Wisconsin Contractor License Search

What You Should Know about Hiring a Contractor in Wisconsin

Over 30,000 licensed contractors are active and available for hire in Wisconsin. However, before you hire anyone claiming to be a contractor in Wisconsin, you should check their credentials with the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to be sure they are appropriately licensed. Verifying your contractor's license will save you from ending up with the following:

  • Fraudulent contractors who can disappear with your money
  • Unverified contractors who can put your family's safety at risk
  • Unlicensed contractors who cannot complete your work per relevant local codes and industry standards.

Also, note that licensed contractors in Wisconsin are mandated to carry bonds and Insurance plans that cover them and their clients in case of any work-related accident. Besides verifying your contractor's license, you should consider the following issues before hiring a contractor in the state:

Who Is a Contractor in Wisconsin?

Contractors are individuals or businesses that offer services based on a written or oral agreement. These contractors must obtain both a business and occupational license from the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) before providing services to members of the public. These licenses are mandatory for all contractors except HVAC contractors, who are required to register with the DSPS instead. Contractors in Wisconsin are into two main categories:

  • General Contractors: These contractors manage construction and property improvement projects. They serve as the project owner's primary point of contact and coordinate the work of specialty contractors involved in the projects. In Wisconsin, there is no specific license for general contractors. Instead, those who perform the usual responsibilities of a general contractor must have a Dwelling Contractor License issued by the DSPS. To obtain this license, you must first get a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier License, which requires a Qualifier Certification.
  • Specialty Contractors: These contractors specialize in specific construction and home improvement tasks such as plumbing, HVAC (heating, cooling, ventilation, and air conditioning) work, electrical work, painting, masonry, and roofing. A general contractor usually employs specialty contractors to perform a specific task or provide a particular service related to the construction project. However, hiring a specialty contractor directly for projects that involve a single job is possible. Wisconsin specialty contractors are required to obtain occupation-specific licenses from the DSPS. Specialty contractors working on one or two-family dwellings must also obtain a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier license from the DSPS.

How to Search for a Contractor's License in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) issues business and occupational licenses to qualified contractors in the state. You can verify whether your prospective contractor has a valid DSPS-issued license using the Uhire professional license search or the credential/license search portal (these tools let you conduct searches via the contractor's personal name, business name, or license number).

Penalty for Hiring a Contractor Without a License in Wisconsin

Although there are no specific penalties in Wisconsin for hiring unlicensed contractors, it could reduce your chances of receiving proper compensation if the contractor fails to fulfill the terms of your agreement. In addition, you may be unable to complete the project as unlicensed contractors cannot pull required permits from local building departments.

Note that contracting without the appropriate contractor license from the DSPS can attract several administrative penalties, including monetary fines of up to $2,000.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin specialty contractors typically charge between $17 - $100 per hour for their services, which is determined by the complexity and labor intensity of the tasks they are hired for.

The table below provides average hourly rates for commonly requested specialty contractors in Wisconsin (note that factors like your location and the contractor's local reputation may influence actual costs):

$33 - $125
$34 - $125
HVACR Technicians
$30- $120
$26 - $80
$23 - $75
$22 - $110
Flooring Contractors
$23 - $80
$21 - $120
$25 - $95
$27 - $200
Interior Designers
$25- $185
Excavation Contractors
$36 - $250
Concrete Contractors
$35 - $120
$19 - $75
Appliance Repair Technicians
$26 - $100
$28 - $105
Cleaning Services
$20 - $100
$25 - $150

When undertaking a residential or commercial project, it is common to require the services of multiple specialty contractors. However, managing several professionals can become both time-consuming and costly. Hiring a general contractor who can oversee the entire project is recommended to make things easier for you. Note that the project's overall cost typically determines general contractor fees. However, these fees usually fall within 10 to 20 percent of the project's total value and are calculated using the following methods:

  • Fixed Price Method: here, the contractor agrees to complete the project for a predetermined fee. This method suits projects with a well-defined scope and a fixed timeframe.
  • Cost Plus Fee Method: here, the contractor bills for the work completed on the project, along with markup for any services provided. This approach is best suited for larger projects that have uncertain timelines. We recommend requesting a guaranteed maximum price to prevent costs from escalating.

