TLDR: The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) in California regulates the construction industry and issues licenses to contractors in various classifications. These classifications cover a wide range of specialties and trades, including general engineering, general building, and specialty contracting. Contractors performing work exceeding $500 in labor and materials are generally required to have a CSLB license. At first, the types of licenses might be overwhelming, however, we have broken down all the different categories below and what tasks they generally do below!
The Contractors State License Board exists to protect those who hire contractors in California. It does so by by regulating the construction industry through ensuring that contractors are licensed and qualified.
The primary functions of the CSLB include:
To carry out its responsibilities, the CSLB employs investigators, administrative staff, and legal professionals who work together to enforce licensing laws, investigate complaints, and ensure compliance with industry regulations. They collaborate with other governmental agencies, law enforcement, and consumer advocacy organizations to protect the public from unscrupulous or incompetent contractors.
In California, contractors performing work that exceeds $500 in labor and materials are typically required to have a license from the CSLB. This requirement applies to both general contractors and subcontractors in various construction trades, including but not limited to:
The CSLB has different classifications that depend on the nature of the work the contractors do and their areas of expertise. Below is a guide to the different licesing classifications.
A general engineering contractor is a professional or business entity that specializes in performing construction work related to engineering projects. There are 5475 licensed general engineering contractors in California which makes up 2% of the contractors. They are typically involved in the construction, alteration, and repair of infrastructure projects. This includes roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, dams, and similar structures. General engineering contractors are equipped with the knowledge and expertise to manage and oversee large-scale projects that involve significant engineering aspects and divisions like the following:
The general engineering contractor license covers a number of professions and it is important to get an understanding of whether the nature of your work falls within this category. If you are looking to become a contractor and are unsure whether or not you will fall under the class A license, you should contact the CSLB for further guidance.
Here's an example to illustrate the role of a general engineering contractor:
Example: ABC Construction Company is a general engineering contractor based in California. They have extensive experience in managing and executing infrastructure projects. Recently, they were awarded a contract to construct a new bridge over a major river. As a general engineering contractor, ABC Construction Company is responsible for overseeing the entire project, including planning, designing, obtaining permits, managing subcontractors, ensuring compliance with safety regulations, and completing the construction of the bridge within the specified timeline and budget.
A general building contractor, also known as a general contractor or builder, is a professional who oversees and manages construction projects. This is the second biggest category of contractors in California, with 76,056 licensed contractors. This makes up 32% of all licensed contractors in the state. In California, a general building contractor is licensed and qualified to handle various types of construction work, including residential, commercial, and industrial projects.
Here are some key responsibilities and tasks performed by a general building contractor in California:
In California, a specialty contractor is a professional who specializes in a specific trade or aspect of construction. This is the biggest class of contractors in California making up 52% of all the contractors. Unlike a general contractor who manages the overall construction project, a specialty contractor focuses on a particular area of expertise. They typically work under a general contractor or directly with clients, depending on the scope and nature of the project.
We will cover the major specializations below. The below list are the most common specialty contractor licenses by license count.
The C-10 Electrical Contractor license is the largest specialization in the specialty contractor category. They make up 7% of all contractors in California and have 17,666 contractors in total. It is a big class with a lot of potential. An electrical contractor places, installs, erects or connects items that generate, transform or utilize electrical energy like the following:
Here's an overview of what an electrical contractor typically does with a C-10 license:
It's important to note that electrical contractors must have a deep understanding of electrical theory, wiring methods, electrical codes, and safety practices. They are responsible for ensuring that electrical systems are installed, repaired, and maintained correctly to provide reliable and safe electrical power to buildings and structures.
C-33 Painting and decorating contractors are the second largest specialization in the specialty contractor class. They make up 5% of all lisenced contractors on California and consist of 12,450 contractor in total. A C-33 contractor specializes in providing painting and decorating services for residential, commercial, and industrial properties. They are skilled in surface preparation, paint application, and finishing techniques. Here is an overview of what they do.
Here's an overview of what a C-33 contractor typically does:
A C-36 plumbing contractor specializes in the installation, repair, and maintenance of plumbing systems. Plumbing systems include water supply, drainage, and gas systems in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. There are currently 10,503 licensed plumbing contractors in California making it one of the biggest license categories in the state. Here's an overview of what a C-36 contractor typically does:
A C-27 landscaping contractor specializes in the planning, installation, and maintenance of landscaping and related outdoor features. They work on both residential and commercial projects, creating attractive and functional outdoor spaces. There are 8569 landscape contractors in California. A lanscape contractor does the following.
In California, a C-2 classification is a contractor's license designation specifically for Insulation and Acoustical contractors. A C-2 contractor specializes in insulation and acoustical work for both residential and commercial buildings. They are responsible for installing insulation materials and implementing soundproofing measures to enhance thermal efficiency and control noise within a structure. Here's an overview of what a C-2 contractor typically does:
It's important to note that while a C-2 contractor specializes in insulation and acoustical work, they may subcontract other trades for related tasks such as electrical work, carpentry, or drywall installation, depending on the specific project requirements.
A C-4 contractor specializes in the installation, repair, and maintenance of boilers, hot water heating systems, and steam-related equipment. Here's an overview of what a C-4 contractor typically does:
A C-5 contractor specializes in structural framing and rough carpentry work during the construction of buildings. They are responsible for the initial stages of construction, which involve creating the framework and structural components of a structure. Here's an overview of what a C-5 contractor typically does:
A C-20 HVAC/AC contractor specializes in the installation, repair, and maintenance of HVAC systems. Here's an overview of what a C-20 HVAC/AC contractor typically does:
The CSLB in California regulates the construction industry and issues licenses to contractors in various classifications. These classifications cover a wide range of specialties and trades, including general engineering, general building, specialty contracting, and more. Each classification represents a specific area of expertise and defines the scope of work a contractor is qualified to perform. This article provides an overview of the different CSLB licensing classifications, including examples such as insulation and acoustical contractor (C-2), roofing contractor (C-39), and ceramic and mosaic tile contractor (C-54), among many others. While the list may seem extensive, we hope this information has helped shed light on the topic, allowing you to make an informed decision if you're considering a career as a contractor in California.