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How to Minimize Change Orders On Your Commercial Construction Project

by Apr 2, 2018change orders, commercial, construction, general contractor, tenant improvement


There are few things in construction as disruptive to a schedule as multiple change orders. Not only do they cost both money and time, but changes tend to create uncertainty for the various sub-contractors involved, play havoc with the schedule and interrupt a job’s cadence and flow.

Ultimately, uncontrolled change orders are bad for everyone involved.

Some types of changes are hard to avoid; there are instances when interpretation of a new code requirement necessitates a change to “the way things have always been done.” However, those required alterations should be extremely rare.

The best way to keep a new construction project moving toward timely completion is to assure that plans and specifications are complete and approved by all parties prior to the project start. Successful project administrators build a team of experienced, knowledgeable professionals and pay attention to the details from project onset through final walk through. There is no substitute for that advance planning.

Necessary planning to minimize change orders is part of the process.

An experienced construction team will acknowledge that the need for onsite and mid-project changes cannot be completely eliminated. But by taking steps to check and double-check all drawings, specifications, current codes, materials and approvals prior to the project’s start, the need for costly and time-consuming alterations and adjustments will be reduced.

Primary reasons for change orders include:



Inspection Corrections

Whether it’s new construction or a tenant improvement project (TI), there is a need for permitting and inspections at various phases during construction. Adherence to code requirements is vital, and sometimes new interpretations make adjustments or corrections necessary. Experienced general contractors, architects and engineers work as a team to assure that construction drawings reflect current requirements, but on occasion permitting authorities and inspectors will note required changes.

Once a permit is issued, the contractor should review approved plans with clients and building owners to explain code requirements.

If a site inspection results in a “red tag,” there is no recourse but to correct the default. It should, of course, be the financial responsibility of the specific trade or sub-contractor, but if the change results in a time delay, there may be no clear cut line of responsibility. Non-compliance, however, is serious, and the issue must be resolved completely and as quickly as possible.

In truth, until the issue is resolved and corrections are made, the project is shut down.

Bidding and contract negotiation should always include a code compliance provision. Clients and owners must understand that not only the plans must conform to code requirements, but that the final “as built” project, along with all materials and fixtures that are a part of it, must be compliant with existing building, safety and accessibility requirements. Any discrepancies might delay issuance of a use permit or certificate of occupancy.


 Unforeseeable Structural Conditions

Existing site conditions sometimes cannot be thoroughly assessed until construction actually begins. In these instances, the architect or contractor has every right to insist on a contingency clause, allowing for a change order to reflect actual conditions. “Behind the walls” structural problems that are not known prior to demolition can be costly, and rebuilding can add substantial time to a project.

Tenant improvement work in an older building can be negotiated between owner and tenant, but because the architect and contractor are involved, it is important that lines of communication and responsibility are clear. Changes that require actual structural improvements, rerouting of plumbing and electrical lines, alterations necessary to conform to ADA requirements, or simple replacement of older materials cannot be postponed or ignored. It should be determined in advance where the financial responsibility lies.

Client Requests

Not every client can visualize a three-dimensional space from two-dimensional plans. It is not uncommon for a client to request a change as work progresses, whether it is something as simple as adding a divider wall or as extensive as redesigning an entire restaurant kitchen. Before construction begins, it is worthwhile to use every tool available to help clients and owners “see” the finished product.

Architects prepare drawings and scale models that accurately depict interiors as well as exteriors. Modern visual reality technology is a great help. Brokers can become great allies by showing clients how others have handled similar needs and interior finishouts.

Again, open communication, full disclosure and creative planning techniques pay big dividends in terms of avoiding and minimizing  construction project change orders, keeping a project on schedule and within budget.

Building Owners

Most building owners will want to review plans for tenant improvements, whether or not they are involved in funding the work wholly or partially. Changes requested by owners are not uncommon, but they should be conveyed to both the client and the contractor in advance. By consulting with an architect or design-build firm early in the planning stages, future misunderstandings and potential disputes can be avoided.

When everyone is on the same page, literally, in regard to the work to be undertaken, a project will be smooth, efficient and compatible with everyone’s expectations. When that happens, it is also likely that the construction will be completed on time and within budget. That, at the very least, is a desirable goal.

Mistakes in Plans

Finally, no matter how many checks and balances exist, the possibility also exists that there are errors on the construction drawings or mistakes in the specifications. Some of the most common change orders result from delivery of incorrect materials to a jobsite. Whether through shipping errors, mistakes in actual ordering, or faulty specifications, the need for reorders and associated delays costs time and money.

Detailed planning, effective scheduling and constant monitoring of project needs are effective ways to reduce such mistakes. Vendors as well can be enlisted as participants in the effort to minimize the need for project change orders. Teamwork is a continuing effort, as is open communication and an unrelenting concern with details.

Final Thoughts

Although it is unrealistic to expect — or even to dream — that any Orange County tenant improvement project can be completed without some small delay or a few updates to the plans during the course of the work, there is every reason to continue to make building as efficient, orderly and change-free as possible

We believe it is these efforts that set us apart from the competition: Our attention to project needs is ongoing, from the moment we first meet to discuss ideas to that moment we hand over keys to the finished space.

By working together, we can assure that everyone walks away satisfied and proud of the result!


Jonathan Nourse

Jonathan Nourse

Marketing Manager

At M.A. Nourse, we leverage decades of knowledge and experience to provide more detailed and accurate estimates, so that our clients can feel confident that their projects will be completed on time and on budget.

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