Are you great at working with your hands? Do you thrive in a busy atmosphere as the person making the decisions and managing a team? If so, a career as a general contractor might appeal to you.
Because the job is demanding, with significant responsibilities and risk, general contractors can make very good money—the average contractor makes more than six figures.
But just how much do contractors make? Let’s break some ground.
How much do contractors make?
As the face of a construction project, a general contractor (also known as a construction manager) is charged with hiring subcontractors, managing workflows, and overseeing jobs, all while ensuring that the project comes in on schedule and on budget. Although they can work for larger construction companies, most are self-employed.
As of 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that there were 278,460 general contractors working in the U.S. at a median hourly wage of $49.57. Over the space of a year, that translates to $103,110.1
Being a contractor can be extremely lucrative, especially if you own your own business. The top 10% of earners had an hourly wage of $77.65, which is $161,510 annually.
What impacts how much a contractor can make?
There’s a wide range of pay scales within the contracting business. Per the BLS, the factors that tend to have the largest impact on average hourly rates include:2
Specialized industry – The most common type of contracting work is residential or non-residential building construction. But those aren’t the highest paying sectors. In fact, more specialized services pay more—the most lucrative being:
- Securities, Commodity Contracts: $70.56 per hour, $146,760 per year
- Oil and Gas Extraction: $66.29 per hour, $137,880 per year
- Insurance Carriers: $65.07 per hour, $135,340 per year
- Scientific Research and Development Services: $61.86 per hour, $128,670 per year
- Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing: $60.39 per hour, $125,620 per year
General industry – As mentioned, the vast majority of contractors will work within the residential or non-residential construction space. Residential pays slightly less at $46.48 per hour, $96,690 per year; whereas commercial pays $49.47 per hour, $102,910 per year.
State – The place in which you work will naturally have an impact on how much you can charge. Certain states and cities have higher associated costs of living. Other places have a scarcity of contractors or have other elements that make it more difficult to build, thus impacting price. Top paying states include:
- New Jersey: $69.90 per hour, $145,400 per year
- Rhode Island : $63.82 per hour, $132,750 per year
- New York: $63.44 per hour, $131,950 per year
- Delaware: $59.61 per hour, $124,000 per year
- California: $56.62 per hour, $117,770 per year
City – Likewise, metro areas typically pay better than nonmetropolitan areas. The highest paying cities are:
- Atlantic City: $75.02 per hour, $156,030 per year
- San Jose/Santa Clara: $72.93 per hour, $151,680 per year
- Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina: $72.80 per hour, $151,420 per year
- Jackson: $69.52 per hour, $144,600 per year
- New York City: $69.20 per hour, $143,930 per year
Trade – There are specialized contractors (subcontractors) who don’t manage the entire project but instead focus on a specific project within the whole such as lighting or plumbing. These tradesmen tend to make less than a general contractor. For instance, per the BLS:3
- Carpenters earn an average of $21.71 per hour, $45,170 per year.
- Construction laborers earn an average of $16.08 per hour, $33,450 per year.
- Electricians earn an average of $26.01 per hour, $54,110 per year.
- Flooring and tile contractors earn an average of $19.35 per hour, $40,250 per year.
How can you charge more?
Want to know how you reach that top 10% of earners? Factors that impact your hourly rate include:
Business ownership – The largest factor for salary upside is whether or not you own your own business. Then, what you make is based on the business profitability. There is much more risk (and reward) when you are the one managing clients and setting rates. If the business is thriving, you will too.
Experience – Contractors have to go through a lengthy apprenticeship, certification, and licensure process in order to become a journeyman contractor. Upon completion, your automatic base rate will go up. Even then, a green journeyman won’t make as much as a grizzled, twenty-year industry vet.
Quality of work – This factor is harder to measure, but when you produce high-quality work, clients are willing to pay more, knowing that they’ll be getting top-notch services. Part of this depends on building up the right clientele—those who want to pay top dollar for the best work.
Specialization – Are you and your team able to handle a variety of tasks yourselves, thus reducing the number of subcontractors you need to hire? If you have specialists, you can charge more for your services.
Finding the right clients – Within the construction business, taking more clients isn’t necessarily the right approach. What a contractor needs to find is more high-quality clients—those that align with your ideal price point and type of service.
Protect your contractor business with insurance
Construction is a risky business. Between the job sites, heavy machinery, and equipment, injuries are common occurrences. This is why it’s critical for every general contractor to have general liability insurance.
This type of coverage can help protect you from financial damages incurred by third parties. It can help cover the investigation, defense, and settlement from claims relating to:
- Bodily injury
- Property damage
- Personal and advertising injury
So, where’s the best place to get general liability insurance?
Right here at Thimble. We offer affordable, on-demand contractor insurance coverage by the hour, day, or month. Most importantly it’s insurance that works when you do. Even better, monthly general liability policies come bundled with Business Equipment Protection (BEP), so you can protect your tools.
It only takes 60 seconds to get protected with Thimble. Just download the Thimble mobile app or click “Get a Quote,” enter a few details about your business, and we’ll generate an instant quote. From there, you can purchase with a final click and your policy and Certificates of Insurance (COI) will be instantly sent to your email.
It’s time to get to work
The life of a contractor is quite demanding, but with risk comes great reward. Few labor-intensive occupations are as lucrative as that of a general contractor.
But if you want to protect your nest egg, you need the right insurance. Just like you build a solid foundation before erecting a home, your insurance is the rock upon which your business stands.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Construction Managers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018.
- BLS. Specialty Trade Contractors