling process through the successful completion of the job. These companies sign contracts with a variety of clients, including owners, developers, and municipalities. From the point the contract is signed, the general contractor acts in the owner's interest to ensure the project is completed per his or her request.

To perform the various construction activities on a project, the general contractor will often delegate work to other companies known as subcontractors. These subcontractors are commercial contractors who specialize in specific tasks and activities. A large project may have dozens of different subcontractors on site, including electricians, excavators, painters, and any other professionals needed to complete the job. While some general contractors may have a staff of carpenters to perform small tasks not covered by subcontractors, this is becoming increasingly rare.

In order to build the project, the general contractor will review plans created by an architect. Typically the owner will have met with the architect prior to hiring a general contractor, so by the time the contractor gets on board, construction documents are at or near completion. In this case, the contractor starts the project by becoming familiar with the drawings. He or she will develop a schedule based on the needs of the owner and the logical construction sequence of the project. The contractor may also be responsible for securing permits from local authorities, which can often be an onerous task.

The next step is to hire subcontractors to perform the various tasks on the project. Most commercial contractors start by writing scopes of work. These are lists of the specific tasks that are to be completed by each individual subcontractor. Using this type of list helps the subcontractors price the job, and also keeps it clear throughout the construction process who is responsible for each task. The subcontracts for each trade are then awarded, generally through a bidding process, though many commercial contractors will ignore a small price differential in order to choose a company they know will get the job done.

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