For Home Owners

Reducing Change Orders: What Your Design Team Can Do for You

Sep 09, 2019
Design Everest

Change orders.

Chances are you’ve heard about them plaguing construction projects with cost overruns and time delays. Perhaps, you’re planning a construction project of your own and wondering whether you’ll manage to keep change orders at bay.

As with any other aspect of construction, careful planning by a good design team can mitigate the risk of unexpected changes. Your input during design development matters too, as most change orders are based on owner-requested changes.

You should also understand what change orders are and how they work.

So, what exactly is a change order?

It’s a document that alters the original contract.

It effects a change to either the scope of work, the schedule, or the costs stipulated in the initial contract.

Either the owner or the contractor may initiate a change order. In most cases, owners start the process because they change their mind about an aspect of their project. Such changes may be difficult to foretell before construction starts, simply because it’s hard to visualize things before they’re built. Builder-grade materials, originally chosen to save money, may lose their appeal once you see them in your home.

Contractors may also initiate change orders, and for a variety of reasons. Most of these are legitimate, and often unavoidable. Unforeseen conditions may emerge once work gets underway, resulting in changes to the scope, schedule and budget.

In rare situations, contractors may use change orders to make a profit. A typical ploy dishonest contractors use during the bidding stage is to conceal the omissions they find in the design instead of bringing them to your attention. This allows the contractor to submit a more competitive bid, and deal with the issue via a change order once work begins. Most contractors are honest professionals who would never resort to fraud, but these things happen, and are important to keep in mind.

While some change orders are inevitable, you can avoid others with thorough planning. If you are getting ready to start your construction project, consider the tips below. They will help you reduce change orders and mitigate the impact of those you cannot avoid.

Collaboration Between the Design Team and the Owner

Change orders initiated by a shift in your design intent can be difficult to predict before the start of the project. That’s because you don’t know how you’ll feel about certain elements of the design until you see them.

That said, active collaboration with your design team can help keep these changes to a minimum. If you‘re involved in the design process, and your design team can understand and execute your intentions, your chances of being disappointed once the building takes shape are low.

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Collaboration Between Disciplines

Regardless of the scale of your project, multiple disciplines get involved in its planning. The architect conceptualizes your building based on your input and produces an architectural drawing set. The civil engineers devise a grading plan, and the structural engineers design the structure. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing disciplines all work on their respective parts of the design.

When there is a lack of communication among the various disciplines planning your project, discrepancies between the individual components of the design are likely. The resulting change orders may be costly and time-consuming.

To avoid these situations, each discipline’s design component must work in concert with all others. Your entire design team needs to create a synergetic environment early on during design development and maintain it throughout the project. Good teamwork will streamline the design process and help avoid miscommunication-related errors.

An experienced project manager will ensure that all disciplines working on your design collaborate effectively and produce a cohesive design package where all moving parts work together in unison.

Our engineers have 14+ years of working with architects, mechanical and electrical engineers on projects of varying complexity. If you are planning a construction project, we will make sure that the design team collaborates effectively to produce a well-integrated design package that will reduce the chances of surprise changes during construction. Call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and quote.

Plan For Unforeseen Conditions

Adverse conditions not identified in the original design can astound you with extra costs and time delays. This is particularly true on remodeling projects, where homes can hide a plethora of unpleasant surprises.

Some of these conditions are impossible to foresee without costly, invasive investigations. Others, however, can be identified by a professional engineer through an on-site structural evaluation.

While hiring an engineer to look for defects that may or may not exist might seem like an unjustified expense, the investment is worthwhile considering that change orders stemming from structural flaws may call for emergency repairs. It only makes sense to budget for existing defects before construction gets underway. If you are planning to remodel, we can help you identify your home’s existing conditions before construction starts. Call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and quote.

Entrench the Change Order Procedure in the Contract

An effective way of eliminating surprise changes on your project is to stipulate the change order procedures in the contract. This is your chance to specify all the steps required before additional work can be performed, or before a reduction in work is approved. Make it crystal-clear that the contractor needs written authorization from you before any changes to the scope of work are compensated. Outline what you expect to see on the change order request your contractor submits for review. At a minimum, this document should contain the following information:

  • a detailed explanation of the requested change to the original contract
  • itemized description of subcontractor costs, along with supporting documentation
  • total cost impact of the requested change
  • anticipated schedule delays caused by the requested change

The contract should also stipulate the approval process and designate the signatories of the change order. Typically, the contractor and the owner must agree on the terms of the change order for it to be considered valid, and at a minimum, the two parties must sign the document.

Design Team Review of All Requests For Information (RFIs)

It’s natural for questions to arise during a project’s bidding and construction stages.

As contractors work on your project’s estimate, they may come across grey areas and ask for clarification. Such questions are submitted as Requests For Information, and the design team’s responses are shared with all bidders. This formal procedure ensures a fair competitive process since all parties receive access to the same information.

RFIs may also come up after construction starts. Contractors and their subcontractors may seek clarity, suggest modifications, or address deficiencies via the process. At this stage, it’s critical that RFIs remain a communications channel and don’t become a method for pushing through scope and material changes.

No one knows the design of your building better than the people who had worked on it; your design team should review each RFI to ensure accurate responses and prevent changes from getting approved in this manner.

Design Team Review of all Change Orders

If your contractor requests a change order, it should be reviewed by the relevant discipline from your design team. Scrutiny from the designers will confirm that a change to the scope of work is indeed required. It will also enable your team to analyze the contractor’s strategy to rectify the issue.

If you initiate the change order, your design team is best suited to guide you as you contemplate the change. They will walk you through alternatives, and help come up with the most economical and expedient solution.

How Design Everest Can Help

If you are planning a construction project, we can help you reduce and mitigate change orders. Our team at Design Everest will collaborate with all other disciplines to deliver a quality set of construction drawings, where all the design elements function in unison.

Should your contractor request a change order, our engineers will review the request to confirm that the change order is legitimate, and that the proposed alteration is the best way to remedy the issue in question.

Let us help you avoid and manage change orders on your next project. Call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and quote.

Sources:
[1]https://www.americanbar.org/groups/construction_industry/publications/under_construction/2018/Fall2018/construction101/
[2]https://info.vethanlaw.com/blog/understanding-change-orders-in-construction-contracts
[3]https://designeverest.com/structural-evaluations/
[4]https://designeverest.com/services/new-custom-home/

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