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What is pre-construction?

On any construction job, there is a phase of planning known in the industry as “pre-construction.” This initial phase of the project serves to lay out the entire scope and schedule of the project for the construction team as well as the client.

In this post, we’re going to dig deep into the “what is pre-construction?” question and give you the information you need to fill out your pre-construction checklist. After reading, you’ll be able to go into any construction project much more knowledgeable about the process and know what to expect when your job is set to begin.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at pre-construction.

What is pre-construction?

Pre-construction services are preliminary planning and engineering services that are offered by construction companies before a construction job even begins. This pre-construction planning stage involves the definition of the project, the identification of potential issues, planning and scheduling, the scope, cost estimation, and analysis of needs for the job.

Good pre-construction will help a client decide if they can follow through with the construction project. They may find during this pre-construction phase that the work is either too expensive, or not feasible for the space they have. If the contractor and client agree work to be done is viable, the contractor will then provide the client with a cost and schedule for the construction project.

The pre-construction phase should give the construction team a clear outline to follow during the job, as well as educate the owner/client on what they will need to do to make their project functional, as well as what they can expect it to cost. This process helps the client better understand the project before they even commit to any work being done.

Pre-construction services themselves come at a cost, which will depend on a number of factors, including the type of job, your location, and the scope of the project. The pre-construction cost will be separate from the cost of the actual construction.

If the client is unsatisfied with the contractor, or if the project isn’t feasible for the client because of cost or constructability, then the client can terminate the relationship before any construction begins. This is a much better option (and much less costly) than figuring out you aren’t happy with the work being done, aren’t confident with the contractor’s abilities, or realize the project’s scope is too large for the allotted space after construction has begun.

Outline of the pre-construction process

The pre-construction process is vital to the success of the entire construction project. Also sometimes referred to as the design phase, pre-construction gives owners a full understanding of the cost, scope, and schedule of a project. The project’s success will often be dependent on this phase before a single nail is driven or brick is laid.

Construction managers will form an understanding of the project, assemble a team to do the work, create a strategy and schedule, develop an understanding of the owner’s business goals, and align the project to match.

While it sounds like a lot, and it is, it’s not that daunting for clients, since they don’t have to do any of the work. To help put your mind at ease, here is a step-by-step look at the pre-construction process.

Meeting with the client

The pre-construction process should always start with a meeting between the client and general contractor. During this meeting, the two will get a better sense of each other, and the general contractor will gain an understanding of the client’s wants and needs. Goals and objectives will be defined, and any questions or issues the client has will be laid out for the general contractor to resolve.

More than anything, the client will give the general contractor their vision for the project, and the general contractor will then get to work to see if that vision is feasible. From this initial meeting, the general contractor will determine the project’s feasibility, and will then assess how much work is required to get the job done. Deliverables will be properly defined and a schedule will be outlined.

Develop an initial design

Once the meeting has occurred, the general contractor gets to work on the design phase of the project’s pre-construction. They will go into the field and visit the construction site to produce a digital schematic of the design and layout. This will then be presented to the client so they can visualize how the project is going to look after construction.

Helping clients visualize their project is extremely important for the general contractor to land the construction job. It will allow them to see that there will be sufficient space for all of the components, equipment, furnishings, and other elements that they want or need.

Assessment of engineering

During this portion of the pre-construction phase, the contractor must look into the existing conditions of the space or construction site and figure out what needs to be done for the project. This will include checking on existing components such as the electric, plumbing, and HVAC systems to ensure that they will perform in the new construction. If not, they will need to recommend that these items be updated or replaced.

Cost estimating

The contractor will then be able to put together a preliminary construction budget based on of their design and engineering assessment. But how does the contractor come up with a number?

Beyond materials needed and whether or not the components listed in the step above are needed, they will also factor in the budgets used for comparable projects. While this estimate will be another vital part of the process, it’s important to note that the cost estimation is not necessarily a bid.

The bid document will be prepared later after other parts of the pre-construction phase are complete, as other elements, such as the final design, will help to create a more accurate bid. Here, the contractor is mainly looking to get a close ballpark to the actual price so the client can see if the project will be feasible.

