Some change orders are inevitable, but many aren’t.
Most construction projects will require change orders at some point. But too many change orders, which can run into the hundreds on some jobs, can wreak havoc on the schedule and budget and eat away profits. According to a study from the Kentucky Transportation Center, change orders are the main reason for construction delays and cost overruns in public works projects. They can also lead to expensive legal disputes with owners.
It’s impossible to avoid every change order, but due diligence up front and increased collaboration throughout a project can help you decrease the number. Here are a few suggestions.
Take the time to thoroughly review and update all contract details
Read all project documents and resolve any questions you have for the architect or owner up front. Do you thoroughly understand and agree to the scope of work and specs outlined in the contract? Have you checked on the availability and pricing of the materials?
A constructability review with the GC, the owner and the designer can resolve potential issues and help ensure that everyone understands what the project requirements are.
Clarify any vague language in the contract before work starts. Get clarifications in writing to avoid disagreements later. A verbal agreement isn’t enough.
A white paper on change management from e-Builder recommends using project delivery methods such as integrated project design (IPD) and design-build to increase collaboration. It’s easier to identify and resolve design errors and potential conflicts in building systems when all members of a project team, including key trades, come on board at an early stage and bring their expertise and insights to the discussions.
With building information modeling (BIM), “[E]verybody is playing from the same sheet music, and communication — something many contractors consider a weak link in the building process — is practically built-in,” as we wrote here. Because BIM starts with an intelligent 3D model of the building, it helps you uncover problems and model possible solutions before the project begins. (Unlike 3D BIM, 5D BIM also factors in time and cost so you can see what effects these solutions would have on the schedule and budget.)
A study of construction projects for the San Diego Community College District between 2008 and 2014 shows how effective BIM can be in minimizing the need for changes. When project managers used BIM along with Lean construction techniques, they reduced the total change order rate by 42 percent and the errors and omissions change order rate by 38 percent.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.