Washington State has very extensive license requirements for contractors, and we have tried compiling the most comprehensive article on the topic below. We try and keep this article as up to date as possible.
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In the State of Washington, contractors are required to register with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries to perform work statewide. As per L&I’s laws and policies, registered contractors fall under two main classes: general contractors and specialty contractors.
- General contractors are responsible for performing work for or supervising a wide range of building trades or crafts.
- Specialty contractors can perform only one construction trade or craft. The State issues 64 specialty contractor licenses (refer to WAC 296-200A-016 to get more information on all specialty trades along with relevant links for each).
Here’s a full list of the current specialty contractor licenses:
This article will be talking about the most common of these classifications, and more information can otherwise be found here.
Why you should acquire a contractor license in the State of Washington
If you want to earn a living in the construction industry, there’s no state in the U.S. that offers more robust opportunities than the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Thanks to the rapid growth of the tech industry in the state, construction projects are always in demand. As a tradesperson, it’s in your best interests to have a slice of that big pie. And the first big step in doing that is to obtain a contractor license, should the state require it.
There are many advantages to being a licensed contractor, including:
- Authority to bid on bigger and higher-paying projects
- More income opportunities
- More respect and prestige in your community
- Secure your family’s future
- Be a legal business owner of your own construction company
- Have other contractors work for you
- More flexible working hours
- Protect yourself from financial and legal liability
For homeowners: Why hire a licensed contractor
Is your kitchen in need of a major renovation? Are your pipes leaking? Did you buy an expensive jacuzzi bathtub and you want it installed in your home?
It can be tempting to do these things yourself especially if you want to cut on costs.
But here’s a word of warning: In the end, going down the cheaper route is going to cost you more.
Hiring a licensed contractor may seem expensive at first, but in the end, you’ll be getting your money’s worth. Besides, you can think of it as an investment, and considering how it will save you time, money, and trouble in the end, it’s definitely a worthy one.
Here are the main reasons why hiring a licensed contractor is always the better choice than the alternative.
You get quality service
Licensed contractors are more likely to provide you with better service. After all, they had to undergo rigorous training, countless hours of on-the-job experience, and standardized training to earn that license. When you have a licensed contractor do construction work on your property, you can rest easy that every step is done in a systematic manner. You know they’re not going to cut any corners, ensuring that your property will stay in tiptop condition over a long period of time.
They are insured and bonded
Contractors are required to meet minimum insurance/bonding requirements before obtaining a license. So when you hire a licensed contractor, that means you’re protected from any financial liabilities should injuries or property damages occur during the project.
Protects you from any legal liability
Hiring a licensed contractor ensures that you’ll get the state’s protection should there be any disputes during the project.
Contractor License Search & Lookup
Hiring an unregistered or unlicensed contractor can pose serious risks to your assets if something goes wrong during the project. To protect yourself, make sure to verify if a contractor is registered or licensed through L&I’s Verify page.
How to Register as a Contractor in the State of Washington
As is the case with most states in the U.S., registering as a contractor in Washington can be long and arduous, not to mention riddled with red-tape. As such, we’ve prepared this comprehensive guide to help you make sense of all the complex rules and formalities.
Step One: Determine the type of business you’re running
To obtain a contractor’s license that will define the terms of your business, you have to define first what type of business you’ll be running. If you’re going to operate as a Sole-Proprietor or General Partnership, skip to Step 3. If your contracting business is a Corporation, Limited Partnership (LP), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), or a Limited Liability Company (LLC), proceed with step 2.
Step Two: Register with the Washington Secretary of State
In registering with the Washington Secretary of State, you need to file Articles of Corporation (if business structure is an S-Corporation or a C-Corporation) and a Certificate of Formation (if an LLC). The fee is around $180. You can pay an additional fee to speed up your registration.
You can get access to the forms by going to the Secretary of State website.
Step Three: Apply for a state business license from the Washington Department of Licensing
The goal here is to obtain your Uniform Business Identifier number (UBI#). You also need to obtain the Business License Application form from the Department of Revenue, Employment Security, or Labor & Industries. Cost is between $19 to $24. To apply by mail, submit the application along with the supplemental forms and fees to the address indicated on the form.
You may also apply online by logging in to My DOR with your user ID. Online applications are processed within 10 business days.
To view all requirements and procedures for applying for a business license, please see the Business Licensing Wizard.
Step Four: Obtain your IRS Employer ID number (if you’re hiring employees)
You can apply for an IRS Employer ID number through the IRS website. If you want to apply over the phone, make sure that you have the following information ready:
- Social Security Number
- Your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) letter if you don’t have your Social Security Number with you
- Filing status (Single, Head of Household, Married Filing Joint or Married Filing Separate)
- Your tax return for the previous year
- A copy of your tax return
- Any letters the IRS has sent you
Step Five: Apply for Contractor Registration
To register as a contractor in the State of Washington, you need to fill out the Construction Contractor Registration form and have it signed and notarized. You can have your local L&I headquarters do the signing and notarizing for you.
