Residential and Commercial Painting Contractors–Are They Different?

Residential and Commercial Painting Contractors–Are They Different?

While the location of the business has a great deal to play into the market focus of the painting contractor—that is to say, smaller geographical areas will necessitate contractors be multi-disciplined, there are distinctions to be made between the residential and commercial painting business.

The first is just that: is it a legitimate business?

As is common in many of the trades, many painting companies are not businesses per se; instead, rather, they are individuals engaged in the painting trade. Some might refer to them as ‘one-or-two-man shops.’ A major difference between the residential and commercial contractor is their business designation—they have a business address, are registered with the state as a bonafide entity (e.g., LLC, S-corp, etc.), and have employees. They are distinguished by having a quality website, uniforms, and labeled vehicles.

Let me say this about employees: companies who have persons working for them, who exercise control over what they do, how they do it, and when, are required to treat them as employees—not independent contractors. While the latter is a practice rampant among some trades, the IRS says if you control your workers, they are employees. You are responsible to pay them overtime if they work it, withhold and pay their taxes, and properly insure them.

Another feature of legitimate businesses is their affiliation. Membership in the local and state chambers of commerce is a good indicator that you are dealing with a business and not an individual. Memberships in trade associations are telling also. For painting contractors these might be The Painting Contractors of America (PCA), or The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

Another distinction is this: a safety program.

Since safety is paramount in any market sector, commercial contractors are more likely to have a detailed safety program and provide safety training to their employees. The painting business can be very hazardous; painters work with dangerous equipment and oftentimes hazardous materials. Both can put at risk both the company and the end-user. Moral of story: make sure the contractor you use, residential or commercial, has a viable safety program.


A contractor that is fully insured is vital to the end-user, and while all painters should carry insurance, not all do. General liability, auto, and worker’s compensation are not only required, but offer protection to both the contractor and their employees—plus the entity receiving their services.

Legal compliance.

The painting trade, like everything else, is highly regulated. While licensing is no longer required by the State of Michigan, there are DNR, EPA, and MIOSHA requirements that a contractor must know and abide by. In general, the commercial contractor is more likely to comply with these requirements.

Size and scope of projects.

Whereas there are, of course, smaller commercial jobs just as there are residential ones, the commercial contractor is more geared toward larger and more complicated projects. This means they must be knowledgeable as to staging and sequencing this kind of work as well as staffing it. Again, speaking generally, the commercial painting company is typically larger and able to accommodate more customers and projects than the residential contractor.

Longevity and reputation.

Finally, a major distinction between residential and commercial painting contractors is duration. Whereas many smaller companies come and go, commercial contractors—because they tend to be more bonafide businesses—generally are around much longer. They develop a reputation; and if they have served their customers well, it is a good one.

While these differences are not exhaustive, they do give you a good idea of what distinguishes commercial painting companies from residential contractors.

If you're looking to have your commercial property painted, make sure you choose the right painting contractor for the job. T. L. Hart has been in the business of painting since 1985. We have completed thousands of projects large and small all over Michigan as well as in other parts of the U.S. Contact us now to get a quote.

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