Iowa Contractor License Search

What You Should Know about Hiring a Contractor in Iowa

To practice in Iowa, contractors must register with the Division of Labor and obtain a license from relevant local authorities. There are over 70,000 licensed contractors in the state. Hiringa licensed contractor for any of your projects is wise. A licensed contractor handles any job under relevant government codes and industry standards. Also, a licensed contractor carries mandatory insurance and bonds covering damages, work-related injuries, and uncompleted works. This protects you from unforeseen financial liabilities. Ensuring your contractor is appropriately licensed will save you from falling victim to fraudulent contractors.

Besides verifying your contractor's license , you should consider the following issues when hiring contractors in Iowa:

Who Is a Contractor in Iowa?

Contractors in Iowa are individuals or businesses that provide services - often involving constructing new buildings and altering, modifying, repairing, reconstructing, demolishing, or installing new systems in existing buildings and properties - based on written or oral agreements. The Iowa Division of Labor primarily regulates these contractors, and must register with this agency if they earn $2,000 or more annually from building, construction, and home improvement-related projects. These activities typically include general contracting, plumbing, painting, electrical work, and carpentry. Nonetheless, contractors in the state can be categorized into two main classes:

  • General Contractors: this class of contractors typically manages and oversees construction and home improvement projects. They are usually the project owner's point of contact in the construction process. They are responsible for hiring subcontractors, pulling permits, and ensuring that the project is completed on time and within budget. General contractors may also provide actual construction-related services, excluding ones requiring specialty trade licenses (unless they hold these licenses). These contractors can be further sub-categorized into three groups:
    • Residential Contractors: these contractors focus on projects that involve single and multi-family buildings, apartments, condominiums, and other residential dwellings and structures.
    • Commercial Contractors: these contractors focus on commercial property projects, like office buildings, shopping malls, and hotels.
    • Industrial Contractors: these contractors focus on construction projects involving large-scale industrial facilities like factories, power plants, and refineries.
  • Specialty Contractors: this class of contractors (sometimes called Specialty Trade Contractors) specializes in and offers services on specific building, construction, and home improvement-related trades. These trades include but are not limited to, carpentry, flooring, painting, electrical work, plumbing, roofing, masonry, and HVAC system installations. In addition to contractor registration, specialty contractors like plumbers and HVACR technicians must obtain a contractor license from the Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Board. At the same time, electricians require a separate license from the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division's Electrical Bureau. General contractors may hire specialty contractors as part of a larger project (they are usually referred to as subcontractors in this scenario) or directly by a project owner for one-off tasks.

How to Search for a Contractor's License in Iowa

Contractors in Iowa who earn at least $2,000 annually must register with the state's Division of Labor; specialty contractors like electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians also require trade licenses issued by the State Fire Marshal Division's Electrical Bureau and the Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Boards.

You can use the Uhire Professional License Search to confirm whether your prospective contractor has been appropriately registered to conduct business in Iowa and verify plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work trade licenses (this tool conveniently lets you conduct these license and registration searches in a single location).

Alternatively, you can check your prospective contractor's registration using the Iowa Workforce Development's Public Search portal. The Iowa Department of Public Health also offers a search portal to verify plumbing and HVAC trade licenses. In contrast, electrical licenses can be verified via the State Fire Marshal Division's License Search portal. These portals allow you to define your searches through criteria like the contractor's business name, license or registration number, location, and primary service offered.

Penalty for Hiring a Contractor Without a License in Iowa

Although there are no statutory penalties for hiring unregistered contractors (or unlicensed specialty contractors) in Iowa, doing so has some drawbacks:

  • Unregistered contractors are usually uninsured and not bonded. This means you have no financial or legal protection if accidents and property damage happen during the project or the contractor fails to complete the job as promised.
  • Unregistered contractors often lack the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience required for the job, leading to subpar service delivery and safety hazards.
  • Unregistered contractors cannot obtain required permits from local building departments, putting your project at risk of non-compliance and even negatively impacting your property value.

Note that contractors in Iowa who ply their trade without state-mandated registration face penalties of up to $500 in fines for first offenses and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in Iowa?

Specialty contractors in Iowa charge average rates of $50 - $100 per hour for their services - their total fees per project are determined by variables like the scope and complexity of the job.

The table below provides average hourly rates for commonly requested Iowa specialty contractors (note that your location and the subcontractor's local reputation and level of experience may affect actual costs):

$65 - $120
$65 - $120
HVACR Technicians
$60 - $100
$45 - $80
$45 - $70
$50 - $105
Flooring Contractors
$40 - $80
$60 - $100
$50 - $90
$75 - $200
Interior Designers
$70 - $175
Excavation Contractors
$100 - $250
Concrete Contractors
$60 - $110
$50 - $80
Appliance Repair Technicians
$50 - $100
$50 - $100
Cleaning Services
$50 - $100
$55 - $150

You will typically need to hire two or more specialty contractors for most construction and home improvement projects. However, getting a general contractor to handle this and oversee the entire project can save you time, cost, and the stress of dealing with multiple professionals. These general contractors typically charge about 10 to 20 percent of the project's overall cost and calculate their fees using one of two methods:

  • Fixed Price Method: with this method, the contractor agrees to handle the project for a fixed amount. This approach is preferable for projects with a defined scope and set deadlines.
  • Cost Plus Fee Method: under this arrangement, the contractor bills for the l work completed on the project and adds a markup for all services provided. While this approach is preferable for large projects with unclear timelines, it is advisable to insist on a maximum price cap; this prevents overall costs from skyrocketing.

