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There Are Builders and Then There Are Builders – But How Do You Tell the Difference?

Here are some common expressions of ‘builder’ and ‘subcontractor’ and their meanings. There’s a broad range of expressions and not all types will be working on your home. Not all types should be working on your home! Having a clear understanding about the meanings behind the terms will help you know who you’re dealing with and who to choose for your project.


  1. a collective term for anyone who works in the building industry – e.g. tiler/painter/labourer – these are workers not builders
  2. the principal contractor with a university degree in building who only ever wears a suit and a tie – professsional maybe but not a home builder
  3. someone who’s putting something together – cabinet/shed/bridge/birdcage – no, not a home builder
  4. a large company with a board of directors that does construction/remedial/civil works – professionals yes home builders no
  5. a residential building contractor (also a principal contractor) with several staff and a collection of sub-contractors specifically qualified and licensed to provide home additions/renovations/custom home building e.g. ‘Built for Living’ – yes a home builder


  1. someone performing specialist or trade work for a builder – e.g. electrician, plumber, bricklayer – they’re key in the building process but contrary to what some of them might like to have you believe, they are not builders
  2. a large firm who provides a specialist or trade service to large builders – not builders
  3. someone working full time for a subcontracting firm – either trade qualified or as a labourer – these are workers
  4. licensed specialist or trade contractor engaged by same type of firm to perform work independently on private residences/business – not builders
  5. a third party engaged by a subcontractor to perform a certain portion of works of the contract between the builder and the first subcontractor – not a builder

Specialist Trade examples

  1. Plumber/drainer/gasfitter
  2. Electrician
  3. Air-conditioning/refrigerant  installer/repairer

Note – All specialist trades must be licensed regardless of job type or size and all persons working on your home must be appropriately licensed for any work over $5000. Don’t be afraid to ask to see their licence and its currency – professionals will only be too happy to show you

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