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Definitive Guide to General Contractors in Kansas City

Haren Companies, a Kansas City area general contractor, can help make your construction projects go smoothly.

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is a company hired by a property owner to oversee the day-to-day operations of a construction project. A general contractor is responsible for managing safety, construction cost, the project schedule, and quality control. General contractors typically specialize in certain types of construction and specific markets. Some general contractors may be well suited for heavy industrial, while others are more suited for building a restaurant or retail building. Some general contractors serve a specific type of owner. After all, an interior renovation requires a completely different skill set than heavy industrial construction, and each project owner will require a different type of service. Few general contractors have a range of ability, knowledge, and sub-contractor network to tackle EVERY project. Be sure the general contractor you select has the skillset and experience to tackle YOUR project. A general contractor is hired directly by the project owner, through a construction contract, and collaborates closely with the project architect. Typically, a general contractor will hire sub-contractors that perform specific trades on the project. (i.e., Roofers, Plumbers, Painters, etc.). Construction projects are often likened to a three-legged stool. The legs are comprised of (1) the project owner who brings to the overall vision and project financing, (2) the architect, who designs to project, and (3) the contractor, who is responsible for building the project. Without a leg, or if one leg is weak, the stool (project) collapses. A good general contractor with their finger on the pulse of the construction industry will be able to collaborate with you and your architect to deliver a building that is within budget, and on schedule, and still functions as designed by the architect.

How do general contractors obtain work?

General Contractors provide the best value when they can collaborate with owners. Especially during the early phases of the project. In a collaborative setting, a contractor can help save time and money for the owner by offering insights into labor and material availability, performing constructability for the project. A general contractor must have a sterling reputation for delivering quality projects, have solid communication skills, and high-quality pre-construction and project delivery to work well in a collaborative project setting.

What kind of jobs can a general contractor do?

A general contractor can complete a range of projects depending on the companies experience and the experience of its staff. Some will specialize in a specific project type (ie Healthcare, Multifamily, Warehouse, etc.) while others have a broader range of experience and can perform well across a range of market types.

General contractors in Kansas City range from light residential remodelers to firms that build heavy industrial facilities and civic infrastructure (i.e., Stadiums, Airports, highways)

What are the responsibilities of a general contractor?

A general contractor manages four major aspects of a construction project: Construction cost, time (Project Schedule), quality (QA/QC), and safety. A general contractor manages these aspects during two phases of a project: pre-construction & construction.

Managing Cost

Managing project costs begins with and good estimate. To build the estimate, A general contractor is responsible for compiling sub-contractor bids, performing material take-offs, calculating insurance, bond premiums, and taxes, as well as their own costs (General Conditions) incurred to build your project. During construction, the general contractors, typically general contractors project manager, manages the project funds, approving sub-contractor pay applications and ensuring the project stays within budget.

Managing Time

Schedule overruns are extremely common on construction projects. Without careful planning, coordination, and troubleshooting, a general contractor’s construction schedule can become wildly overrun. In fact, according to a Moody Analytics study. Most projects, apart from industrial construction, encounter delays. Surprisingly, only 18% of apartment projects were completed on schedule or early. At every phase of a project, disagreement about materials, cost, or design can cause a delay. During construction, unexpected material delays, or field conditions (i.e., hitting rock or that pipe no one knew was in the wall), and weather can all contribute to an extended schedule.

General contractors use several types of scheduling tools and techniques to keep the project schedule on track, including pull planning and involving trade experts in developing durations for their work activities. The general contracts foremen or superintendent manages the weekly work plan through short interval scheduling, which goes into more detail than the Master Schedule developed before the project starts and is updated and published to the project team regularly.

Each week, as the general contractor works through the short interval schedule, they can analyze impacts to the schedule from the weather, lead times, or unforeseen conditions that may impact the schedule. Through weekly Foreman’s meetings, the Superintendent will coordinate the schedule and any delays, potentially resequencing some work to avoid impact to the overall schedule. Schedule review and management is a daily occurrence for the general contractor’s Superintendent.

Managing Quality

Quality issues can cause a myriad of problems on a construction project. From excavation and installing utilities like sewer and power to painting and wallpaper, there is a quality expectation that needs to be met for the project to be successful. Keep in mind that quality is not limited to what you can see. Sure, the leaky window or door that does not close correctly is obvious and completely unacceptable on a finished project. However, pipe, wire, cable, and conduit inside your walls are subject to inspection before being covered up by drywall. Without proper trade coordination by the general contractor, these components of the building often require re-inspection due to poor quality installation. General contractors rely heavily on rigorous QA/QC procedures to ensure building components and systems are installed properly. Without proper QA/QC, rework can plague a project causing schedule and cost overruns.