You can mail the main L & I office in Washington through the following address:
Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries
P.O. Box 44000
You can contact them through:
Claims (only fax): 360-902-4567
Contractor Reg. fax: 360-902-5812
Step Six: Purchase bond and liability insurance
Do the following to buy a surety bond or assignment of account from your insurance agent:
- Pay $12,000 for a general contractor bond
- Buy a specialty contractor bond for $6,000
Do the following to obtain proof of general liability insurance coverage from your insurance agent:
- Buy $50,000 worth of property damage coverage and $200,000 worth of public liability coverage.
- Buy $250,000 worth of combined single limit coverage
Step Seven: Pay the Registration Fee
You can view all Contractor Registration and related fees here.
Step Eight: Send your application and all required documents to Labor & Industries Office (L&I)
You can expedite the process by visiting your local L&I office.
Below are the documents you need to submit:
- Completed Application for Construction Contractor Registration (signed and notarized)
- Proof of your surety bond or assignment of account signed by your insurance agency or bonding company.
- General liability insurance coverage form signed by your insurance agency.
- Registration fee payment (check or money order, Visa or Mastercard)
It is advised that you keep personal copies of the above documents.
If paying by mail, pay fees via check or money order in the amount of $113.40 to the Department of Labor & Industries.
Department of Labor & Industries
Contractor Registration Section
PO Box 44450
Olympia WA 98504-4450
If L&I approves your application, they will mail your registration to your address within 2-4 weeks. If the application is rejected, they will contact you about missing documentation within 2-4 weeks.
If you haven’t received a response in 4 weeks, you can verify the status of your application by calling L&I at 1-800-647-0982.
General Contractors License
A general contractor’s duty, as described in the L & I website, is to perform or supervise numerous building trades or crafts. In other words, a general contractor is the person who provides all the labor, tools, equipment, and services necessary for the construction of a project. Unlike specialty contractors, they are not limited to one trade or craft.
When we’ve been asked what a general contractor can do in Washington State, another question that often comes up is, “Can a general contractor do electrical work in Washington?”
The answer is a definite yes, but it requires for the contractor to also have the necessary electrical licenses. Dealing with electricity is naturally a potentially dangerous thing, and although a general contractor might be an all-rounded pro, this is simply a very specific trade. When the necessary licenses have been secured, they’re able to provide those services too.
Electrical Contractors License
There are various types of electrical licenses, with the two main ones being:
- General Electrical: A general electrical contractor is responsible for all phases of electrical and telecommunications installations under RCW 18.106.150.
- Residential. Residential electricians’ duties include the wiring of one and two-family dwellings, or multifamily dwellings not exceeding three floors above grade.
You can lookup electrical licenses for Washington State right here.
Other electrical contractor licenses include:
- Pump and Irrigation
- Domestic Well
- Limited Energy System
- HVAC/Refrigeration Limited Energy System
- Nonresidential Maintenance
- Nonresidential Lighting Maintenance and Lighting Retrofit
- Residential Maintenance
- Restricted Nonresidential Maintenance
- Appliance Repair
- Equipment Repair
- Door, gate, or similar systems
For more detailed information on each license, refer to WAC 296-46B-920.
Applicants for an electrical contractor’s license must submit the following to L&I’s Electrical Program:
- Complete application packet
- Uniform Business Identifier (UBI) number
- Proof of registration with the State of Washington Secretary of State Corporations Division
- Application fees amounting to $319.20 ($277.60 for Electrical Contractor License and $41.60 for Administrator/Master Assignment)
- Industrial Insurance Account Number (if you’re planning to hire employees, you must obtain your IIAN from the Insurance Services Division of Labor and Industries)
- Completed Application for Electrical Contractor’s License
- Completed Assignment/Unassignment of Administrator/Master Certificate form
- Electrical/Telecommunications Contractor Assignment of Savings Account (Complete form F500-020-000)
As mandated by the State of Washington’s laws, the Department of Labor & Industries can only issue you a license once you’ve passed the electrical trade exam.
You must meet the following requirements to apply for an electrical exam.
- In-State Application for Electrical Examination
- Sign the application in the Applicant Signature block
- Paid application fee of $90 via check to Department of Labor and Industries
- Completed and notarized affidavits of experience signed by an authorized representative for the electrical contractor or Training Director from an approved apprenticeship program.
To view all qualification requirements for master, journey level, and specialty electrical examinations, refer to WAC 296-46B-945.
Some important considerations before taking the exam:
- You will be required to show the exam administrator two pieces of valid photo ID before taking the exam.
