If you have a large building project on the horizon, one of the first steps to a successful build is hiring the right general contractor for the job. As one of the most trusted contractors in San Francisco, here’s an in-depth look at why you need a general contractor, what they will bring to your project, and some other common questions the Airtight Construction team encounter from clients about the role of the general contractor on site.

What is a Commercial General Contractor?

As anyone who’s had even the smallest DIY project go wrong knows, tackling building construction or remodeling is not an easy task. That goes double for the commercial sphere. Issues like state law, zone and code regulations, permitting and much more become critically important. Plus, of course, you have a budget to work with.

For many business owners and commercial endeavors, you may not even own all of the building you’re working on, and may need to also coordinate with landlords and other business owners.

This means there’s a lot of ‘moving parts’ to any commercial building work, no matter how small. Luckily, there are experts with all the commercial construction and design know-how you need to complete a project. A commercial general contractor is the go-to for design and construction work for commercial projects. Residential general contractors would work on your home.

Sometimes called a GC, they are professional construction professionals who will act in an overseer role. They will manage the site, equipment, workers, specialty contractors or subcontractors, vendors, and materials. It’s their role to ensure everything moves smoothly, and address any issues or discrepancies that occur.

A good commercial general contractor will have a skilled team of specialized designers to help you create your new building or renovations, if needed, and they will be your liaison with subcontractors, workers, vendors, and any governmental permits that you need.

What is a commercial general contractor vs a residential general contractor?

While the two roles seem to overlap, commercial construction work is typically far more complex than residential. Not only do they deal with the specialized issues mentioned above, but most commercial sites are larger and have different needs and regulations that are more complex than building a new home. Codes, laws, and budgeting are very different, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. Someone who has the expertise to build a house or supervise a home remodeling can’t necessarily translate those skills to a hospital or a shopfront. Typically, a general contractor supervises home construction or a kitchen remodel, where a commercial general contractor undertakes quality work for commercial projects and will be employed by a company.


Why would I hire a general contractor?

While small jobs and even some remodels can be done by a handyman-type worker, once you broach bigger construction projects that need planning permission, multiple contractors, and specialty skills, you will need someone to act as a cohesive point of contact between you and the worker on the ground. This could be as small as a bathroom remodeling, or overall home remodeling, for one family, or a massive commercial undertaking like building a mall.

It’s not a role you can successfully fulfill yourself, either. Without the necessary building knowledge of a reliable construction company, as well as the knowledge of local law, your project is doomed to grind to a halt for lack of experienced and expert oversight. There’s a specific order in which builds should be completed, from the first stroke of the architect’s pen to the very last dot of paint. Imagine the disaster if someone laid the floor before the correct interior support was in place? When these are performed out-of-order due to bad management or other issues, the price will quickly escalate. Just as quickly as the quality of work tumbles!

General contractors exist to make sure this doesn’t happen. They will streamline and coordinate their project and all services to make sure everything happens on time and within cost, and that you receive high quality work form start to finish. Your general contractor also oversees subcontractors and makes sure their work is up to grade and compliant with city code- something you would not be able to easily assess.

It’s important to remember that, although ‘contractor’ has become industry shorthand for people like handymen as well, and doing ‘odd jobs’ is sometimes called ‘general contracting services’, the terms General Contractor and Commercial General Contractor refers to a specific job and skill set.

What type of work does a Commercial General Contractor do?

General contractors typically cover individual housing projects and may, depending on experience and the type of firm, even work with housing projects and similar issues. A commercial general contractor will typically work on construction projects, remodels, or renovation for business like:

  • Offices
  • Shopfronts
  • Restaurants
  • Retail buildings
  • Recreational or governmental facilities
  • Warehouses
  • Medical Facilities
  • Stadiums and sports arenas
  • Pre-bid site surveys
  • Business project management

As you can see, many of these are projects that require contract licensing and city permits. A commercial general contractor has to have a license to allow them to perform such work, as well as ensure they have oversight regarding laws and regulations in your state.

What is the difference between a subcontractor and a general contractor?

Within anything but the most simple job, you will be mixing many specialties. For instance, building a new bathroom or undertaking a bathroom remodel at your offices needs everything from foundations dug and walls erected, through construction, to the plumber and electrician, right through to laying tiles and painting walls.

Each of these construction niches can be performed by a subcontractor. Your general contractor makes sure the construction project or renovation runs smoothly, the jobs happen in the correct order, each subcontractor has the material they need, and keeps the project running. A logical comparison would be with an event planner, vs the baker who makes the wedding cake or the venue that dresses the tables.


What will my general contractor’s responsibilities be?

So, you’ve hired a licensed commercial general contractor you trust. What is reasonable to expect from them? Here’s a brief overview of their common responsibilities and duties:

  • Oversight: They will be in charge of keeping the bigger picture of the construction project and its development running smoothly
  • Materials: They will ensure the correct, safe, products are available to workers as needed
  • Equipment: They will make sure the right equipment is sourced and used correctly on site, on time.
  • Liaison: They will keep you, owners, vendors, tenants, project managers, workers, and other interested parties informed
  • Logistics: They will report and manage logistics as part of the full service.
  • Compliance: They will make sure your whole project is up to code and honors zoning regulations
  • Management: They will ensure workers and subcontractors know what’s needed.
  • Cost control: They act to help keep the project costs low and delivery on time through smart project management.