Building, construction, and home renovation projects generally cost between $100 - $400 per square foot in Iowa; the following factors determine overall costs:

  • The nature and scope of the project
  • Your location
  • Materials costs
  • Accessibility to the project site
  • Site conditions
  • The experience and local reputation of involved contractors
  • Contractor fees
  • Permit costs, labor charges, and other miscellaneous costs
  • The urgency of the project

Tips for Hiring a Contractor in Iowa

Hiring qualified contractors ensures you get the most out of your building, construction, and home improvement or repair project. However, considering that not all contractors are as knowledgeable or competent as they represent themselves to be, it is crucial to take certain precautions before hiring. The following tips can help ensure you hire professional and reliable contractors in Iowa:

  • Get a clear idea of the project and everything it entails.
  • Get bids from up to three contractors.
  • Request references (preferably local ones) from these contractors and check them.
  • Confirm your preferred contractor's registration status with the DOL. Check for valid state-issued licenses if you are hiring for electrical work and plumbing or HVAC work.
  • Contact the Iowa Attorney General's Office at (888) 777-4590 to check if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. Using the Iowa Courts online search portal, you can also check if the contractors have been sued before.
  • Get a written contract that includes project details, start and completion dates, post-cleanup responsibilities, and payment schedules.
  • Request proof of insurance and bonding.
  • Request lien waivers (this protects your property if the contractor fails to pay subcontractors and other vendors).
  • Never pay for the project's full cost upfront and limit down payments to about 10 – 30 percent of the overall project cost.
  • Avoid cash payments.
  • Ensure that the project is completed satisfactorily before making final payments.

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

Hiring an adequately insured and bonded contractor ensures that you aren't held liable for accidental property damage, work-related injuries, contractor or subcontractor mistakes, and other similar situations that may occur during the project. Insurance coverage typically protects you and your contractor from property damage, bodily injuries, and contractor errors. At the same time, bonding primarily ensures that you do not have to pay for any damages caused by the contractor's failure to complete the work as agreed.

Therefore, before hiring any contractors in Iowa, request a copy of their insurance certificate and contact their insurance provider to validate this document (and also confirm if the contractor's coverage policy will be adequate for the scope of your project). Per state law, Iowa contractors must carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees or get an exemption where applicable - always confirm that your contractor has complied with this requirement. Likewise, contractors in Iowa whose principal place of business is outside the state must file a $25,000 with the Iowa Division of Labor. Call this department at (515) 242-5871 for more information on these mandatory insurance and bond requirements.

Top Home Improvement Scams in Iowa

Home improvement scams are one of Iowa's most common consumer complaints. These scams accounted for nearly nine percent of all consumer complaints filed with the Iowa Attorney General's Office in 2022. These complaints typically involve scenarios where the contractor deliberately performs a shoddy job to get a callback or fails to complete the task despite being paid. As such, when searching for home improvement contractors in Iowa, look out for red flags like:

  • Unsolicited offers of home inspections
  • Offers of one-time-only discounts
  • Insistence on full payment upfront
  • Requests for cash payment or checks made to someone other than the contractor or their company
  • Hesitance to offer written contracts
  • High-pressure sales or scare tactics

You can significantly reduce the likelihood of falling for home improvement scams in Iowa by taking the following precautions when negotiating with contractors:

  • Be wary of contractors offering discounts or deals that require you to hire them immediately.
  • Get and compare bids for your project from several contractors. Never make impulsive hiring decisions.
  • Always check your preferred contractors' registration status with the state's Department of Labor.
  • Look up reviews on your preferred contractor online via platforms like the Better Business Bureau. You can also call the Iowa Attorney General's Office at (888) 777-4590 to check the contractor's complaint history and utilize the Iowa Courts online search portal to see if any lawsuits have been filed against them.
  • Do not pay the total cost of your home improvement project upfront, and never hire any contractor that suggests this.
  • Insist on well-detailed contracts and read these contracts carefully before signing.

How to Report Fraudulent Iowa Contractors

You can file complaints and seek remedies from dishonest and fraudulent contractors in Iowa with various agencies, depending on the nature of the issue:

The Iowa Attorney General's Office.

You can report home improvement scams and fraudulent contractors in Iowa to the state's Attorney General's Office online or by completing and mailing a Consumer Protection Complaint Form to:

Office of the Attorney General of Iowa
Consumer Protection Division
Hoover State Office Building
1305 E. Walnut Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0106

The Better Business Bureau (BBB)

Fraudulent Iowa contractors can also be reported to your local Better Business Bureau chapter; doing this helps warn fellow consumers around you about the activities of these contractors, thereby preventing them from falling victim to scams as well.

Local Police Departments

In situations where the contractor steals from you or threatens you in any way, it is advisable first to report the matter to your local police department.

The Iowa Division of Labor

In cases where an unregistered contractor is involved, you can file a complaint on the issue with the Iowa Division of Labor online (note that this agency does not have jurisdiction over monetary issues between consumers and contractors).

Civil Court

If you wish to seek financial compensation and other personal remedies from the contractor, you must file a lawsuit against them. Small claims courts are a popular option for this, as they offer a relatively simple court process (small claims can be filed without an attorney) that allows you to seek damages of up to $6,500. Note that you will be required to pay a $95 filing fee.