- All exams are open book (original copyrighted material and a silent, non-printing, non-programmable calculator are allowed)
- Don’t bring personal notes, phones, computers, or other programmable data or telecommunication devices in the exam area.
For more information about the Electrical Exam, please view Candidate Bulletin of Information.
Plumbing Contractors License
Plumbers who wish to operate in Washington must be certified on a state level by Labor & Industries.
Labor & industries issues different kinds of plumbing certifications, including:
- Trainee plumbers
- Plumbers (Journey level, Residential, Backflow, Pump Installers)
- Medical Gas Endorsement
- Well Drillers License
You can print and fill out the Plumber Certification Application and then send it by mail to the L&I office.
You can mail your application requirements to:
Department of Labor & Industries
Plumber Certification Section
PO Box 44470
Olympia, WA 98504-4470
Continuing Education Requirements
Each contractor who is certified by the L&I office is required to meet continuing education requirements to get their licenses renewed every two years.
All Journeymen and Residential Specialty plumbers must complete 16 hours of continuing education within a two-year renewal cycle. Plumber trainees need to complete 8 hours every year.
Domestic Pump and Pump and Irrigation plumbers are required to complete 24 hours of continuing education, with at least 12 credits of plumbing or combination classes every three years.
While Backflow Specialty plumbers are not required to undergo continuing education classes, they need to maintain an active BAT for their license to be renewed.
For more information on renewal cycles for each designation, click this link.
Roofing Contractors Registration
A roofing contractor installs and repairs materials meant to keep roofs and decks weather-resistant and water-tight. Roofers work with materials such as “asphaltum, pitch, tar, felt, glass fabric, urethane foam, metal roofing systems, flax, shakes, shingles, roof tile, slate or any other roofing, waterproofing, weatherproofing or membrane materials or a combination thereof.”
Roofers are not required to obtain a state license from the L&I office. However, since roofing counts as a specialty trade, roofers have to register with the L&I office and secure a bond with the state before they can perform work in the state capital. To register as a roofing contractor in Washington, you have to follow the regular registration procedures enumerated in Section 4 of this guide.
Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) Contractors Registration
As stated in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-200A-016, an HVAC/R contractor specializes in fabricating, installing, and maintaining equipment “for the purpose of heating and cooling of indoor air.” Performing this trade may require electrical licensing as mentioned in chapter 19.28 RCW and/or plumber certification as per 18.106 RCW.
HVAC/R falls under the specialty contractor classification as per the State of Washington’s Contractor Registration Laws. As such, HVAC/R contractors are not required to obtain a state license but will need to register with L&I before receiving the authorization to perform their trade statewide. You need to secure a bond and a liability insurance policy to register as a contractor in the state of Washington.
Painting and Wall Covering Contractor’s License
Painting and wall covering contractors who wish to perform work in the State of Washington are required to register with the WA Secretary of State under the specialty contractors classification.
As defined in WAC 296-200A-016, painting and wall covering specialty contractors are authorized to engage in the different activities that would traditionally be required for their trade including working with the common materials that provide both decorative and protective properties.
This also covers the installation of wall and surface covering, including staining, adhesives, wall paper, paint, textures and other things used for the previously described purposes. Painting surfaces traditionally requires preparation of the relevant surfaces such as pressure washing, sandblasting, caulking and other activities intended for cleaning the relevant space, and the license also permits those relevant activities.
Landscaping Contractors License
Do you want to perform landscaping work in Washington as a licensed contractor? If yes, then you must register with the WA Secretary of State under the specialty contractor classification.
As described in WAC 296-200A-016, a landscape contractor can repair, maintain, create all the different systems and facilities for both residential, commercial and public landscapes and gardens. The scope of those projects include ones that functionally serve to aesthetically, horticulturally improve the space as well as its function. This is everything from working on the topsoil, the installation of walkways, and other related activities.The State of Washington has a robust and helpful community of landscaping professionals led by none other than WALP (Washington Association of Landscape Professionals). By becoming a member, you can join the non-profit organization’s community-driven activities, allowing you to make valuable career connections and beneficial trade tips and advice.
As is the case with the roofing trade, it is recommended that you check with your local authority to see if you will be required to obtain a permit or a city license to perform your trade within your locale.
City of Seattle
Do you want to perform work as a tradesman in the City of Seattle? As established, you need to register with the State of Washington before performing your trade anywhere in the city, including Seattle. Depending on the scope of the project, you may be required to obtain a permit from the local government before rendering your services in the city.
The City of Seattle, through the Department of Construction & Inspections, issues the following permit types:
- Construction Permit – Addition or Alteration
- Construction Permit – New Building, Single-Family Residential or Duplex
- Electrical Permit
- Mechanical Permit
- New buildings, single-family residential or duplex
- Additions or alterations
- Demolition of buildings or structures
- A change of use or occupancy
- Construction work within Environmentally Critical Areas (ECA)
The Seattle Department of Constructions & Inspections may issue fines ($500 per day) or penalties if you proceed with any of the construction activities above without a permit.
