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What Exactly Is a Construction Bond?

Micke Paqvalén
12 December, 2023

It’s no secret that construction is not for the faint-hearted - there are a lot of things that can go wrong at every stage. 

Clients often know this almost as much as builders and contractors, and for this reason, they are eager to put guarantees in place to protect themselves and investors. Enter the construction bond, also known as contractor bonding.

Although they can come in many shapes and sizes, construction bonds are essentially financial guarantees (from the contractors) that are included in construction contracts to ensure all contractual obligations are met.

 

What Is the Primary Purpose of a Construction Bond?

More concrete than construction cost estimates, construction bonds serve as a financial safeguard for construction projects, providing assurance to project owners, investors, and subcontractors that the project will be completed as per the agreed terms and conditions.

The primary purpose of a construction bond is to mitigate financial risk and ensure that the project is executed in a manner that meets all contractual obligations. These bonds create a binding agreement between the project owner (obligee), the contractor (principal), and the surety (the company or individual providing the bond).

A construction bond essentially means that the contractor agrees to financial penalties should they fail to fulfill a contract.

The 3 Main Types of Construction Bonds

With the preconstruction process complete, there are three main types of construction bonds you may need to add to a construction contract:

  1. The Bid Bond is typically required during the bidding process to ensure that the contractor submitting the bid will enter into the contract at the price quoted and will provide the necessary performance and payment bonds. If the contractor fails to do so, the bond pays the difference between their bid and the next lowest bidder, allowing the project owner to continue without financial losses.
  2. The Performance Bond guarantees that the contractor will complete the project according to the contract terms and specifications. If the contractor fails to meet these obligations, the project owner can make a claim against a bond to cover the costs of hiring another contractor to complete the work.
  3. The Payment Bond: Payment bonds ensure that the contractor will pay all subcontractors, suppliers, and laborers involved in the project. This protects these parties from non-payment and allows them to make claims on the bond if they are not compensated as agreed.

The difference between performance and payment bonds is that payment bonds primarily protect subcontractors and suppliers involved in the project, whereas performance bonds protect the client. 

What Other Construction Bonds Are There?

Maintenance or warranty bonds

A maintenance or warranty bond provides a guarantee for the quality and upkeep of a completed construction project. They're mainly designed to protect the client or a local jurisdiction by ensuring that the contractor will rectify any defects or issues that arise during a specified time period. 

If repairs or replacements become necessary within this timeframe and the contractor fails to complete the required work, the project owner or the jurisdiction will initiate a claim with the bonding company to recover any expenses that have accrued.

Mechanics lien bonds

Also known as the release of lien bond, this bond allows the participants to claim a legal right to the property. It serves as an alternative to a traditional mechanics' lien, which is a legal claim placed on a property by a contractor, subcontractor, or supplier who is owed money for the work or materials provided. 

To better describe how these bonds work, here is an example:

A subcontractor is hired by a general contractor to handle the electrical wiring on a construction project. Once the work is complete, the subcontractor claims they have not been paid in full, so the subcontractor files a lien for unpaid work. Next, the property owner goes to court and gets permission to buy a Release of Lien bond to get rid of the lien while the court further examines the subcontractor's claim.

Subdivision bonds

Subdivision construction bonds serve as a form of insurance or assurance (mainly for local governments and public entities) to ensure that the general contractor will make improvements to the land within a subdivision. These improvements will be done according to agreed-upon specifications and standards. For example, it can be the maintenance of a sidewalk or electrical upgrades. 

Subdivision bonds ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support the new subdivision, benefiting both the future property owners and the community at large.

Supply bonds

This bond ensures the timely and proper delivery of construction materials and supplies to a construction project. This bond is typically used when a contractor or subcontractor is responsible for providing materials required for a construction job, and it serves as a guarantee to the client that the materials will be supplied as agreed in the contract. 

Supply bonds are often required in substantial projects which require lots of materials, or on public projects.

Completion bonds

This type of construction bond gives financial assurance to the client that a construction project will be completed as per the terms and conditions outlined in the construction contract. It serves as a guarantee that the contracted work will be finished on time, within budget, and to the specified quality standards, even if the contractor encounters unforeseen challenges or defaults on their obligations.

Completion bonds might come across as similar to performance bonds, but they are different. Performance bonds primarily deal with the contractor's performance during the construction process, whereas completion bonds cover the completion of the entire project. 

It's common that a project requires both a performance bond and a completion bond to assure the client of a successful construction project. If the project is not correctly completed, the client (project owner) is in charge of initiating a claim.

Retention bonds

These bonds secure the release of withheld retention funds. Retention money is a portion of the contract price that clients retain from payments to contractors until the construction project is finalized and accepted. 

