If you’re satisfied doing odd-jobs around the house and minor fixer-upper tasks for clients here and there, then the handyman business sounds perfect for you. If, however, you have an interest in taking on bigger structural projects, building a client network, and expanding your trade skills—all while making much higher wages—then it’s time to take a big step up the career ladder (literally and metaphorically) by becoming a general contractor. And if you’re in the Buckeye State, we’re about to show you how.

Contractor license requirements—a quick debrief

In Ohio, there are two governing bodies that handle different types of contractor licenses:

Specialty contractors – The Ohio Construction Industry Licensing Board (OCILB) is responsible for issuing and overseeing the state license awarded to specialized contractors in five distinct commercial fields:

  • Electrical
  • HVAC
  • Hydronics
  • Plumbing
  • Refrigeration

General contractors – Rather than being granted a state license, general contractors must receive their licenses through specific city departments. For example, the Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services in Columbus, or the City of Cleveland Department of Building and Housing in Cleveland. Licensed general contractors are permitted to work in the following areas:

  • New building construction
  • Commercial repair
  • Structural alteration and demolition of existing buildings (commercial or residential)

Without either of these valuable licenses, you’ll be limited to very basic projects as a handyman—painting, simple repairs, and so on. If becoming a licensed general contractor is of interest to you, use this blueprint to build your dreams.

Becoming a general contractor in Columbus, Ohio

General contractor’s licenses are awarded at a local level, so there’s no simple one-size-fits-all Ohio general contractor license. As a point of reference, we’ll talk about Columbus’ contractor licensing requirements, specifically. Ohio’s capital city has a much more exhaustive list than other municipalities—if you know how to get a contractor’s license in Columbus, you’ll be well-equipped to do it elsewhere, too. Columbus has two different contractor’s licenses:

  1. Home improvement contractor – This covers alterations to existing one, two, or three family homes, including repairs, remodels, add-ons, and replacements. It does not allow complete construction of new buildings, just improvements to existing structures (as the name suggests).
  2. General contractor – This license is broader than that of a home improvement contractor. It does allow for the construction of brand-new buildings and work on multi-family homes or commercial properties.

The licensing requirements are quite similar between the two—the major difference is what you’re allowed to do with that license.

Step 1: Fulfill the basic requirements

Before you can even think about the name of your future construction company or your first exciting project, let’s make sure you check all the necessary boxes1. You need to have or be:

  • At least 18 years old
  • A U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or otherwise authorized for employment
  • A minimum three years of relevant construction experience—only one year required for a limited license
  • A passing score on the International Code Council (ICC) accreditation exam

Step 2: Pass the ICC exam

The 767 Ohio Home Improvement Contractor examination, also known as the ICC (international code council) exam, is a two and a half hour open book exam, with 60 questions that cover a range of topics2:

  • Framing (55% of the total test)
  • Footings and Foundations (12%)
  • Masonry and Fireplaces (10%)
  • Egress (7%)
  • Roofing (5%)
  • Administration (5%)
  • Fire (3%)
  • Decks and Guards (3%)

With a minimum of three years of experience, you should be prepared with a general understanding of these topics, but there are a few approved reference books that act as great companion guides to your studies:

If you’re looking for study tips, these resources are a great place to start. Reviewing study guides, sample questions, and past exams can provide a leg up as well.

Step 3: Secure liability insurance

Requirements? Met. Test? Nailed. Insurance? Coming your way. As part of your general contractor’s license application, you’ll need to include proof of general liability insurance coverage with prescribed liability minimums4:

  • $300,000 for a single person
  • $500,000 for a single incident

While insurance is technically a contractor licensing requirement, you shouldn’t view it as an annoying bureaucratic hoop to jump through. General liability insurance is very valuable, especially in a field like construction that can be riddled with workplace hazards and accidents. Should these unfortunate mishaps occur, general liability coverage will provide investigation, defense, and settlement for claims of:

  • Bodily injury (to a third-party, not yourself or your employees)
  • Property damage (to any property that you yourself don’t own)
  • Personal and advertising injury (to a third-party claiming damage to their or another’s reputation)

When it comes to securing adequate insurance, Thimble has you covered—at least, we will, as soon as you click “Get A Quote” or download the Thimble mobile app. After answering a few questions about your industry and needs, including whether you’d like insurance by the month, week, day, or hour, you’ll be good to go. From there, we’ll generate an instant quote. You can purchase your insurance with one last click and you’ll have your policy terms and Certificates of Insurance (COI) sent to your email inbox. Our insurance works when you do, meaning you never pay for a policy when you don’t need it.

Step 4: Prepare your application materials

Once you’ve aced the exam, secured insurance coverage, and generally covered any other outstanding items, you have to prove all this to the Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services (or the equivalent governing board in your local community). There are two different applications—one for general contractors and another for home improvement contractors—that both include similar requirements4

  • Application fee
    • $350 for general contractor
    • $185 for home improvement
  • $25,000 surety bond, with official bond form
  • Certificate of general liability insurance, with minimum coverage
  • A copy of your ICC exam results (70% minimum)—only required for home improvement contractor

You’ll need to send these important materials alongside your completed and notarized application form. Without the proper supplementary documentation and notarization, your application will likely be rejected or returned without being processed. This simple mistake can completely derail your timeline to becoming a registered contractor. If everything’s in order and your application is accepted, you’ll officially be able to call yourself a licensed contractor in Ohio—congrats!

Start your career as a licensed contractor

Acquiring your license is the first, and arguably most important, step on your path to becoming a working contractor. All you need is the right education and experience, a killer ICC exam score, the necessary liability insurance coverage, and a few other prerequisites to secure your general contractor (or home improvement) license. With all that under your (tool) belt, you’re well on your way to serving the great state of Ohio—next stop: the famous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a quick Cleveland Browns game, and a classic Skyline cheese coney (or two).