You can contact the Department through:
Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
700 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 615-0808
Phone and Office Hours
- M, Th, F: 8:00 a.m – 4:30 p.m
- T, W: 10:00 – 4:30 p.m.
To apply for a permit online, visit the Seattle Services Portal.
Don’t know whether your construction project requires a permit? Please visit the Applicant Services Center and seek assistance from a permit specialist.
Make sure to prepare the following:
- The address of the project site
- Sketches showing the property’s structures along with dimensions and distances to property lines
- A proposal for your project
Please note that your project must comply with all code requirements and development standards even if a permit is not required. To get more information about all available permits, visit the Permit Types page.
You must obtain an electrical permit to perform electrical work that involves the installation, alteration, extension or repair to any electrical equipment, including signs. Special events with temporary power installations also require an electrical permit. Only applicants who have a Washington State electrical contractor’s license and a Seattle business license are eligible to apply for an electrical permit.
Seattle Electrical Code Links
Fee Reference Links
Steps to Obtain an Electrical Permit
- Determine requirements for permitting and plan review. Check the Seattle Electrical Code Article 80 (80.50 and 80.51 to be exact) to see if you will be required to obtain a permit.
- Submit your application. You can apply online if your permit doesn’t require a plan review. If a plan review is needed, you can send your application electronically through the Seattle Services Portal by selecting the Permit – Trade, Construction, and Land Use link and then choosing the appropriate electrical permit.
- Obtain permit. You can print your permit immediately if a plan review is not required.
- Schedule inspections. You can schedule an inspection online or by calling the Department of Construction & Inspections at (206) 684-8950. For a comprehensive guide on how to schedule an inspection, please visit this link.
Same Day Processing
Applicants can receive their electrical permits on the same day. It may take a few weeks if the permit requires a plan review or if there are many plans in the review queue.
You need to obtain a mechanical permit if the scope of your work involves the installation of new mechanical equipment such as heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and kitchen food exhaust systems.
You can get a mechanical permit along with a construction permit or separately.
You will need a business license if the project is in Seattle.
Steps to Obtain a Mechanical Permit
- Get your property information.
- Start permit application. Submit the Building & Land Use Pre-application online via the Seattle Services Portal.
- Submit your plans. Prepare a mechanical plan coversheet, vicinity map, site plan, and plans and elevations.
- Get your permit. Pay final fees, print the permit and then display it on a visible location on the project site.
- Schedule an inspection. Visit the mechanical inspections page to schedule an inspection appointment.
You’ll be charged a review fee of $216 per hour. Permit fees will depend on the value of the construction project. An additional fire review fee for kitchen food exhaust systems will also be collected.
For the complete list, visit the 2018 Fee Subtitle.
The City of Seattle issues trade licenses to contractors working in the following trades (click on the links to access requirements):
Training and Classes
You can give yourself an advantage when taking the exam by attending training classes from the following approved locations.
- Georgetown Tech
- Ted Carroll Boiler Licensing
3000 NE 4th St, Renton, WA 98056-4195
2201 S 78th St, Tacoma, WA 98409-5847
6624 S. 196th St. STE U-100, Kent, WA 98032
Procedures on How to Obtain Your License
- Read up on the licensing laws related to your trade.
- Review licensing requirements specific to your trade.
- Submit your application
- Schedule and complete the trade exam
- Pay for your license
Contractors who wish to perform work in the State of Washington also need to check the city requirements of the locale where the project will be conducted. You will be required to present your Business License Application to apply for city licenses and registrations.
To access forms you need to fill out in your city license application, select the relevant city in the list below:
Steps on how to apply for a city license
Apply using one of the following options:
Online application via My DOR
- Login to MY DOR using your SAW (Secure Access Washington) user ID.
- Go to the Business Licensing and Tax service and then click Getting Started,
- File New Business License Application
Acceptable payment options include E-checks or major credit cards.
Application via mail
Submit the appropriate fees along with the following completed forms:
You can mail your application along with the fees (payable to “Department of Revenue”) to:
State of Washington
Business Licensing Service
PO Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034
You can contact them through:
State of Washington
Business Licensing Service
PO Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034
Email: [email protected]
Office hours are from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
|Spokane general business license||$113|
|Spokane nonprofit business license*||$56.50|
|Other fees that may apply||Fee|
|Spokane charges fee for employees||Various|
|State tax registration||No fee|
|Registering your business name as trade name||$5|
|Business License Application Fee||$19 (non-refundable)|
Out-of-state businesses are required to file a Business License Application with the Business Licensing Service before operating in the State of Washington.
For more information, go to this helpful out-of-business guide from the Department of Revenue website.