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Comparing Subcontractors and Trade Partners in Remodeling

September 13th, 2023 | 4 min read

By Josh Baynes

subcontractor trade partner writing remodeling budget plan for client custom built

As you embark on your remodeling journey, you're faced with a crucial decision—choosing between subcontractors and trade partners. Perhaps you've encountered the perplexing choice of who to entrust with the specialized tasks and broader aspects of your project.

You might be grappling with questions about their roles, expertise, and the impact they'll have on your home transformation. It's a challenge that many homeowners face - seeking clarity in navigating the realm of remodeling professionals.

At Custom Built, we understand that this decision carries significant weight. With over 15 years of experience in the remodeling industry, we've guided countless homeowners through their renovation endeavors. We recognize the importance of dissecting the key differences between subcontractors and trade partners to help you make an informed choice.

In this article, we will compare subcontractors and trade partners - highlighting where their roles and expertise intersect and how they impact your remodeling experience:

Subcontractors: Specialized Expertise in Action

subcontractor installing kitchen tile during remodel custom built

Subcontractors are skilled individuals or teams hired by general contractors to complete specific tasks within a project. These tasks range from plumbing and electrical work to carpentry, roofing, painting, and more. Subcontractors are chosen based on their specialized expertise in their respective trades.

They are adept at handling particular aspects of a project with precision and efficiency. When a project requires specific technical skills or knowledge, subcontractors are brought in to ensure the work is executed to the highest standard.

Trade Partners: Collaborators for Comprehensive Solutions

trade partners working on kitchen remodel in michigan custom built

Trade partners, on the other hand, represent construction businesses with established rapport with your general contractor - offering specialized services related to various aspects of the project. These can include plumbing fixtures, lighting solutions, flooring materials, cabinetry, and more. Trade partners are chosen based on their reputation, reliability, and the quality of their offerings.

Custom Built Tip of the Day:

Subcontractors and trade partners require building licenses to operate professionally. Always verify that your prospective remodeling partner is licensed and insured before hiring them.

Comparing 5 Characteristics Between Subcontractors and Trade Partners

subcontractor trade partner installing tile during remodel custom built

1. Scope of Engagement

Subcontractors and trade partners are typically brought in to handle specific tasks within a project. Whether electrical wiring, plumbing installation, or drywall work, subcontractors excel at their trades, focusing on specialized expertise to complete their designated assignments.

2. Expertise and Focus

Both professionals are masters of their craft. They possess in-depth knowledge and experience in their specific trades, ensuring that the tasks they undertake are executed with precision and adherence to industry standards.

In essence, think of subcontractors and trade partners as wide receivers on a football team. Both have the same level of experience; however, a trade partner has been on the team for a longer period of time, meaning the coach might trust them more to lead or captain the roster.

This doesn’t mean the subcontractor is less capable of leading the team - it means they don’t have the same trust built with their coach.

3. Collaboration Dynamics

Subcontractors and trade partners primarily interact with the general contractor overseeing the project. Bringing their expertise in their respective service to the forefront, they follow the plans and directions set by the general contractor and are integral in ensuring the project's successful execution.

4. Long-Term Relationships

subcontractor trade partner reviewing project design with client custom built


Subcontractors are often selected based on their suitability for specific tasks within a project. While they may collaborate with general contractors on multiple projects, their engagement tends to be task-oriented.

Trade Partners

Trade partners often foster long-term relationships with general contractors and even homeowners. Their comprehensive solutions and dependable services make them go-to collaborators for various projects. These enduring relationships are built on mutual trust and consistent quality.

5. Project Complexity

Subcontractors and trade partners are both vital for projects that require specialized skills in specific areas. For instance, electrical work, plumbing, and roofing require expertise in their respective domains.

For instance, a kitchen remodel might involve the integration of appliances, cabinetry, countertops, and flooring—areas where each remodeling partner can provide comprehensive solutions.

Understanding these key distinctions and comparisons empowers homeowners to make informed decisions when collaborating with subcontractors and trade partners. By recognizing the nuances of their roles, areas of expertise, and interaction dynamics, homeowners can orchestrate a remodeling journey that maximizes the strengths of both parties. 

Subcontractors vs. Trade Partners: Custom Built’s Preference

custom built carpenter team member working on kitchen remodel

At Custom Built, our commitment to delivering exceptional results extends beyond just our clients; it also encompasses our collaboration with trade partners. Unlike the traditional subcontractor model, we prioritize working closely with trade partners on our projects. This approach reflects our dedication to excellence, efficiency, and ensuring that every aspect of a project is executed to the highest standards.

In essence, our preference for trade partners over subcontractors reflects our unwavering dedication to delivering the best possible outcomes for our clients. We firmly believe that by leveraging the expertise and collaborative spirit of trade partners, we can consistently achieve results that exceed expectations and create spaces that our clients love to live in.

However, while we prefer to hire trade partners for our remodeling projects, we also recognize subcontractors as talented professionals. Flexible and reliable, subcontractors are brilliant options that are still capable of bringing your design vision to life.

Next steps to hiring your remodeling partner

As you compare the key attributes of subcontractors and trade partners, remember the initial challenge that led you to seek clarity. The decision you make holds the power to shape the success and satisfaction of your remodeling journey.

By delving into the distinct roles, expertise, collaboration dynamics, and benefits of subcontractors and trade partners, you've gained a deeper understanding of their unique contributions.

This knowledge equips you to make an informed decision that aligns with your project's complexity, timeline, and desired level of involvement.

As you stand at the crossroads of choosing between subcontractors and trade partners, Custom Built is your dedicated partner, ready to guide you through this pivotal decision. With over 15 years of experience in the remodeling industry, we understand the intricate dance between subcontractors and trade partners.

Our expertise lies not only in offering top-tier craftsmanship but also in orchestrating a harmonious collaboration that maximizes the potential of both roles.

luxury home remodeling services design build firm custom built lansing michigan

Now that you know more about the differences and similarities between subcontractors and trade partners, let's discover how to vet and build a positive relationship with your contractor, as well as which remodeling partner option is right for you:

Josh Baynes