Managing Quality Graphic

Managing Safety

Construction is dangerous work. It is the general contractor’s responsibility to maintain a safe job site. Everyone benefits from a safe job site. Ultimately, it is the general contractor and their sub-contractor partners who bear the responsibility of training their workforce and enforcing job site safety rules. According to OSHA statistics, the four most common causes of job site-related injuries (The Fatal Four ((https://www.osha.gov/data/commonstats)) are falls, struck by an object, caught in machinery or equipment, and electrocution. Construction has become safer over time; however, in 2018 one in five workplace deaths was in construction.

Although construction is inherently dangerous, General Contractors have made great progress in improving job site safety. From employee training, job site safety plans, and company-wide safety positive cultures, modern general contractors make safety a priority.

Managing the Phases of Construction

Managing the Phases of Construction Graphic

Typically, a general contractor is responsible for managing three phases of any construction project, pre-construction, construction, and turnover. A general contractor can also be responsible for design if they are hired under a design-build contract. During the pre-construction phase, a general contractor will put together several different types of estimates ranging from very broad schematic estimates to a very detailed GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) bid.

First Phase: Pre-Construction

During this phase, the general contractors estimating team examines design documents, gathers sub-contractor bids, and develops a construction schedule to develop a construction estimate. The superintendent and project manager will review the construction plans as well and identify items that could become “high cost” items because of the long lead time to acquire those materials or point out other options for cost and time savings.

Second Phase: Construction of the Project

The second phase of the project is the actual construction of the project. The general contractor will have a superintendent on the construction project every day overseeing the construction. The superintendent and project manager work together to keep the project on schedule and coordinate with the subcontractors.

The superintendent’s responsibility is to evaluate the quality of the construction and answer questions in the field. The project manager is responsible for handling billings, submittals, and coordination with all project stakeholders.

Third Phase: Turn-Over

The third phase is the turn-over. This final phase of the project is where certificates of occupancy are acquired, manuals describing building systems, and important information about your new building project will be shared. A quality general contractor will also offer warranties on their work.

When a general contractor properly manages their responsibilities the project team moves forward with confidence and the project is delivered on time and within budget. It is important that a general contractor balance the expectations of the owner with the realities and challenges of construction. A good general contractor will be upfront about challenges and bring solutions to problems like budget and schedule constraints.

How do you choose a commercial general contractor?

Choose a general contractor that you trust. For many folks, their construction project is the biggest undertaking they have ever done, and the general contractor is greatly responsible for the outcome of the project. Ultimately, working with someone who understands you and your vision for the project will yield you the best results. A good general contractor will take an open book philosophy to project cost, and savvy project owners realize that sub-contractor and other vendors represent most of the general contractor’s estimate.

There are many general contractors who win awards. However, the best general contractors win repeat business from their clients and help create successful projects that help businesses thrive. Check references and look for a general contractor with a reputation for working with repeat clients.

Depending on your project, you could be working with your general contractor for over a year. Be sure you select a general contractor that suits your communication style, business culture, and embodies YOUR core values.

Things to Consider Before You Hire a General Contractor:

What is my budget?

Lots of people have no idea what construction costs. Ask for references in your line of work. Ask your design team which contractors they have worked well within the past. After spending some time getting to know your project, a good general contractor will be able to give you cost per square foot on similar construction types and possibly generate a schematic estimate factoring in the unique qualities of your project.

What do I need in the project?

Consider what you absolutely need for your new space to function for your business. Having an open dialogue with your general contractor and architect during the pre-construction phase avoids these unforeseen costs popping up during construction.

The main thing to consider when you are preparing to hire a general contractor is how well you believe they will be able to complete your project.

Questions to ask prospective general contractors in the Kansas City area:

What projects are you currently working on?

A good general contractor can maintain a steady workflow. Being too busy means the general contractor may not have the available bandwidth to deliver your project. Also, consider if they are currently or have recently worked on a similar project.

How do you plan to staff my project?

Be sure your general contractor is staffing your project with full-time supervision. Your general contractor should always have a representative at the site to coordinate trades and manage safety during working hours. Depending on the size of your project a general contractor may have a team of field superintendents and a staff of project managers in the office providing support. Make a point to meet the superintendent and project manager your general contractor proposes for your project.

Describe your approach to estimating project costs?

Your general contractor should be able to provide you with an estimate that is broken down by division or scope. In other words, it should be easy to identify the cost of individual items (i.e., windows, paint, or roofing). A good general contractor will also get multiple bids per scope of work. This ensures the project estimate is complete and the cost is in line and competitive. In the Kansas City market competitive GC’s solicit bids from thousands of local subcontractors and suppliers.

Describe how you communicate with the owner and design team during construction?

At a minimum, a general contractor will hold a weekly site meeting or OAC meeting to review design questions, applications for payment, and receive updates on schedule progress. Modern general contractors in Kansas City leverage technology to provide project updates using project management apps, 24/7 video surveillance, drone footage, and social media campaigns.