Forming a responsibility matrix

The responsibility matrix is used in pre-construction to identify deliverables by all parties involved. This will specifically outline who is responsible for what, including who is providing what item, and who will be handling the installation. Since when the project is underway, the client, contractor, and building owner may all have a part to play, this responsibility matrix will keep all parties involved on the same plan and give a clear outline on who has signed up for what.

Clear communication will help to ensure that the construction project flows smoothly and is done correctly, on time, and on budget.

Define an initial schedule

Now that the majority of the project scope has been laid out, it’s time to formulate a schedule. The preliminary schedule serves more as a guide to show the client when certain aspects of the job will begin and end. This will be fine-tuned as final decisions for the project are made, but it gives the client a better idea of the timeline for construction.

The contractor will lay out an estimation for the number of days it will take to complete each different task within the job, and provide a rough idea of when the project would be completed based on a certain start time.

Guidance & leadership

Pre-construction services will involve more than just documents that the general contractor provides to the client. The contractor also will need to guide their client through every step of the process and educate them on what is going on. The contractor should be able to talk to the client about their options and give them recommendations and what the contractor thinks will be best for their budget or to meet their goals.

The ongoing consultations should help the client feel more comfortable about the construction process and ultimate help the contractor win the bid based off their familiarity. Not only will it give the client peace of mind, but it will also save time during the construction phase.

Despite the initial investment, pre-construction is also proven to save money on construction projects because of the value it provides. Good pre-construction allows for value engineering and helps to prevent issues from arising, each of which can be extremely costly on a construction project.

Good contractors are able to provide this guidance because they are the leaders of the project. They lean heavily on their expertise to anticipate potential issues and provide solutions to any of these problems. They will effectively coordinate all efforts between the owner, client, architect, and contractor and manage any subcontractors needed for the project.

The contractor should have vast knowledge of all legal issues, permits, and building codes involved so the project stays on the straight and narrow. They will also be mindful of controlling cost and assessing risk throughout the pre-construction and construction process.

Pre-construction checklist

Here are some of the items you can expect to cover during the pre-construction phase:

  • Initial meeting to discuss the project
  • Planning the design
  • Estimating costs and offering cost-saving options
  • Managing project scope
  • Identifying potential issues & outlining solutions
  • Determine any options for value engineering
  • Site selection and study feasibility
  • Evaluating soil condition on site
  • Checking existing utilities
  • Determining equipment required
  • Check for green building options and viability
  • Life-cycle analysis
  • Outlining contingencies for both client and contractor

Expected outcomes of pre-construction

The main outcomes of pre-construction can provide include the scope, schedule, and estimated cost of the project. Having all of these elements accurately outlined give the client the necessary expectations going into construction. The process also helps to make sure the project is feasible before issues are encountered along the way. As a precaution, a post construction phase is commonly used, which also ensures issues are taken care of after the pre-construction and building phases. Read more in our related article, Post Construction Phase: What to Expect.

Benefits of pre-construction

Pre-construction offers a number of benefits to both the clients and contractors. Pre-construction can remove a lot of the unknown variables for the client and give them a clear picture for what the project is going to look like, how it is going to get done, and when it will be completed. The contractor should also present potential options for further savings, which are an obvious benefit to the client.

Being able to evaluate all possible scenarios up front gives the client confidence that the contractor they are working with knows what they are doing, and having realistic expectations helps to avoid issues while the project is underway. It’s a real win, win for everyone involved.


How much does pre-construction cost?

Pre-construction costs will depend on the scope of the project, the location, and more, but will usually be somewhere in the range of one to three percent of the total cost of the project. The cost of Pre-construction is a separate fee from the construction cost, as it comes before a bid for the actual construction is even in place. But as we mentioned above, the potential savings it can provide in addition to the peace of mind make pre-construction well worth it.

How long does pre-construction take?

Again, the length of the pre-construction process will depend on the scope of the project. This phase can take anywhere from two to 12 weeks. While 12 weeks may seem like a long time, it really isn’t when you consider the amount of value the pre-construction phase adds to the project. Contact us or schedule a demo today to learn more!

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