What Certifications Do You Need to Be a Contractor

contractor in work gear shaking hands with someone

Every state has its own rules for obtaining a contractor's license, and the regulations that attend each one are as unbending as they are unending. Whether you're a handy homeowner or thinking about starting your own home improvement business, there's a veritable shopping list of things you will have to do first in order to get that contractor's license in your hand and this overview will help you get an idea of what is involved in attaining that goal successfully.

Getting your contractor's license is essential if you're at all serious about pursuing a career in the field of home construction and improvement. The state license allows the contractor to supervise construction projects on-site, bid on jobs, and best of all you are your own boss, you have the power to decide your own fate because to homeowners seeking your services it means you are a person of integrity and trustworthiness.

The last thing you ever want to do then is to burst their bubble by doing slipshod work, and rarely showing up for work when a client needs their home put back together correctly. They're far more likely to seek you out than an unlicensed individual.

contractors in safety gear discussing plans at a work site

One thing that every state can agree on is that if you are contracting without a state contractor's license you are opening yourself up to criminal and civil penalties that far outweigh the costs of doing it legally the first time and every time. Potentially you are facing stiff fines, having to serve time in jail, the possibility of having to tear down an ongoing project at your own expense, and if you're unlicensed and a client refuses to pay you for your work you might not have any legal recourse for making them live up to an unauthorized contract.

Generally speaking, a state contractor's license is required of residential contractors, commercial contractors, electricians, plumbers, DOT contractors, HVAC contractors, and mold, asbestos, or other hazardous waste contractors. Typically, these building professionals are not likely to jeopardize their futures by attempting to circumvent the rules, but there's one in every crowd so let the buyer beware, Take the time and practice your due diligence when hiring a contractor to perform work in your home.

contractors reading plans at a worksite


All 50 states do not require a would-be contractor to obtain a license through passing all manner of extensive professional competency examinations and being able to show the state board that you have practical hands-on experience in the field you're pursuing.


Some states only require you to register with them so they can keep a written record of who is making the contract, and who's doing the actual work but it doesn't certify the competence or reliability of the person or persons doing the actual work.

contractor signing legal document


Other states might require nothing more to contract your services than for you to have previously obtained a professional license from an accredited agency that oversees the certification of professional tradeswomen and tradesmen, often in specialized fields such as structural steel, plumbing, or electrical where a high degree of training, experience, and education is needed just to qualify for taking the certification tests.

If you are uncertain at all about the requirements for obtaining a contractor's license particular to the state in which you call home, here is an alphabetical listing of those requirements in each of the 50 states.