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What Is A General Contractor License?

A residential home in the process of framing. general contractors are residential and commercial construction

The General Contractor License is the classification required in the state of California for all contractors that want to bid on residential and commercial construction or remodel projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500. 

General Contractors can oversee projects that include a variety of different trades and areas of expertise including:

  • Earthwork and Demolition
  • Rough Framing and Carpentry
  • Flooring
  • Stacking, Joisting, Bracing and Installing Girders
  • Roofing and Installing Shingles
  • Installing Gas Lines and Sewer Lines
  • Mixing Mortar and Pouring Concrete
  • Landscaping and Painting 
  • Electrical Work
  • Wiring and Installing Receptacles 
  • Insulation and Acoustical Work
  • Plumbing, Installing Sinks and Bathrooms
  • Residential Home Construction and Remodels
  • Commercial Apartments, Restaurants, and Strip Malls
  • Lathing and Plastering

What Is the Role of  General Contractor?

An image of a home in the framing process

General contractors are expected to have a supervisory level knowledge of all trades associated with residential and commercial building projects.

For example, if a home owner needs several things repaired on their home they would hire a general contractor that is licensed and qualified to oversee various stages of the construction process. 

They are responsible for sub-contracting specialty tradesman to complete tasks on a construction project.

A General Contractor will often oversee the direct management of a job site and report to either a project manager, architect, or directly to the client.

Construction plans may be delivered to the general contractor who would then asses the scope of the project.

They would then be responsible for:

  • Hiring Subcontractors
  • Ensuring Job Site Safety
  • Estimating Labor and Material Costs
  • Ensuring Job is completed on time and at spec. 
  • Pulling Building Permits
  • Ensure that the Project is being executed to code
  • Scheduling Inspections 
  • Keeping clients, project managers and investors up to date on progress

Blueprint Reading

blueprint reading course for those looking to get the general contractor license in california

Anyone in a supervisory role on a construction site should know how to read blueprints.

General contractors have to be able to follow specific designs, symbols, and interpret what an architect is trying to communicate. 

The ability to quickly identify lines, abbreviations and measuring tools are vital skills. Blueprint reading is also very important for the General Contractor License test.

A general contractor may be asked to create functional sketches and assess costs and hire workers based on a construction blueprint.

If you would like more info on blue print reading courses that can help you brush up on these important skills be sure to check out my Blue Print Reading Course for a basic introduction to the concepts you will want to know about.

Logo of the united states environmental protection agency

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The most profitable contractors are ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgable and helpful to their clients. 

Becoming EPA Certified is a requirement for general contractors and can be completed in a one day, 8 hour course.

Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also the safety of your customers.

For a complete guide on how to get the EPA Certification, check out this article. 

General Engineering Contractor vs. General Building Contractor

There is a a lot of misinformation around what a General B contractor can and cant do.

The biggest differences between the general contractor and general engineering contractor license are illustrated below:

  • Residential and Commercial Projects
  • Homes, Apartment Buildings, Restaurants, Strip Malls 
  • Framing, Electrical, Concrete, Plumbing
  • Requires 4 Years Journeyman Level Experience
  • Must pass LAW and TRADE exam

General Engineering Contractor (General A)

  • Engineering and Public Works Projects
  • Bridges, Dams, Freeways, Waterways, Airports, Railroads, refineries  
  • Engineering, Earthwork, Tunneling, Concrete 
  • Requires 4 Years Journeyman Level Experience
  • Must pass LAW and TRADE exam

General Contractor License Requirements

To receive an exam date with the Contractor State License Board, you must meet the following basic requirements:

  • 18 Years of Age
  • Valid Drivers License OR USA Issued Identification
  • Social Security OR ITIN #
  • check
    Cannot Currently Be On Probation or Parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • Signature From A Qualifying Individual
  • A Way To Prove Experience If The State Boards Asks

Journeyman Level Experience

general contractor and engineer inspecting plans and looking at building

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a construction company, a General B contractor, or union. 

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years.

The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of A Qualifying Individual

A qualifying individual is someone other than yourself who can confirm your experience.

This person can be either a:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • Fellow or Former Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Foreman or Supervisor
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman

Whoever you choose must include their information and a brief description of your experience.

The main areas of expertise a General Contractor needs to have experience in are:

  • Framing and Rough Carpentry
  • Concrete
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical 

Work Experience for The Contractors License

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have.

The Contractors State License Board gives you many ways to prove your experience including:

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application Processing, Fees, and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year. Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and some where they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Fees

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

General Contractor License Requirements

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a General Contractor License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses.

The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis.

Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public. In my experience, they primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with:

  • Fraud
  • Embezzlement 
  • Forgery 

In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any state license even if they have been expunged.

You will need to be prepared to submit anything they ask for regarding your criminal history.

The General Contractor License Exam

Contractor licenses are broken down into four categories:

1) A-General Engineering                            (LAW + TRADE )

2) B-General Building                                     (LAW + TRADE)

3) C-Specialty Classes                                    (LAW + TRADE)

4) C-61/D- Limited Specialty                     (LAW TEST ONLY)

The General Contractor License Exam consists of two parts:

  • 115 Questions LAW
  • 115 Questions TRADE
  • 3 Hours To Complete Each Portion
  • Multiple Choice Exam
  • Close Book / Taken on a Computer
  • Some Questions may refer to a diagram

The General Contractor Exam is broken up into five major portions:

1. Planning and Estimation (24%)

  • Scope of work and code compliance
  • Design and construction error identification
  • Shop drawings, plans, and specifications
  • Field inspection performance
  • Coordination of project
  • Cost estimation for materials, equipment, and labor

2. Framing and Structural Components (23%)

  • Subfloor and wall framing
  • Roof framing
  • Seismic and load requirements
  • Decks
  • Siding and stucco

3. Core Trades (26%)

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • HVAC
  • Concrete
  • Earthwork and surveying
  • Insulation, acoustical, and weatherproofing
  • Roofing

4. Finish Trades (19%)

  • Painting, staining, coating, and interior wall covering
  • Tile and stone
  • Floor covering
  • Cabinetry and millwork
  • Plaster, drywall, and ceilings
  • Windows, skylights, and doors
  • Landscaping

5. Safety (8%)

  • Personnel safety
  • Transportation and traffic control
  • Environmental safety

CSLB Test Locations

Logo of the contractors state license board. illustration of a paint brush, saw and cement truck
  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego
  • You have 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations
  • You must wait 3 weeks to re-take the exam. $60 Per Re-take
  • You must score 70% or more

What is on the Law & Business portion of the General Contractor License exam?

California Contractor License Exam Prep

a hand holding a pencil over a math exam

Here are some things to remember!

  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade

Construction professionals from various backgrounds, trades and experience levels get licenses each year in California.

In my experience, most are startled by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience. 

You must be as prepared as you possibly can.

Studying just 15 mintues a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.

Focus on and study ONLY the information that you need to pass the state exam.

Construction Apprenticeships

If you don’t have the four years required journeyman level experience to obtain a General Contractor License, not to worry.

Your journey begins here.

Construction is a trillion-dollar industry and highly skilled tradesman are always in demand.

Whether you are completely new or have some experience already, there are resources available to you.  

Generally someone looking to become a general contractor would want to look into an apprenticeship program.

For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman.

Conclusion

Getting the General Contractor License can be a huge step up in your career and position you to grow your business, or become an RMO!

The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end.

If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!

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