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Question DetailsAsked on 9/26/2014

Does a general contractor usually sub contract a plumber and electrician for a home renovation?

Hey, I currently looking to renovate a fixer upper i just bought in NJ, I have interviewed a bunch of contractors (not a fun experience) and have finally decided to go with one guy. I am a super paranoid consumer who has been screwed before so I am looking to avoid that again. The general contractor gave me a bid for his work, which did not include plumbing or electrical work. He had a separate licensed plumber and electrician come in and give an estimate for their work. So my questions are...Is this a common method?...Should the general contractor be the one handling all the transfer of funds or should i pay each separately. Lastly is 9k an accurate estimate for entire home plumbing replacement, water heater installation, and baseboard heating placement (includes materials)..Thanks for the help.

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2 Answers


This looks like trouble to me IF he is asking that they contract to you directly, because the major function of a general contractor is that he is supposed to coordinate all the different trades with respect to covering all the scope of work, and getting each trade in and out at the right time so things go in when access is best but not so early that their work is damaged by later contractors, and yes - getting suppliers and subs paid in a timely fashion too, using progress payments from you - so by trying to pass off the two items that (in my experience) most commonly hold up the schedule he is putting that burden on you, and greatly increasing the risk of conflicts and resulting costly change orders for increased cost due to interference or rework.

IF he was just having them come into do subcontract bids for him to incorporate in his bid that is perfectly normal, though he should not have submittedhis bid before they gave thei numbers. Very few small residential contractors have electrical or plumbing or HVAC people on their staff, and those trades are almost always subbed out. Other very commonly subbed out work include flooring, tile, cabinets, countertops, gutters, roofing, siding, drainage, irrigation systems, driveways and walks, septic tank/leach field, retaining walls, pools and other recreational venues, plantings including lawns; and sometimes excavation and concrete work, drywall, painting, doors and windows, finish carpentry, and landscaping - sometimes even basic framing carpentry.

Many GC's do almost no actual work themselves or with their own employees, or do only basic earthwork and framing only with their own staff. I know and have known many one-man GC outfits that routinely do entire houses up to four-plexes entirely with subs. If that is what was happening, then his bid should be revised to include ALL the other discipliines needed to give a total project bid - but you need to talk to him about the fact you want an all-inclusive bid for the job but he gave you "his" bid without at least electrical and plumbing. IT may bve he misunderstood his scope of work, and was bidding as say an interior contractor rather than a GC.

As soon as you start paying each sub directly then they are under contract with YOU, not him - and you have divided the responsibilites AND liabilities, as well as the ability for him to point the finger and say "not my problem". It also becomes your responsibility in that case to ensure each sub is properly bonded and insured, handle individual payments and payment schedules, work out conflicts, get lien releases from the subs and THEIR suppliers, etc.

You did not say how big the home is or what construction materials it was built with, but $9,000 for plumbing (including hydronic heating) sounds pretty high - especially if it does not include a new higher efficiency (say 90% range) boiler. If a new boiler is included and you are going with 95% efficiency range boiler or a combined hydronic/domestic hot water system, or if a brick or concrete construction house rather than stud framed, then that would probably be right in the expected range. Hard to tell - hopefully some of the other east coast contributors will jump in with their thoughts, as it has been quite a time since I worked on projects on the east coast. I do know when estimating jobs in the BosNYWash area (including NJ) I always added a 50-100% lost effort contingency for inefficiency and delays and inspector hassles and the "Joisey" or "Boronx" or whatever way of doing (or not doing) things, especially in union job controlled areas where stretching the job out and maximizing employment seemed to be the local prime directive, as opposed to getting the job done- so counting that in $9000 might be in the ballpark for a full tearout renovation of a normal sizedhome in NJ.

One thought - normally you would get at least 3 responsive bids for this big a job, and decide based on a mix of your confidence in the contractor's credibility, reputation, your feeling for whether you can work with him, and price. By getting single sub bids for other items after you have selected the GC you are losing that price comparabilitiy - for those items you are now getting non-competitive bids, which might be based more on the sub's friendship with the GC than on actuyal cost, or perhaps more on their impression of what you can be convinced to pay than non reasonable cost. I have seen this sort of thing go on in ritzy areas in California among other places - you would not believe how "costs" can skyrocket when subs find out they are bidding on work for a $10 million property or for a celebrity. Saw one job decades ago for a new tile countertop with backsplash and floor for a moderately large but not extravagent kitchen for a top-line entertainment industry personality where bids came in above $25-30,000 for what legitimately would have been a $5000 range job.

One other thing - you said he gave his "bid" but he called in plumber and electrician for "estimates" - there is a difference between a "bid" - a contractual obligation ot perform the defined scope of work for a determined amount, and an "estimate", which is basically a ballpark and with which the courts generally do not blink if the final bill is 10-20% more, so be careful that you are getting what you want.

And of course, to get a "bid" (and to have any real support from his bonding company, if needed) you need a definitive contratual scope of work - typically plans and specs from an architect, so you are sure everything is defined and spelled out so you don't get a bunch of change orders during the job for items you though would be included in the contract amount but he did not think so (or at least says was not included). And remember, generally speaking, what he says means nothing legally - it is what is in writing that carries almost all the weight when it comes down to brass tacks.

What he is doing may be legit, may be a scope misunderstanding, may bedue to your or his inexperience in this type of thing, may be taking advantageof your ignorance in the trade - no way to know from here. Go with your gut feeling, and discussit with your architect as to what "standard practice" is and also with respect to what the architect knows about this guy.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD


My experience in cincinnati is that the plumber and electrician report only to the general contractor. They do not give their bids to you. You work only with the general contactor and he is responsible for the total job.

Answered 5 years ago by madaduff

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