Whether you’re a contractor or a homeowner hiring a local tradesman, you should know the licensing requirements for your state.
Otherwise, you could face fines, removal of your project without compensation, or a dangerous situation at your home. These consequences are usually cheaper than the cost of a permit, which qualified pros aren’t likely to forget. Contractors can face jail time, and unlicensed pros may not have any legal recourse if their client refuses to pay.
In general, licenses are required for:
Water and Gas Plumbers
Mold, Asbestos, hazardous waste remediation services
Department of Transportation (road work)
Licensed vs. Registered vs. Certified
Some states require contractor licensing while others require registration or certification. While there are some differences between the three, the exact definitions typically vary by state. This overview should shed some light on the usual differences:
Licensing involves passing exams and meeting certain criteria to prove reasonable competency in a trade.
Registration is a written record of who is performing the work. It doesn’t guarantee expertise or competency.
Certification is usually voluntary, but some states may require it for certain jobs or practices. It can be obtained in place of a license in some states, or in addition to licensure.
Alabama requires a license for general contractors and subcontractors if the project cost, including labor, is at least $50,000 for commercial and industrial jobs, $10,000 for residential jobs and $5,000 for swimming pools.
Alaska requires a separate license for commercial and residential contractors. Residential pros need to complete the Alaska Craftsman Home Program or post-secondary course in Arctic engineering, followed by an Endorsement Application for Residential Construction. Non-residential workers do not need to take an exam.
Plumbers, electricians and those who work with asbestos abatement, hazardous paint, boilers and explosives must also have a Certificate of Fitness for the Trades.
Arizona has separate licenses for commercial and residential work, and also has dual licensing to cover both. Houses, townhomes, condos, cooperative units and apartments with four units or fewer all fall under residential construction. A license is necessary to bid on jobs of $750 or more.
A contractor will need a license to work if the job, including labor and material, exceeds $2,000. Subcontractors working for a licensed pro do not need their own. However, if the general contractor does not have a license, then the subcontractor must obtain one. A homeowner in Arkansas doesn’t need licensure to do the work himself or herself.
In general, California requires a license for jobs exceeding $500 whether on a single project or on multiple projects totaling this amount. Pros may need to take an examination for licensure depending on their status.
The state of Colorado does not license general contractors. Instead, general contractors receive licensure on the city or county level. Some specialty workers, like electricians and plumbers, do need a state-level license.
Contractors must obtain a business license, but not every pro needs a contractor’s license. Always check local regulations.
Connecticut differentiates between “major contractors” and “minor contractors”. A major contractor has license to work on institutional residences (care homes, jails, etc.), hotels/motels, multi-family residences and other large sites. A minor contractor can work on private homes and small multi-family units.
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Florida has two license types: registered and certified. A registered pro can work at the local level, while a certified one can take work anywhere in the state. Irrigation contracting is a specialty license and requires that specific one.
Georgia requires a license for work on single-family or two-family homes, or single-family townhomes less than four stories tall, and for projects exceeding $2,500. Pros must also pass a Business and Law exam, as well as a licensure exam.
Hawaii requires a licensed pro for jobs exceeding $1,000 and/or builds or renovations that require permits. The state classifies skilled professionals as general engineering contractors, general building contractors and specialty contractors.
Idaho doesn’t license general contractors at the state level. However, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, well drillers, fire sprinkler systems and public works pros are licensed by the state. General contractors should ask their city or county.
Aside from plumbing and roofing, the state of Illinois doesn’t issue contractor licenses. Check requirements for other construction projects and pros at the local level.
All construction contractors in Iowa must register with the Iowa Division of Labor if their work will earn $2,000 or more for that year. “Construction” includes new construction, building alterations and home improvement projects. Trade-specific professions require individual licensing.
Kansas only licenses water well drillers and asbestos abatement contractors. All other trades are handled at the local level.
For more information, check individual city and county websites.
Kentucky only licenses electrical, plumbing, and HVAC pros. A homeowner can perform his or her own plumbing work with the proper permits. For safety’s sake, HVAC and electrical work requires licensure. Kentucky has some electrical contractor reciprocity agreements with other states, including Ohio, Louisiana, West Virginia and Virginia.
Louisiana building contractors must have licenses to work on projects that cost more than $7,500. If construction exceeds $75,000, they must obtain a residential license. Mold remediation requires licensure at any cost.
Maine only licenses plumbing, electrical and asbestos abatement pros. Although general contractors do not need one to perform work, they likely still need a business license to operate.
Maryland licenses plumbers (including gas fitters), electricians, HVAC and home improvement contractors. They must have one from the Maryland Home Improvement Commission.
Massachusetts requires general contractors to acquire their Construction Supervisor license through the Office of Public Safety and Inspections. Home improvement pros must go through the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. There are additional ones required for specialty trades, like plumbing and electrical work.
