How to handle specification changes during the build

building project specification changes - my way or the highway

Despite best efforts to account for every detail in the run-up to the build phase, it remains likely that at some point during construction, there will be a departure from the designed plan. When there is, you will need a simple and effective way to deal with it. To handle specification changes build, we need the change order.

Cast your mind back to the start of your home improvement sojourn. You’d have known for certain that you wanted to extend, with perhaps a rough mental image of what the extension may look like. Between then and now, you and your design team have incrementally developed that image through the course of the architectural process, layer by layer, into a fully specified plan, which your builder could pick up and work from, to a contracted price.

However, even the best-laid plans can go a little off piste. The German field marshal, von Moltke the Elder, put it best when he said ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’. This remains particularly prescient within the construction industry, where designing and building even a modest extension requires many skills across different disciplines, from the homeowner providing a detailed design brief and the architect getting plans approved in a tricky area, to the engineer calculating the optimal beam arrangement and the tradesmen bringing the theorised design to life. There is a chance that somewhere along the chain, something will go awry.

There are five reasons that your extension plan might need to be modified during construction.

1. You

Client-led specification changes are perhaps the largest contributing factor, and it is very common indeed for a homeowner to decide one thing during the technical design stage, and then perform a complete volte-face amid the build. This is understandable – to get a true grasp of the design choice at hand, one often needs to be standing within the physical space itself to appreciate the decision’s impact. Examples of client-led spec changes are endless – everything from the location of stud partitions to the placement of the garden tap.

2. Unexpected (adverse) site conditions

As mentioned before, following the house extension process laid out in this blog as closely as possible will minimise the risk of the unexpected occurring. But it won’t eliminate it. Just a few examples of the unexpected are the discovery of rising damp, uncovering dangerous wiring, insufficient supports to existing openings, or old lead pipes.

3. Labour availability and material supply chain issues

These may force a specification change upon you. For instance, it is not uncommon for an order of bi-folding doors to be placed weeks ahead of time, only for the product to be stuck in port for weeks on end. Such delays have been magnified ten-fold since Brexit and compounded further since the start of the Covid pandemic.

4. Knock-on effects of design errors

Despite every effort by your design team to stay bang on point, there is the possibility that design errors made upstream in the process will meander their way downstream and onto the building site. For example, a miscalculated roof angle; or the discovery of an internal partition thickened over the decades with plaster, where the engineer thought a load-bearing wall to be.

5. Accidents

Unfortunate accidents on-site could force your hand to make a change. For instance, the receipt of damaged goods critical to the build timeline may demand a workaround.

Whatever the reason for the change, the simplest and most effective way to deal with specification changes is a change order document.

A change order is a mutually agreed variation between the client and builder to the originally contracted price, specification or work schedule of a construction project. Put simply, both you and the builder agree to a specified change in the plans for an agreed price.

The change order document sits parallel to the existing work schedule, contract and quote. On it you record what extra or changed pieces of work the builder has agreed to carry out, and for how much. The change order means the pre-agreed work schedule, contract and quote don’t need to be altered every time there is a change to the plan, because all departures from the original are recorded here in real time on the change order. Importantly, this also includes any credited funds you might be due, in circumstances where the change in question means less labour or material spend by the builder. Because all changes are agreed in writing in the change order, they cannot later be disputed by either party.

Even though the change order won’t exist at the time of locking into the building contract, it should still be cited as an addendum to the contract. During works, you will have to come to an agreement with the builder as to when the change order – or part of the change order –will become payable. Again, the document will sit alongside the pre-agreed main payment schedule and not in replacement of it.

That is how to handle specification changes during a building project. Overall, be prepared for some degree of variance on-site from what was designed on plan. These changes can be elegantly managed using a change order document to record any agreed amendments.