Generally, construction and home remodeling projects in Wisconsin can cost you anywhere from $150 - $450 per square foot, with overall costs determined by factors like:

  • The nature and scope of the project
  • The cost of required materials
  • Your location
  • Accessibility to the project site and site conditions
  • Contractor charges
  • The reputation and experience of involved contractors
  • The urgency of required services
  • Permit costs, labor fees, and other miscellaneous expenses

Tips for Hiring a Contractor in Wisconsin

Make no mistake, no matter the type or size of the work involved, construction projects can be frustrating if you hire a bad contractor. To ensure you do not end up with a bad contractor, consider the following tips before hiring anyone in Wisconsin:

  • Get referrals from friends and family members.
  • Get and compare bids for your project from different contractors.
  • Ask each bidder for references and check them.
  • Make sure the DSPS licenses the contractor you wish to hire. You can confirm your contractor's license status using the DSPS credential/license search portal.
  • Make sure the contractor is insured and bonded.
  • Request a written contract, including all project expectations and agreements. Make sure you review and understand the contract before signing. Ask the contractor for a 'notice' of consumer right to receive lien waivers before signing the contract. In Wisconsin, a contractor may request lien waivers from contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers at or before a payment is made on the project.
  • Avoid making full payment for the project upfront.
  • Always ensure the project is complete before making the final payment.
  • Avoid cash payments.
  • Keep copies of all documentation (like receipts, invoices, warranties, and contracts) related to the project.

Is Your Contractor Insured and Bonded as Required by Wisconsin Statutes?

Per the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) requirements, Wisconsin contractors must carry unemployment and workers' compensation insurance. Dwelling contractors must also obtain a $25,000 surety bond and carry liability insurance of $250,000 per bodily injury or property damage occurrence.

We recommend checking your prospective contractor's insurance and bond status to avoid any financial or legal responsibility in case of unforeseen events during your project, such as bodily injury, accidental property damage, or contractor errors. Note that insurance and bonding offer distinct forms of protection. Generally, insurance safeguards both the project owner and contractor by preventing the former from paying for any accidents or injuries out of their pocket. On the other hand, bonds mainly protect project owners and ensure they are not responsible for any damages resulting from the contractor's inability to fulfill their promised duties.

You can contact the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services at (608) 266-2112 or (877) 617-1565 to confirm your prospective contractor's insurance policies are on file.

Top Contractor Scams in Wisconsin

Contractor scams are a significant concern in Wisconsin, affecting 1.8 out of every 10,000 homeowners annually. In 2021 alone, citizens of Wisconsin lost over $200,000 to home improvement scammers.

Some common tactics that fraudulent contractors use to scam Californian homeowners include:

  • Going door-to-door soliciting for work at a discounted rate
  • Offering free home inspections with the intent of "discovering" problems that need urgent work
  • Using high-pressure sales and scare tactics to get homeowners to sign up for services without doing your due diligence
  • Deliberately inflating the cost of required materials for the project
  • Insisting on complete or large upfront payments and insisting on cash
  • Downplaying the importance of written contracts
  • Offering contracts with malicious clauses or blank spaces that can be filled in later

You can avoid these scams by taking the following actions before committing to contractors:

  • Do not hire unsolicited contractors and home improvement services
  • Always hire appropriately licensed contractors
  • Get and compare quotes for your project from several contractors
  • Always do your due diligence on prospective contractors. Find out if there are complaints against the contractor.
  • Make sure the contractor is adequately insured and bonded
  • Request written contracts and review these contracts carefully before signing
  • Do not sign any documents you do not clearly understand
  • Request lien waivers from your general contractor and all involved subcontractors
  • Avoid cash payments

How to Report Fraudulent Wisconsin Contractors

You can report contractor scams and seek remedies against fraudulent contractors in Wisconsin through several agencies, depending on the nature of the case.

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS)

For contractors working without a license, working without adequate workers' compensation insurance, or not fulfilling the terms of a construction agreement, you can file a complaint with the DSPS online or by completing and mailing a complaint form to:

Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
Division of Legal Services and Compliance
P.O. Box 7190
Madison, WI 53707-7190

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

For cases of uncompleted projects, excessive charges, and deceptive practices, you should contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection online by calling (800) 422-7128 or by completing and mailing a home improvement complaint form to:

Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
Bureau of Consumer Protection
P.O. Box 8911
Madison, WI 53708-8911

Small Claims Court

Any individual in Wisconsin may sue in a small claims court. You can file a small claims case against any contractor that fails to meet the terms of the project agreement. Note you can only file cases worth $10,000 or less. You can contact the Clerk of Courts in your county for more information about small claims cases.

Better Business Bureau (BBB)

If you suspect a contractor scam, you can report the incident to your area's Better Business Bureau chapter. The BBB accepts complaints against contractors and allows individuals to share their experiences and warn others about misleading advertisements.

The Police Department

Alternatively, if a contractor threatens you, make sure you report the matter to your local police department as soon as possible.

Cities in Wisconsin