A Guide to Navigating Construction Change Orders

In the realm of construction projects, acknowledging the inevitability of change is a constant. Whether it is design tweaks, unforeseen site challenges, or evolving client preferences, the need for modifications are sure to happen. Understanding and effectively managing these changes is crucial for a smooth and successful project journey. This blog serves as your comprehensive guide to dealing with construction change orders, empowering you to navigate these adjustments with confidence.

1. What is a Change Order?

A construction change order is a formal document that outlines modifications to the original contract between you, the client, and the contractor. Changes can encompass alterations in design, materials, scope, or any other aspect of the project. Change orders serve as a transparent means of documenting and formalizing these adjustments.

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2. The Client’s Role in Change Order Management

Stay Informed:

As a client, staying informed is crucial. Regular updates from the project team keep you aware of potential changes and their implications. Open communication ensures that your input is considered throughout the process.

Review and Approve:

Timely assessment and approval are vital. Understand the proposed changes’ impact on the project timeline, budget, and feasibility. Establish a streamlined approval process, ensuring that all necessary approvals are obtained promptly.

3. Ensuring a Smooth Change Order Process

Documentation Is Key:

Clear and comprehensive documentation forms the backbone of effective change order management. Keep detailed records of project-related communications, decisions, and factors leading to changes. This documentation is essential for understanding the rationale behind each modification.

Communicate Openly:

Open and transparent communication is a two-way street. Express your expectations clearly and listen to the insights of the project team. This collaborative approach fosters a better understanding of the changes and their implications.

4. Financial Considerations

Accurate Cost Estimation:

Ensuring accurate cost estimation for proposed changes is paramount. Collaborate with the project team to assess additional costs associated with modifications. This clarity prevents financial disputes down the line.

Negotiate Fair Terms:

Participate actively in negotiations. Ensure that the terms of change orders are fair and reasonable for all parties involved. Clearly outline the scope of work, timeline adjustments, and associated costs to minimize the risk of disputes.

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5. Minimizing Change Orders

The Design-Build Way:

Design-Build (DB) companies, like Thomas Custom Builders, are structured in a way that promotes trade participation early on in the project. Most Design-Build teams comprise an interior designer, a civil/structural engineer, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing professionals, as well as the vital input of the contractor themselves. For a design to be buildable and functional, these disciplines’ inputs must interface seamlessly.

Take Time During Design:

Waiting until construction to find unbuildable components is a sure-fire way to encourage change orders. For this reason, design builders, along with experienced field professionals are an invaluable asset during planning and design to determine the constructibility of the project. Their hands-on experience allows them to identify design elements that don’t work in practice. Working with a Design-Build firm brings to light errors when they are easy to fix, which is a great way to safeguard against potential changes.

6. Alternative Solutions and Allowances

Most change orders originate with the client. It’s natural to have better ideas or second thoughts about a building as it actually takes shape. To this end, the client should anticipate possible design changes, and prepare for them by exploring alternatives before construction.

Ideally, alternative solutions to the final design should be quoted during the bidding stage. Doing so gives the client a firm idea of what they’d expect to pay should they proceed with the change. Having a priced alternative would also let the client allocate enough funds to pay for the change order should the need arise.

While having priced alternatives does not reduce change orders, it makes them more predictable and manageable for all involved. The strategy may also shorten the inevitable delays, as it lets the design team prepare their solution ahead of time. Thomas Custom Builders offers quotes for alternatives and include appropriate sums as allowances in your budget.


By understanding the process, staying informed, actively participating, and ensuring clear communication, you can contribute to the smooth management of construction change orders. Remember, effective collaboration between you and the project team is the key to a successful outcome even in the face of inevitable changes.

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