As you can see, that’s a lot of responsibility! The larger the project, the better the general contractor must be. A home remodel is complex, but a multi-state new construction for a mall chain is astronomically so. Especially if there are unique needs in the project as well. It’s key to work with a contractor who has experience in the commercial industry and a solid track record of happy clients. You want to work with a professional who will keep to your timeline and budget without making friction or letting you down.


What are my responsibilities to my general contractor?

Of course, this relationship is not one-sided. There’s plenty you need to do as the client to ensure the general contractor is empowered to get your project done.

Chief among these will be making payment milestones. These are tied to the scheduling of various professions and subcontractors. From paying workers to buying materials, if you don’t keep to the laid-out milestones, your project will fall behind.

It’s also good for you to learn to trust your contractor and let the project develop correctly. Micromanaging will only destroy the project integrity, and can result in troublesome situations where subcontractors take conflicting orders from you and the general contractor, bogging everything down. Your general contractor is an experienced pro who’s on your team. Let them do the job.

Do commercial general contractors only work on new projects?

Not at all! While working on new builds is common, licensed general contractors will also work on building reconstruction, repair, or redesign, additional buildings or rooms for an existing structure, and other matters.

Do general contractors supervise buying of materials?

Yes. As the ‘site overseer’ of sorts, your general contractor will be in charge of purchasing material. They will also keep other contractors informed as to the project timeline and when materials need to be installed. They will also handle any issues that arise regarding quality or supply with the vendor.

Will general contractors hire other tradesmen?

Yes, they will. While most commercial general contractors have a skilled team in their employ to handle aspects of the construction, they will also select and hire skilled subcontractors and contractors to handle other aspects of the build process. This will cover any areas they don’t have credentials to work in. It could include:

  • Glazing
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical Work
  • Painting
  • Carpeting
  • Carpentry
  • Specialized architects or designers on request

In short, any area in which they can’t perform the labor safely and legally with the expertise you need.

How do I know if my general contractor has a license and insurance?

It’s incredibly important that any general contractors you choose have both the correct licenses and certifications to work, and that they carry liability insurance. You will, of course, ask them to prove this to you, but you’ll need to make sure that the qualifications are legit.


San Francisco, like most states, will have a licensing board for general contractors with whom you can check their qualifications. We also advise checking with the insurance company you are told offers them coverage. All reputable firms understand how important it is to use a licensed pro and will be more than happy to help you towards this peace of mind.

How do I hire a commercial contractor?

Hiring a commercial general contractor is the best way to ensure peace of mind throughout your project. How do you choose a good match?


This is not a role where you want to hire the first (or cheapest) person you can find. You will want to work with local contractors, ensuring they have the right licensing and expertise to work in your state to code. This means they will also be familiar with common environmental issues in your state, like sandy soil or the need to build for heavy rains. For example, many San Francisco general contractors have to have experience working on waterfront properties.

They should also have a solid pool of reliable subcontractors to draw on in the area. You could do some due diligence on the net, contact property management groups to see whom they can highly recommend, and use other ways to research the firms before you contact them.

If there’s already a project like yours in the neighborhood, there’s no harm in finding out who completed it! Remember that cheap and fast aren’t your only key drivers here. You also want reliable, efficient, and pleasant to deal with.


Once you have a shortlist of who to approach, ask them about projects they’ve worked on in the past. You can also use reviews to help you get an overall idea of the right contractor for your needs. Most will do a free site consultation to discuss the project needs and cost in depth before quoting.


Part of establishing a good rapport with your general contractor will need preparation on your side, too. You will need to know what your budget and anticipated timeline for the project will be. Budget is important. It will dictate the quality of materials, as well as who you can afford to have to do the work. Neither a very high nor a super low quote is smart. Instead, you want to pick a contractor with a good reputation who’s operating within the standard pricing for your work.

A contractor will calculate their bid (the cost to you) based on hours needed, insurance and permitting needed, overhead costs, materials, geography, location, special needs, and other contractors needed to get the job completed.


Not just anyone can set up shop as a commercial contractor. There are licensing needs which they will carry, as well as a wealth of knowledge on permits, zone regulations, materials, local contractors and builders, and how to successfully cost out and manage a project. Without the correct licenses, you will have no recourse for poor work and cannot hold them liable for problems that occur, so always make sure to use licensed and certified professionals.

General contractors should also carry the correct forms of liability insurance to use while on your site. Make sure they prove to you their liability insurance and worker’s compensation coverage, or you could be held legally liable in their stead. Never assume that they hold the insurance- always ask for proof.


Someone can be a fantastic general contractor, but not a good match for you. A good contractor can deal with situations without losing their composure, and should always be happy to answer questions you may have. Professionalism, tone, and ability to communicate matter. So does an overall ability to understand the vision for your build. If you do not feel comfortable with a contractor, they aren’t the right person for your job.

Once you’ve found the right match, you can go ahead and notify them that you accept their bid, and sign the contract. Make sure you always read the fine print!

Working as a commercial general contractor has its own special needs and demands. You want to be able to work with someone you can trust, who has the experience, connections, and knowledge to get the job done. Don’t let a low bid tempt you, or you could find yourself in hot water later on. Rather opt for professional service and a great partnership that will see your project come to life.

Airtight Construction has decades of experience working in the Bay Area and throughout San Francisco, and we can tackle a vast range of commercial work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us today if you’re looking for a reliable general contractor in San Francisco, and see if our experience and integrity match your project’s needs.