Michigan requires pros to hold licenses. They classify pros under residential building, maintenance and alteration, electrical, boiler, mechanical, plumbing and elevator professionals. The Bureau of Construction Codes is in charge of licensing.
Minnesota states that residential roofers, remodelers and builders should have licenses if their gross receipts exceed $15,000. The Plumbing Board of Minnesota licenses plumbers, while the Board of Electricity licenses electricians. HVAC professionals must look locally for licenses.
Mississippi requires a license for everything but very small projects. They classify licensure by building construction, electrical, highway street and bridge construction, heavy construction, mechanic and municipal, and public works. Some classifications require additional steps, like taking an exam, to obtain.
Missouri gives out licensing at the municipal level, and professionals must hold a license in each municipality they plan to work in. Missouri divides licensing into different classifications including electrical, plumbing, roofing and general contracting.
In Montana, all construction pros with employees must register with the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. Those without employees can register as independent contractors. Electricians and plumbers must be licensed regardless of number of employees.
The Nebraska Contractor Registration Act states that contractors and subcontractors in Nebraska must register with the Department of Labor. Those with employees must also provide the Department of Labor with a Workers’ Compensation Certificate of Insurance.
Nevada requires most professionals to have a license to perform work. However, residential property owners and some jobs that cost less than $1,000 are exceptions to the rule.
New Hampshire only licenses asbestos and lead abatement contractors, plumbers and electricians. For electrical work, requirements are determined by the type of circuit. Signaling circuits such as fire alarms do not require a license for installation. Circuits for heat, light or power do require a license.
New Jersey home builders and home repair professionals must be registered with the state through the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Electricians, plumbers and home improvement pros need to obtain licenses. Home repair contractors dealing in cash payments over a period of less than 90 days do not need one.
Pros in New Mexico need to get a license from the board before beginning any major construction work. There are about 100 different classifications found in the New Mexico Administrative Code, Title 14, Chapter 6.
In New York, asbestos abatement pros and crane operators are the only contractors that receive licenses on a state-level through the New York State Department of Labor. All others are handled at the local level.
License search available at the local level.
North Carolina requires a general contractor’s license for jobs costing $30,000 or more. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC and fire sprinkler professionals also need one.
North Dakota requires a license for any job costing $4,000 or more. Electricians and plumbers require different kinds.
Cities and towns license general pros in Ohio. Electrical, plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration and hydronics professionals are licensed at the state level regardless of contract.
Oklahoma licenses plumbers, electricians and mechanical (HVAC) professionals. General contractors can obtain them at the city or county level.
Oregon requires a license for anyone performing construction activity for compensation. There are some exceptions for projects like gutter cleaning, power washing for the purpose of cleaning or debris clean up.
Research licenses at the local level.
Rhode Island requires registration with the Contractor’s Registration and Licensing Board for commercial construction, home constructions, alterations, remodeling or repair to residents. Electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists must obtain specific licenses.
South Carolina licenses general and mechanical experts to perform commercial, industrial and residential work. Professionals who only work in residential can contact the Residential Builder’s Commission. Residential contractors must pass an exam.
South Dakota only licenses plumbers, electricians and asbestos abatement specialists. General contractors are licensed at the local level.
Tennessee requires a contractor license prior to bidding on jobs exceeding $25,000. Projects less than $25,000 also require one if they involve home improvement, electricians, plumbers or HVAC.
Only specialty contractors, including HVAC, fire sprinkler systems, plumbing and well drilling/pump installation specialists, need a state-level license in Texas. General contractors can obtain one at their local municipality.
Utah requires that all professionals obtain licenses at the state level. There are over 50 classifications, including general building contractor, residential electrical contractor, residential master plumber and specialty contractor.
General contractors and home improvement professionals must act and receive credentials according to local law in the State of Vermont. Plumbing, HVAC and electrical specialists are licensed at the state level.
Virginia requires tradesman licenses for electrical, plumbing, HVAC and all gas fitting. The Virginia Board for Contractors licenses work at three levels. Applicants need to complete eight hours of pre-license education before they may receive one.
In Washington, both general and specialty pros must register with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. General contractors can do work on several kinds of projects, while specialists can do work on only one kind of building trade.
In Washington DC, general contractors and construction managers must apply for a license through the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. There are several different classifications divided by how extensive the work is. Specialists like asbestos removal workers also need licensure.
West Virginia requires licenses for contractors and subcontractors performing work that costs $2,500 or more. Plumbers and HVAC experts need separate certification.
Wisconsin issues Dwelling Contractor Qualifier certifications to those working as individual contractors, and additional Dwelling Contractor Licenses for those who will pull permits for projects. Plumbing, electrical, HVAC, roofing, asbestos and lead experts all have separate licenses and certifications to apply for.
Electricians are the only pros licensed at the state level in Wyoming. All other licensing is done at the local level. Check licenses with your local municipality.