What is the Difference Between Contractor and Subcontractor: A Comprehensive Guide

Many people use the terms contractor and subcontractor interchangeably, assuming that they are one and the same. However, there are significant differences between the two. Essentially, contractors are hired by an owner or a general contractor to manage and complete a project. On the other hand, subcontractors are hired by the contractor to carry out specific tasks within that project. Understanding the distinction can help you navigate the often-complex construction industry, and could save you time, money, and hassle.

In general, a contractor is responsible for the overall management of a project. This includes planning, budgeting, and coordinating various elements of the job. They are often the first point of contact for the project owner, and they usually work closely with architects, engineers, and other key stakeholders throughout the process. By contrast, a subcontractor is often brought in to complete a specific aspect of the job. For example, a plumber may be hired by the contractor to install pipes in a new home, but the contractor will oversee and coordinate the project as a whole.

While contractors and subcontractors may both work on the same job site, there are significant differences in their roles and responsibilities. Contractors are typically more involved in the project’s planning, while subcontractors are more focused on the execution of specific tasks. Subcontractors are often specialists in their field and may bring a range of expertise to the job. By understanding these differences, you can better manage your construction project and ensure that it stays on track, on budget, and meets your expectations.

What is a Contractor?

A contractor is an individual, group or company that is hired to carry out a specific project or job. Contractors are hired to complete a wide range of tasks, from building a property or renovating a home to fixing a roof or installing an HVAC system. However, what sets contractors apart from other professionals is that they are hired for a predetermined length of time and are responsible for the outcome of the project or job.

Contractors can be broken down into two categories: general contractors and specialty contractors. General contractors are responsible for managing all aspects of a project, from hiring subcontractors to ensuring all work is completed on time and within budget. Specialty contractors, on the other hand, are hired to complete specific tasks, such as plumbing, electrical work or flooring installation.

Working as a contractor gives individuals the freedom to work on a variety of projects and to be their own bosses. Additionally, contractors often charge competitive rates and are paid well for their work.

What is a Subcontractor?

A subcontractor is an individual or a company that is hired by a contractor to perform a specific task or service as part of a larger project. Subcontractors are generally hired by contractors to delegate specific work that requires specialized skills or expertise that the contractor may not have in-house.

  • Subcontractors are not direct employees of the contractor, but rather independent entities.
  • Subcontractors are hired by the contractor to complete a specific portion of the project.
  • Subcontracting is a way for contractors to manage their workload and limit their liability.

For example, if a contractor is working on a large construction project, they may hire a subcontractor to install the electrical wiring or the plumbing systems. The subcontractor is responsible for completing the specific task assigned to them, but the contractor remains responsible for the overall project.

It is important to note that while subcontractors are not employed directly by the contractor, the contractor is still responsible for ensuring that the subcontractor is properly licensed and insured. The contractor must also ensure that the work performed by the subcontractor meets all necessary building and safety codes. Failure to do so can result in significant legal and financial liability for the contractor.

Key Differences between Contractors and Subcontractors

While contractors and subcontractors may seem similar, there are several key differences:

Contractors Subcontractors
Hired by the client or property owner Hired by the contractor
Responsible for the overall project Responsible for a specific portion of the project
May hire subcontractors to complete specific tasks Hired by the contractor to complete specific tasks
Typically have a larger scope of work Specialize in a specific type of work

Overall, while contractors and subcontractors share some similarities, they serve different roles in a project. Understanding the differences between contractors and subcontractors is important for anyone involved in the construction industry, whether as a property owner, contractor, or subcontractor.

Contractor vs. Subcontractor: What’s the Difference?

The Main Differences Between Contractors and Subcontractors

When it comes to hiring someone to work on a project, whether it be for construction work or something else, it’s important to know the distinction between a contractor and a subcontractor. Here are the key differences:

  • A contractor is typically hired directly by a client or company to perform a specific job or project. They are responsible for overseeing the work and managing the budget. A subcontractor, on the other hand, is brought on by the contractor to perform a specific portion or task within the project.
  • A contractor is generally the main point of contact for the client or company, and they take on the responsibility of ensuring that the project is completed on time and to the desired specifications. Subcontractors work with the contractor and may not have direct communication with the client.
  • The relationship between a contractor and a subcontractor is based on a contractual agreement. The contractor hires a subcontractor to carry out specific parts of a project or job according to the terms of contract agreed upon by both parties. These contracts are generally legal documents that outline the work to be done, the timeline, and the compensation.

Benefits of Hiring a Contractor

Here are a few benefits of working with a contractor:

  • A contractor is responsible for securing the required permits, licenses, and insurance before starting work on the project. This saves the client time and money by reducing the amount of paperwork and hassle involved.
  • The contractor is typically the one managing and organizing the team of subcontractors for the project. This saves the client the time and effort of having to find and hire multiple subcontractors to complete the job.
  • The contractor is responsible for the entire project, so if anything goes wrong, the client has one point of contact that they can hold responsible. This avoids any finger-pointing between different subcontractors, which can often cause delays and problems.

