Residential Contractor

Patricia Skinner, Tomlinson, Elizabeth  |  5/27/2008 12:24:44 AM

What does a residential contractor do?

In simplest terms, a residential contractor constructs or renovates a building or supervises the construction or renovation of a building. The contractor provides labor for the job, as well as schedules each phase of the job and the professionals involved. The contractor usually will choose subcontractors and order and arrange delivery of materials for the job. Often, the contractor is the one who obtains the required permits and arranges for the required inspections. The contractor also may purchase fixtures and appliances for the home. Occasionally, the contractor will perform some of the work, such as carpentry.

For what specific tasks would homeowners seek the services of a residential contractor?

Sometimes homeowners will take on the role of building contractors themselves, but this can be a full-time job and should not be taken lightly. Homeowners who decide to assume the responsibilities of building contractors must plan to be at the site as much as possible and be free to respond to emergencies as needed. Homeowners can only act as the building contractor for their own home in which they will reside. In addition, homeowners may build only one residence for their own use per year. Because of the time commitment, as well as knowledge and experience needed, most homeowners will hire a contractor to supervise the construction of a new home or rebuilding project.

Normally, homeowners hire a "residential building contractor" for projects costing more than $75,000 and a "home improvement contractor" for projects costing between $7,500 and $75,000. These are State of Louisiana terms and definitions for licensing. Projects below $7,500 do not require a licensed contractor to perform.

What licenses and certifications are available in this profession and what requirements are needed to obtain these?

The residential building contractor license and the home improvement contractor certificate of registration are issued by the State of Louisiana for this profession. (Note: mold remediation requires a separate license.)

The residential building contractor license allows the licensee to perform work on residential buildings not more than three floors in height with a project cost of $75,000, or above. This includes single-family, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.

In Louisiana, to obtain a residential building contractor license, an applicant must first pass two exams. One exam covers business and law, and the other is a trade exam. These exams are specific to the State of Louisiana and are nationally recognized. The examinations cover topics such as estimating, bidding, preconstruction, project management, project construction, and organizational and financial management. Applicants also are tested on subjects such as carpentry, finishes, concrete, excavation and site work, roofing, masonry and more.

In addition to passing these two exams, applicants must provide proof of current worker’s compensation insurance and general liability insurance in the amount of $100,000 in order to receive their license.

To receive a certificate of registration as a home improvement contractor, applicants must provide proof of insurance and proof of registration with the Louisiana Department of Revenue. Applicants, then, must be approved by the Residential Building Contractors Subcommittee of the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors.

Some contractors also do mold remediation work, but they must have a mold remediation license to do so. Projects of $1 or more dealing with mold remediation or any hazardous material require this specialized license. To obtain a mold remediation license the applicant must provide proof of 24 hours of training in mold assessment and remediation, as well as four hours of instruction in Louisiana laws regarding unfair trade practices and consumer protection.

Licenses and certificates of registration must be renewed annually, and proof of insurance is again required at each renewal. Renewals also require four hours per year of continuing education. (This is not required of home improvement contractors.) The continuing education requirements are expected to be increased to eight hours per year in the near future.

Note: Many jurisdictions have licensing requirements on the local or parish level in addition to those mentioned above at the state level. Check with the local licensing office for the requirements in your area.

How can the consumer verify that the professional has the license he/she alleges to have?

The consumer may visit the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors at http://www.lslbc.louisiana.gov/ for a list of currently licensed contractors. Contractors are qualified under different classifications before the State Licensing Board. Contractors may perform services only within the classification shown under their name on this listing.

What license is required in Louisiana to do what type of work?

In Louisiana, you must have a residential building contractor’s license to construct, remodel or supervise construction/renovation of a residential building not more than three floors high and with a project cost of $75,000 or above. You must have a home improvement contractor’s certificate of registration to do any residential building work to an existing property with project costs between $7,000 and $75,000. Work under $7,500 does not require a license. Homeowners constructing their own personal residence in which they will live do not require a license to act as their own general contractor or to physically do the work themselves.

Contractors personally performing work in which the majority of the project involves plumbing, electrical or mechanical work must also have a license for that classification. Subcontractors, architects and engineers sometimes act as residential building contractors, but they must possess a residential building construction license in order to do so.

A mold remediation license is required for the removal, cleaning, sanitizing, prevention, demolition or other treatment of unwanted and unplanned mold or mold-contaminated matter. Anyone holding an active mold remediation license cannot do both mold assessment and mold remediation on the same property and cannot own an interest in a company that does both on the same property.

What is the typical pay basis for this profession, and what is the typical cost?

Rates will vary according to your project and the specific services you need from your residential contractor. To determine the cost of your project, the contractor must evaluate the plans and material specifications, as well as obtain bids from the subcontractors and suppliers he will need to use to complete your project.

Fees are usually based on one of the following options:

  • A flat fee
  • Cost plus (cost of materials and subcontractors plus a percentage)
  • Unit pricing based on the area of the home ($/square foot)

Or it may be any combination of the above.

Making changes to the agreed upon plan or specifications will usually result in extra costs due the contractor.

Note: Always insist on a written contract when hiring a residential building contractor or home improvement contractor. This helps protect both you and the contractor and is required by law.

How do you become a residential contractor?

There is no degree required to become a residential contractor, and people wishing to become one usually begin their careers as building tradesmen. Alternately, there are trade schools and junior colleges that offer programs. Many universities offer four-year degrees in construction management as well, although these may be targeted to contracting commercial work. Regardless of the path chosen, the applicant must pass both state exams and provide proof of insurance to receive a license.

Home improvement contractors usually started out working in the residential building trade or had previous experience in home improvement projects in their own home. There is no education or exam requirement in order to obtain a certificate of registration to practice as a home improvement contractor.

How does a residential contractor who is licensed or certified for providing service in another state get authorization to provide services in Louisiana?

The State of Louisiana has a reciprocal agreement with six other states. (The Louisiana State Licensing Board of Contractors can provide more information.) A reciprocal agreement means that someone licensed in one of these approved states can apply for exemption from the trade exam portion of the requirements to obtain a Louisiana license. It is mandatory that each applicant meet all other license requirements in order to apply for the license. A contractor from another state, even one of the approved states, still needs to obtain a Louisiana license in order to practice in Louisiana. A contractor from another state that does not have a reciprocal agreement with Louisiana follows all rules set for applying for a license as would any first time Louisiana resident applicant.

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