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Helpful Construction Terms Building Owners Should Know

May 4th, 2022 | 3 min. read

Helpful Construction Terms Building Owners Should Know

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If you are taking on your first building project, you may feel like your architect and contractor are speaking a secret language. Every industry has its jargon—and the construction industry is no exception.   

Throughout construction, your architect should guide you through the process and facilitate communication with your contractor. Although your architect should act as your ambassador and translator, you will likely come across some terms and phrases that are entirely new to you. 

Before starting your project, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with a few key construction terms. 

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the most useful terms to know before starting the construction process. By the end of the article, you will feel more confident meeting with your architect and contractor. 

7 Helpful Construction Terms  

1. Project Delivery Method 

A project delivery method is how a project gets built. The term also describes the contractual relationship between you, your architect, and your contractor.  

There are several types of project delivery methods. The most common include: 

  1. Design-bid-build  
  2. Design-build  
  3. Design-negotiate-build  
  4. CM-at-Risk  
  5. CM-Agent  

Learn more by reading about the pros and cons of each method.   

2. Construction vs. Project Costs 

Building projects involve two categories of cost: construction and project

Construction costs refer to the cost of labor and materials. Project costs are the other necessary costs that make construction possible, including legal fees, professional fees, land acquisition fees, and more.  

You’ll need to account for both types of costs when establishing a budget.  

3. Contract Documents 

As construction nears, you will likely hear your architect refer to the “contract documents.” These documents outline the scope of the work, so the contractor can construct the building as intended.  

Your architect will create two primary forms of documentation: drawings and specifications. Drawings explain the design intent to the contractor (what gets built), while specifications outline products and materials.  

4. Change Order 

Change orders are any addition, deletion, or substitution to the project scope once construction is underway. Both building owners and contractors can request change orders. Although change orders can be a bit of a taboo subject, they are a normal part of any construction project. 

5. Bid Alternates 

Bid alternates are portions of a project that are bid separately. Typically, they are used when bids may come in over budget or when the building owner wants to price different material options. 

Although alternates are a great way to manage costs in a public bidding environment, they need to be used strategically. Using them sparingly for standalone items is the most effective method.  

6. Commissioning 

Commissioning is the process of assuring the building is working as intended. Typically, the building owner will hire a commissioning agent to check the building’s systems and equipment.  

This additional check assures that the building matches the design, allowing for a safe and orderly handover from the contractor to the building owner.  

Keep in mind that commissioning is a separate project cost outside the scope of the construction budget.  

7. Punch List 

Creating a punch list is usually the last step in the construction process. Essentially, it’s a list of items the contractor needs to complete before handing off the building to the owner. 

Punch list items usually include minor repairs and replacements. Usually, it takes a contractor 30-60 days to work through the items, though the timeline will vary depending on the complexity of the project. 

Learn more about punch lists by reading our guide to construction closeout.  

Learn More About Construction 

If you’re starting your first building project, construction may seem daunting. But you will be more prepared to meet with contractors with a few key terms in your back pocket.  

Your architect’s job is to guide you through the process and advocate for your interests. If you are ever confused about any aspect of the construction process, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask your architect. 

Read about an architect’s role in construction to learn what to expect.