Benefits of Hiring a Subcontractor

If you’re working on a larger project or have specialized needs within a project, hiring a subcontractor can be a great choice. Here are some benefits of working with a subcontractor:

  • Subcontractors bring their expertise to the specific area for which they are hired. If you need a plumbing or electrical job done, for example, a subcontractor with specialized knowledge and experience can provide a higher quality of work.
  • By outsourcing portions of a project to different subcontractors, the work can be completed more quickly and efficiently.
  • Subcontractors usually work on a project-by-project basis, so hiring them may be more cost-effective than hiring a full-time employee if you only need their services for a limited time.


Contractor Subcontractor
Takes on the responsibility of the project Works on specific parts of the project
Hired directly by the client or company Hired by the contractor
Manages the budget and timeline Works according to the terms of the contract

Ultimately, the decision to hire a contractor or subcontractor comes down to the specific needs of your project. Understanding the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision and ensure the success of your project.

Advantages of Hiring a Contractor

Whether you’re renovating your home or building a new one from scratch, hiring a contractor is a wise decision. Not only do they have the necessary skills and experience to complete the job correctly, but they also offer a variety of advantages that you won’t get from a subcontractor. Here are some reasons why you should consider hiring a contractor:

  • Expertise: A contractor is a licensed professional who has gone through extensive training and is knowledgeable in a variety of areas such as; safety requirements, building codes, and regulations. By hiring a contractor, you’re tapping into their expertise, which means that they can provide quality work and know how to address potential issues that may arise during the project.
  • Time-Saving: When you hire a contractor, you’re essentially outsourcing the project management aspect of the job. This means that they handle everything from hiring subcontractors, coordinating with suppliers, and scheduling inspections. This frees up your time to focus on other aspects of your life, whether it’s work, family, or leisure time.
  • Cost-Effective: While you may think that hiring a contractor is more expensive than getting a subcontractor, this may not always be the case. Because contractors work on numerous projects, they have existing relationships with suppliers and subcontractors which means that they can negotiate better prices. Additionally, by hiring a contractor, you’re minimizing the risk of costly mistakes and errors that may occur when working with multiple subcontractors.

Communication and Accountability

When you hire a contractor, you’re essentially hiring a project manager who is accountable for the project’s success. Part of their job is to communicate with you throughout the process and update you on the project’s progress. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and that there are no surprises.

Furthermore, if something does go wrong, you have someone to hold accountable. Contractors are licensed professionals who are regulated by the state. This means that if something goes wrong, you have the option to file a complaint with the licensing board which can result in disciplinary action against the contractor.

Transparency and Contracts

Another advantage of hiring a contractor is the transparency that comes with it. When you hire a contractor, they provide you with a detailed contract that outlines the scope of work, payment terms, and timeframe. This ensures that everything is clear and that there are no surprises midway through the project.

Contents of a Contractor Contract
Scope of Work
Payment Terms and Schedule
Timeline and Deadlines
Warranties and Guarantees
Materials and Supplies

Having a contract protects both parties and ensures that the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Advantages of Hiring a Subcontractor

When it comes to completing a project, hiring a subcontractor can be a smart move. Instead of taking on all aspects of a project yourself, a subcontractor can help shoulder the workload. In addition, hiring a subcontractor can provide a number of advantages. Here are five reasons to consider hiring a subcontractor for your next project:

  • Expertise: Subcontractors are often experts in their specific field. For example, if you need electrical work done, a licensed electrician will have the necessary knowledge and experience to complete the job safely and efficiently. By hiring a subcontractor, you can ensure that the work is done correctly, without having to learn a new skill set yourself.
  • Flexibility: Subcontractors can provide flexibility in scheduling and workload. If you have a tight deadline or require additional assistance on a project, a subcontractor can help fill the gap. Additionally, if you only need specific services for a project, such as drywall installation, hiring a subcontractor for that particular task can be more cost-effective than hiring a general contractor.
  • Reduced Liability: By hiring a subcontractor, the liability for certain parts of the project may fall on them, rather than on you as the general contractor. For example, if a subcontractor is injured on the job or there are issues with their work, they are generally responsible for their own insurance and liability, potentially reducing your own risk and financial exposure.
  • Competitive Pricing: Subcontractors often have lower overhead costs compared to a general contractor. This can result in cost savings for the overall project. Additionally, because subcontractors often specialize in a specific area, they may have access to specialized equipment and material discounts, making them a more cost-effective choice.
  • Faster Completion: With a specialized team of subcontractors, the overall project timeline can be reduced. Instead of waiting for a general contractor to complete everything themselves, subcontractors can work on specific aspects of the project simultaneously, helping to speed up completion time.


