By Wayne Barber — Quality Control Manager — Skye Builders, Inc.
A Builders’ license is essentially a license for new construction. A Home Improvement license is a license to remodel and improve an existing home. While new construction and remodeling have some things in common, they are actually quite different. Remodeling contractors usually work on a house where people are living, and they need to concern themselves with the safety and well being of the homeowner’s family, pets, and furnishings. They need to know about any possibly hazardous materials in the house such as lead paint or asbestos and how to handle them safely. Builders on the other hand work with volume and may build 20 houses at one time – in assembly line fashion. They start with a large parcel of land, and have an excavation team come in and dig twenty holes, then concrete people come in and lay all the foundations, frame carpentry crews come in to frame the twenty structures, and so on until all the plumbers, electricians, carpet layers landscapers, trim carpenters, and anyone else involved have done their individual parts, and 20 houses are completed almost simultaneously.
I took the Builders Technical Examination for the Virginia Class A Contractors License today. Now Skye Builders will be qualified to build new houses in Virginia.
Qualifying to build new houses in Virginia, however, is not why I took the test.
We have a Contractor’s home improvement license in both Maryland and Virginia, and have been doing home improvement in both states for many years. Unlike in Maryland, where you take a home improvement test which pretty much qualifies you to build anything you want, Virginia has several tiers of Contractors’ licenses.
Class C license is needed for projects that do not exceed $7,500.
Class B license is needed for projects that do not exceed $120,000. The contractor must have a minimum of 3 years experience and provide the names and contract information of 3 people who can attest that the contractor has satisfactory completed building projects.
Class A license is needed for projects that exceed $120,000. The contractor must have a minimum of 5 years experience and provide the names and contract information of 3 people who can attest that the contractor has satisfactory completed building projects.
Since we started out building decks, installing replacement windows, vinyl siding, and sunroom additions, most of our jobs were less than $120,000, so we began with a Class B license, but we quickly upgraded to Class A when we decided to take on an addition that exceeded that amount.
With Class A license in hand, we thought we were set to build pretty much anything we wanted, but it turned out that was not the case. We soon noticed that Fairfax County, when we would apply for a permit to build anything more than a simple deck, asked for a Builders’ license. We were able to get around the Builders’ license requirement by asking our customer for an Affidavit of Permit Authorization. This affidavit, which must be notarized, states that the Homeowner is aware that Skye Builders is not a licensed contractor (we are, of course) but authorizes us to obtain a permit in the Homeowner’s name and the Homeowner agrees to take full responsibility for the work performed.
Since it is awkward and embarrassing to ask a customer to sign an affidavit such as this – and we don’t think it’s right for a customer who is paying us to build something to have to take responsibility for our work, we decided to build only decks in Fairfax County until such time they would come to their senses and realize that it was ridiculous and excessive to require a Builders’ license along with the Home Improvement license to build something such as a screened-in porch.
But that has not happened. In fact, Arlington County has followed Fairfax County’s lead, and now requires a Builders’ license for most improvements, as well. Incidentally, Fairfax and Arlington Counties are the only two counties in the nation that interprets the International Residential Code so as to require this.
So we bit the bullet, took the plunge, I took and passed the exam for our builders’ license. Now we can build custom sunrooms and custom additions in Fairfax and Arlington County.
It’s unlikely that Skye Builders will begin building new homes in Virginia any time soon. But we could if we wanted.