Our skilled (and friendly) electricians taking a lunch break
One of the many important parts of hiring a contractor is to know what type of subcontractors they use, how often they use them, and why they use them. Some General Contractors (GC’s) sub-contract everything, and this is common in the new home market because there is very little service required to owners, and things are more often done one piece at a time. Unfortunately, it often results in the contractor shopping by price (not quality), and sometimes less oversight from one phase to another. If you are hiring a GC that subcontracts everything, it is a good idea to understand the level of their management on the project. We use a Project Lead Carpenter at our firm where a highly skilled craftsperson can produce great carpentry while managing and working with the required trades.
The “what” subcontracting at our firm is everything except the carpentry we are doing. The obvious trades we have to employ are the licensed ones. In Massachusetts, that is the plumber, electrician and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning). If we have a lot of roofing, flooring, demolition, etc., we do work with some great folks….. but if we need a small amount of these items, it is more efficient to do it ourselves. That leaves the specialty trades. Because of a specific skillset or equipment, we sometime need people to bring heavy machinery to excavate and install foundations, and specialists that are excellent plasterers, painters and tile installers.
How often a contractor hires the same folks is also important. I believe that while our sub-contractors are not our employees, they are part of our family that will deliver the same good work and service that our firm does. I understand the need to be budget conscious and some would argue that the best way to do that is to bid everything to multiples. If you have expertise in remodeling and your sub-contractors are good honest business people, the GC should be able to manage any sub-creep in pricing and get a fair price for the project. The client will benefit long after the project is done with any follow up service and lasting quality.
Why I choose the items to sub out and subcontractors boils down to delivery of great quality at a high value. I sometimes hear in interviews for carpenters that they can do everything from light electrical to all the tile work. Understanding how something is done, or being able to do something is not the same as being the master of something. Any fantastic carpenter is probably not a fantastic tile man. If the quality is matched, the time to execute is likely longer- and more costly.
While you are interviewing for the right company for your family, ask a few more questions about who else will be in your home.