Overall, hiring a subcontractor for your next project can have a number of benefits. With increased expertise, flexibility, reduced liability, competitive pricing, and faster completion times, subcontractors can help ensure that your project is completed on time and within budget, while still maintaining quality and safety standards.

When to Use a Contractor vs. Subcontractor

Choosing between a contractor and sub-contractor can be a tough decision. Both have their own benefits, drawbacks, and situations where they’re more appropriate to use than the other. Here, we will explore the key differences between both and when you should use each.

  • Scope of Work – If the job requires a broad range of skills, then a general contractor is usually the way to go. General contractors can oversee and manage a project from start to finish, while subcontractors are usually specialized in one particular area and are only brought in to complete a specific task.
  • Cost – General contractors usually take on more responsibility and handle the majority of the work and materials needed for the project. As a result, they tend to be more expensive than subcontractors. Subcontractors, on the other hand, can be more cost-effective for small or specialized jobs, as they only charge for the work they do.
  • Time – If time is of the essence, subcontractors can often complete their tasks more quickly than general contractors. This is because they are usually specialized in one area and can focus solely on completing their specific task quickly and efficiently.

If the project requires a broader skillset and overall project management, a general contractor is often the better choice. However, if a specific skillset is required or the job is small and requires a quicker turnaround time, subcontractors can be more cost-effective and efficient. It’s important to assess the situation and needs of each job to make the best choice between a contractor and subcontractor.

Contractor Subcontractor
Oversees and manages the entire project Specializes in one area and is only brought in for specific tasks
Usually more expensive due to managing the majority of work and materials Can be more cost-effective for small or specialized jobs
Takes longer to complete the project due to the broader skillset needed Can complete their specific task more quickly and efficiently

Overall, the decision of whether to use a contractor or subcontractor will always depend on the specific needs of the project.

How to Choose the Right Contractor or Subcontractor for Your Project

Choosing the right contractor or subcontractor is crucial to the success of any construction project. Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Experience and Reputation: Look for a contractor or subcontractor with a lot of experience in the type of project you are undertaking. Check their reputation by talking to previous clients and checking online reviews.
  • Licensing and Insurance: Make sure the contractor or subcontractor has all of the necessary licenses and insurance to work in your area. This will protect you from liability in case of accidents or damages on the job site.
  • References and Portfolio: Ask for references from the contractor or subcontractor and take a look at their portfolio of completed projects. This will give you a good idea of their style, quality of work, and ability to meet deadlines.
  • Communication and Availability: You want to work with a contractor or subcontractor who is easy to communicate with and is responsive to your needs. Make sure they are available throughout the duration of your project.
  • Budget and Timeframe: Make sure the contractor or subcontractor has a clear understanding of your budget and timeframe for completion. Ask for a detailed breakdown of costs and a timeline for the project.
  • Safety Measures: Safety should be a top priority on any construction project. Ask the contractor or subcontractor about their safety measures and protocols to ensure a safe work environment for everyone involved.
  • Additional Services: Some contractors or subcontractors may be able to offer additional services such as design, engineering, or project management. Consider these factors when making your decision.

Sample Table: Comparison of Contractors and Subcontractors

Factor Contractor Subcontractor
Responsibility Responsible for entire project Responsible for specific portion of project
Relationship with Owner Direct relationship with owner Indirect relationship with owner
Licensing Required to have all necessary licenses Required to have necessary licenses for specific trade
Insurance Responsible for all project insurance Responsible for insurance for specific trade
Project Control Controls all aspects of project Responsible for specific portion of project as directed

By considering these factors, you can find the right contractor or subcontractor for your project and help ensure a successful outcome.

FAQs: What is the Difference Between Contractor and Subcontractor?

Q: What is a contractor?
A: A contractor is an individual or a company who is hired to perform a specific project or task, typically for a fixed price or fee. They are responsible for overseeing the entire project, from start to finish.

Q: What is a subcontractor?
A: A subcontractor is an individual or a company who is hired by a contractor to perform a specific part of the project. They are responsible for completing their part of the project as per the contract.

Q: What is the main difference between a contractor and a subcontractor?
A: The main difference between a contractor and a subcontractor is that a contractor is responsible for the entire project, while a subcontractor is responsible for only a specific part of the project.

Q: Do contractors and subcontractors work together?
A: Yes, contractors and subcontractors can work together. Contractors often hire subcontractors to complete specialized tasks that they cannot do themselves.

Q: Can a subcontractor hire their own subcontractors?
A: Yes, a subcontractor can hire their own subcontractors, but they are responsible for ensuring that their subcontractors complete their tasks as per the contract.

Closing Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between a contractor and a subcontractor, you can make an informed decision when it comes to hiring professionals for your project. Remember, contractors are responsible for the entire project, while subcontractors are responsible for only a specific part. We hope you found this article informative. Please visit us again for more interesting reads. Thanks for stopping by!