What is pre-construction?

There is a phase of planning known in the industry as “pre-construction.” This initial phase of the project serves to lay out the project's entire scope and schedule for the construction team and the client.

In this article, we’re going to dig deep into what pre-construction is 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 offered by construction companies before a construction job even begins. This pre-construction planning stage involves defining the project, identifying potential issues, planning and scheduling, the scope, cost estimation, and analysis of the job's needs.

What is the importance of pre-construction? Quality pre-construction will help a client decide if they can follow through with the construction project. During this pre-construction phase, they may find that the work is either too expensive or not feasible for the space they have. 

If the contractor and client agree that work 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 and educate the owner/client on what they will need to do to make their project functional and 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 come at a cost, which will depend on several factors, including:

  • Type of job
  • Location
  • Scope of project 

If the client is unsatisfied with the contractor or isn’t feasible for the client because of cost or constructability, the client can terminate the relationship before 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 referred to as the design phase, pre-construction gives owners a full understanding of the project's cost, scope, and schedule. The project’s success will often be dependent on this phase before a single nail is driven or brick is laid.

Once you enter the pre-construction process, it’s time to become familiar with the pre-construction manager.

What does a pre-construction manager do?

Pre-construction managers look after the pre-construction phase.

It’s their job to:

  • 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.

What is the purpose of a pre-construction meeting?

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 understand 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.

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.

A general contractor will determine the project’s feasibility and assess how much work is required to get the job done from this initial meeting. Deliverables will be appropriately defined, and the general contractor will outline a schedule.

What happens after a pre-construction meeting?

Once the meeting has occurred, the general contractor gets to work on the project’s pre-construction design phase.

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 to visualize how the project will look after construction.

Helping clients visualize their project is essential 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
  • HVAC systems 

These checks are necessary 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 put together a preliminary construction budget based on 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 required, 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 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 and will specifically outline:

  • Who is responsible for what
  • Who is providing what item
  • 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 ensure that the construction project flows smoothly and is done correctly, on time, and on budget.

Define an Initial Schedule

Now that most 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. As final decisions for the project are made, this will be fine-tuned, but it gives the client a better idea of the construction timeline.

The contractor will estimate the number of days it will take to complete each task and provide a rough idea of how long it will take to complete the project.

Guidance & Leadership

Pre-construction services 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 talk to the client about their options and give them recommendations and what the contractor thinks will be best for their budget or meet their goals.

The ongoing consultations should help the client feel more comfortable about the construction process and ultimately help the contractor win the bid based on 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 also saves money on construction projects because of the value it provides. Good pre-construction allows for value engineering and helps prevent arising issues, each of which can be too costly on a construction project.

Good contractors can 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 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 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 primary outcomes of pre-construction provide include:

  • The scope
  • Schedule
  • Estimated cost of the project

Having all of these elements accurately outlined gives the client the necessary expectations going into construction.

The process also helps to make sure the project is feasible, reducing the chances of encountering issues along the way.

A post-construction phase commonly occurs as a precaution, ensuring issues are taken care of after the pre-construction and construction phases.

Benefits of pre-construction

Pre-construction offers many benefits to both the clients and contractors. The top benefits of pre-construction include:

  • Removal of many unknown variables for the client
  • They provide a clear picture of what the project will look like and how it will get done
  • The completion date for the work can be assessed
  • It provides the contractor the opportunity to present potential options for cost savings, which benefit the client.

Evaluating all possible scenarios, upfront gives the client confidence that the contractor they are working with knows what they are doing. Having realistic expectations helps 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 project’s total cost.
Pre-construction's cost 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 and the peace of mind make pre-construction 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 value the pre-construction phase adds to the project.