What Defines Construction Contracts?

The terms construction documents and contract documents are often used interchangeably and casually in everyday practice. Technically, construction documents are two of several components of construction contract documents.

Construction Contract Documents

In a contractual sense, a construction contract consists of four separate types of documents:
  1. The written legal agreement between the building owner and the builder.
  2. The construction drawings and specifications.
  3. The addenda to the drawings and/or specifications.
  4. Change orders to drawings, specifications, and/or the written legal agreement.

Written Legal Agreement

The actual written agreement serves as a legal umbrella for a range of other documents that provide the specific details of what is to be accomplished. 

The written agreement outlines these specific components:
  • times of performance
  • responsibilities of the general contractor (GC) to the building owner and subcontractors
  • cost of construction
  • procedures for creating, approving, and processing change orders
  • progress payments for work performed
  • legal procedures for resolving disputes
  • drawings and specifications
  • the addenda
  • change orders
The contract language referencing these items is what gives them legal power in the construction contract.

Construction Drawings and Specifications

As distinguished from contract documents, the construction documents are the final, detailed drawings and specifications that completely document the scope of the GC's responsibilities and those of the subcontractors. Construction documents describe in detail what each and every building component is made of, and how they are fastened, connected, and put together.

The Addenda

Addenda are revisions to drawings, specifications, or bidding instructions issued after contractors have been invited to submit bids, but before the bid due date. Their inclusion in contract documents is vitally important to avoid or resolve disputes over what is and is not included in submitted bids.

Change Orders

Change orders are similar to addenda, but they refer to changes in contract scope made after the construction contract has been awarded to a particular builder. Of all the components of construction contracts, change orders create the most difficulties because they almost always involve increased costs and may extend time frames.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s Facilities Planning and Project Management course, part of the FMA designation program. More information regarding this course is available by calling 1.800.235.2664. Visit BOMI International’s website, www.bomi.org.


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