Retention bonds provide a guarantee that the retention money will be released to the contractor as agreed upon in the construction contract. The client is responsible for making any claims for incomplete work.

 

Are Construction Bonds Legally Required for Projects?

The simple answer is not always, but most of the time they are.

Construction bond requirements vary depending on the location, type of project, and the specific contracting parties involved. While there is no universal mandate, government entities, private project owners, and industry regulations often necessitate the use of construction bonds for certain projects. 

Here are some common scenarios where construction bonds are legally required:

  • Public Construction Projects: Government agencies in many regions including the Americas and EU require construction bonds for public projects. This includes infrastructure development, government buildings, and public facilities.
  • State Regulations: In the US, some states have laws that mandate the use of construction bonds for private construction projects above a certain cost threshold.
  • Large Private Projects: Private project owners may require construction bonds as a condition of the contract, especially when dealing with sizable or complex construction projects.

The benefits of securing a construction bond for clients are obvious, but even for contractors these construction bonds are helpful in boosting confidence and enhancing reputation - especially when starting out.

 

How Construction Bonds Differ from Construction Insurance

While construction bonds and construction insurance serve similar risk management purposes, they are fundamentally different in several key ways:

  • Nature of Coverage: The risks covered by construction bonds are typically just a  financial guarantee that certain obligations will be fulfilled. In contrast, construction insurance provides coverage for specific risks and unforeseen events, such as accidents, injuries, or property damage.
  • Coverage Recipients: Construction bonds typically protect the interests of the project owner and subcontractors, ensuring contractual obligations are met. Construction insurance, on the other hand, covers the insured party, such as the contractor or subcontractor, in the event of an insurable incident.
  • Payment Structure: Bonds only pay out if a party fails to meet their contractual obligations. Insurance policies, however, will pay out based on the terms of the policy and the occurrence of covered events, whether or not there has been a breach of contract.
  • Construction Bond Premiums: Insurance policies require regular premium payments, which are usually ongoing for the duration of the policy. On the other hand, construction bonds usually only involve one-time premium bonding fees paid upfront.

What Happens if a Contractor Defaults and There's a Bond in Place?

Unfortunately, not every general contractor bond remains unclaimed. If a contractor defaults on their obligations with a construction bond in place, the surety company takes action depending on the bond type: 

- A bid bond default covers the cost difference for the project owner 

- A performance bond default will usually cover the cost of completing the project either privately or by hiring another contractor to complete said project

- A payment bond default compensates unpaid subcontractors, suppliers, and laborers based on valid claims.

 

Can a Construction Bond Be Refunded or Returned?

As nice as it would be to get that money back, construction bonds are typically not refundable in the traditional sense. The bonding fee paid for the bond covers the administrative costs, underwriting, and the surety's financial guarantee, and these fees are not returned to the contractor or project owner. 

Once the bond is issued, it remains in effect for the duration of the project or until the surety is released from its obligations.

Once the project is complete and all phases of the construction project management have been carried out with no contract issues, the project owner may release the contractor from the bond. 

It’s important to know that this does not result in a refund of the bonding fee. It simply means that the surety is no longer liable for any claims related to that project.

 

Does a Contractor's Credit Score Impact Their Ability to Get Bonded?

Since you are essentially asking for a form of insurance or credit, creditworthiness plays a significant role in the ability to obtain construction bonds. The surety company assesses the contractor’s or business entities’ credit history and financial stability to determine the risk associated with issuing a bond. 

Because of this, a good credit score indicates a lower risk of default, while a poor credit score can raise concerns, meaning a contractor with a high credit score and a solid financial track record is more likely to secure a construction bond at a lower cost. 

You can still obtain construction bonds with lower credit scores, but you will likely face much higher fees.

 

 

How To Secure The Best Construction Bonds As A Contractor

Other factors such as experience, reputation, and financial stability can also affect what bond a contractor can secure, so it’s vital for contractors to maintain a strong financial track record and a history of successful project completion to improve their bonding prospects.

Unsurprisingly, this means efficient and effective project completion is at the top of any contractor’s priority list, and there’s one simple way to quickly improve your project management efficiency: Buildbite.

To help you track documents, open clear and transparent two-way communication lines, and manage your time and tasks more carefully, you can download Buildbite today to experience how you can improve your project planning capabilities.

To summarize this section, in order for you to secure the best construction bonds for your projects, make sure to: 

  • Showcase that your company is financially stable, profitable, and successful at managing cash flow. 
  • Present a track record of completing projects on time, within budget, and with an imminent layer of high quality.
  • Establish good relationships with bonding companies through open communication, collaboration, and transparency.