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The most important and common terms in commercial construction

A Quick Guide to Common Commercial Construction Terms

Many of the terms and acronyms used by contractors throughout a construction project are either vaguely familiar or entirely foreign from the owner’s standpoint. But speaking the same language, at least to a certain degree, can help make communication much easier and more effective. It can mean fewer headaches throughout the construction phase and better outcomes.
You’ll hear some terms frequently throughout a commercial remodel or another construction project. And while you may hear some others only once, they’re no less important. With that in mind, this list of common commercial construction terms should help you and your contractor stay on the same page.
The qualities of a room, including its size, scale and materials, that affect the way sound is transmitted and how much sound can infiltrate or escape.
A document that clarifies, corrects, or adds information to existing bid documents before the bid is finalized.
As-Builts / As-Built Drawings
Final construction documents / drawings with general contractor modifications. As-builts typically include exact information on the dimension and location of hidden utilities, materials and fixtures, as well as any modifications to the original drawings. This is usually necessitated by differing field conditions.
Base Bid / Bid
Dollar amount given by the general contractor covering the scope of work in a job or construction bid. A Bid Alternate covers optional items such as upgraded or downgraded materials, which can affect the bid accordingly.
Bid Document
The bidding package that includes several documents including the Invitation to Bid, bid submission requirements, the bid process, a bid form, specifications and plans.
Building Code
Regulations set forth and regulated by state, local, or other authorities by which a commercial construction company and its licensed qualifier is bound. These regulations include design, construction, building renovation, materials, construction methods and conditions of occupancy.
Fixtures “built-in” place such as furnishings and cabinetry that are permanently fixed or attached to the building. Built-ins might also be known as casework or case goods.
Cast in Place
Concrete, poured into a form where it sets in its permanent location.
Change Order
Proposed project change description including pricing information for the change, given to the contractor, architect or another party who represents the building owner.
Completion, Substantial
The point at which a substantial or significant percentage of a project is complete to the degree allowing the building owner to take possession of or occupy a building for its intended use.
Conceptual Design Early, preliminary design stage where the general building layout, site orientation and the building’s footprint are roughly established usually by early plan development and/or outlined end user specifications.
Construction Change Directive / CCO / Field Order
Written authorization that allows the contractor to take on unexpected work for the project that could alter the schedule or cost. Its purpose is to avoid contract negotiations, which create further delays.
The percentage of overall construction costs which are intended to cover unexpected expenses. Design contingencies are also common.
Critical Dimension
A planned dimension which must be maintained during construction over other more flexible dimensions.
Dead Load
The full weight of the structure plus all permanently fixed / installed items within a building.
Either the architect or the builder assumes responsibility to manage all design and construction aspects from the start of the project. The Design-Builder establishes the team to best suit project needs and goals to streamline the process.
First the architect designs the project, and then the client-approved plans are bid out to one or more contractors. A commercial contractor is then selected to build the project.

Portion of property owned by one party that another entity has the right to use. For example, a utility easement or vehicular right of way.
As applied to plan documents, architectural drawing which shows the front-facing view of a structure. This differs from a plan view, which shows a downward-facing view from above the site or structure. This also applies to the height to which something is elevated over adjacent conditions, site or “MSL” means sea level.
FF&E / F&E
Furniture, fixtures and equipment, or furniture and equipment. The former includes items in a building that are not attached (e.g. desks) as well as those that are (e.g. built-ins). The latter refers only to items that are not fixed.
Design, proportion and arrangement of windows, skylights and doors in a building.
Foot Candle / Ft-c
Measurement of illumination. One ft-c is equal to one lumen as it affects one square foot of a surface.
Building foundation or support system, which distributes a building’s load into the earth.
Support or underpinnings of a building at the ground. Foundations vary by structure and design.
The lowest or average point on the ground between the property line and building. To “Grade” also refers to the act of shaping the site for purposes such as water runoff or aesthetics.
Guaranteed Maximum Price / GMP
In a construction contract, examples a maximum construction project cost amount as agreed between a property owner and contractor.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning – add an “R” to include Refrigeration.
Electrical junction box where a wiring connection is made.
Horizontally oriented framing member which provides support for overhead structures.
Live Load
Weight transferred to horizontal structures from items that are not attached to it. People, movable equipment and furniture are considered live load. All buildings have a maximum allowable live load.
Load Bearing
Integral structural element within construction that supports the weight of portions of the structure above it.
Maximum Occupancy Load
Maximum number of persons who can safely occupy a space.
Mechanical, electrical and plumbing.
Not in Contract / NIC
Drawing notations that indicate items excluded from the job contract.
Notice to Proceed
Official written notice from owner to contractor that signals an owner’s approval to begin construction.
Occupancy Permit
Permit that authorizes occupancy by the owner after inspection by agencies and authorities such as the fire marshal and building inspector. Can be in the form of a certificate of completion or occupancy from such agencies.
Performance Bond
Guarantee, underwritten by a third party, both legally and financially binding, that the contractor will perform the work as agreed upon in the contract. Usually coupled with a Payment Bond insuring the contractor’s ability to pay.
Post-Occupancy Evaluation
Evaluation of a project approximately one year after initial occupancy.
Project Manager
Can be the owner’s or commercial contractor’s representative who manages all aspects of the construction process including timely communications and legally binding documents between the parties.
Punch List
List of items that need attention or correction at or near the end of a construction project.
Early, initial stages of MEP installations in their rough or soon to be concealed positions.
The relationship between an architectural drawing and literal measurements of proposed structure, keeping all proportions precise. “One inch,” for instance can represent 8 actual feet or a myriad of other dimensions. Many proportional reductions are common.
Shop Drawings
Diagrams, charts, drawings and illustrations created by trades, for example, cabinetmakers, that accurately describe in fine detail the dimensions and material composition of a manufactured or custom fabrication.
The point in a project where the owner gives a signature approving the completion of a project or portion of a project.
Site Plan
Drawing rendered in two-dimensional format which shows the entire site, including the building footprint, utilities, site orientation, topography, hardscape, etc.
A licensed and insured specialist employer of tradesmen skilled in a particular craft whom a general contractor would engage to perform a specific type of work in the scope of a project.
Value Engineering
A team approach process by which a variety of planned cost and design elements are analyzed to determine their true value to the project, along with a relative dollar weighted impact to the project if it is altered or eliminated.
Verify in Field. From a plan viewpoint, this identifies items of concern calling for such verification in cases where immediate access to that information may not have been available to the designer.
A literal walk through of a site or building proposed or completed. Walk throughs are performed to help prepare a job bid, verification of field conditions, or completion upon conclusion of a project.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of construction terms, it contains many of the ones that you’re likely to hear either frequently or at critical points in the construction process. You don’t have to study them. Just familiarize yourself, and the puzzle pieces of your project will fit together a bit better.
Commercial construction can be a lengthy and sometimes stressful undertaking. But at GSD Contracting, we have the years in the industry plus the experience in South Florida to make your project a total success. If you have a renovation project and want to learn more, call us at 954.961.4222 or contact us online for your construction or renovation project.