Commercial Building Construction Sequence: Start to Finish

Published Categorized as Project Management
Construction Sequence

Building a commercial building involves a multitude of tasks that can seem overwhelming. While the complexity of these tasks depends on the size and details of the project, the essential steps of the construction process remain the same.

The commercial building construction process involves six basic steps from start to finish, and each of these phases involves a series of tasks. These basic phases are planning and development, design, pre-construction, procurement, construction, and post-construction.

This article will discuss the main phases of commercial building construction in detail and the various tasks that fall under each one. Continue reading to learn more about these essential steps.

Planning and Development Phase

The first and most important stage in commercial building construction is the planning and development phase.

Everything that follows is a product of this initial phase, so it’s important to be critical and goal-oriented, among other things. Critical mindedness entails asking the right questions and anticipating problems before they happen.

For project managers, the planning and development stage includes these tasks:

  • Picking the ideal location the building
  • Setting a budget
  • Pre-designing
  • Finding and hiring an architect and contractor
  • Holding consultations with your team

Finding the Ideal Location

Determining the location of a new commercial building is usually the scope of the owner or developer. It is usually one of the first decisions that a developer makes. Some developers even spot a property in a good location first and instantly identify its potential for business and commercial development. In other words, for some, the location comes first before the concept.

The selection of an ideal location for a commercial building takes into account several factors, including:


An ideal location for a commercial project needs to be accessible to all clients and employees. It should also be within proximity to other buildings and establishments and not be too out of the way.

Having other commercial buildings close by also allows people to do several things while in the area. For example, they can dine, shop, and even do some errands without having to drive far and go from one area to another.

Customers may not want to go to a single establishment to do one thing if they can go to another where they have the option to do five different things.

Commercial Zoning

Zoning laws regulate the use of a particular land area and determine the types of structures that can be built on it. As such, it’s important that the land area is in a commercial zone and that the city government has determined that it can be utilized for businesses such as offices, shops, banks, and restaurants, among others.

Changing a property’s zoning into a commercial district is possible, but requires submitting a rezoning application.

No Building Moratorium

Cities can impose a building moratorium when they determine that immediately stopping the construction is in the best interest. In some situations, concerned citizen groups will approach a judge and request an immediate stop to a building’s construction. For this reason, it’s critically important to ensure that a location does not have a building moratorium in place.

No Soil Contamination

Environmental testing should be conducted to make sure the soil is suitable for construction and is not contaminated. It is rather costly to remove contaminants, but it is even costlier to begin construction or finish a project without prior testing or without first removing contaminants. Keep in mind that any contamination will cause issues in the future.

Other Considerations

Other considerations also need to be taken into account. Can the nearby infrastructure and water and sewer lines support the business’ needs in the future? Are there sufficient fire hydrants in the area in case of emergencies? Are piles needed at the location? Does the property need to be subdivided?

A surveyor should also be brought on board to do a boundary survey for the property and produce an elevation certificate. The survey should include all easements.

Setting a Budget

Constructing a commercial building entails many costs and expenses, from acquiring a piece of land, conducting all the necessary inspections and surveys, hiring contractors and architects, obtaining permits, purchasing all the building materials, and finishing and post-construction expenses. Every action that is taken and every task performed is an expense.

As such, a budget should be set in order to outline how much there is to work with. Equally important is how the project will be funded and whether investors will be required.


After finding the location and before the design and development phase, every task done falls under pre-design. This essential step under the planning phase involves defining the project’s goals and the developers’ objectives. The total cost of the project is also established to a reasonable accuracy.

During this stage, the developer hires the architect and the contractor. It could also be a company that specializes in and offers more streamlined design-build commercial construction services.

At this point, the owner, contractor, and consultant teams meet to discuss ideas and ensure that everyone is on the same page. The team will also come up with a general construction plan and design. They will generally discuss how to go about complying with all the project requirements.The construction plan will reflect important items like estimated expenses for every phase, contracts, time frame, and payment processes. Every element of the commercial building will include a design plan and its estimated cost. This also means that specifications will need to be created at the start to avoid unwanted mistakes.

In the pre-design step, the architect and general contractor are expected to complete:

  • Selecting the building materials, design products, and required equipment, and determining costs for these items
  • Determining the size of the building and the rooms
  • Determining the orientation of the building, especially in terms of utility connections
  • Determining development covenants that ensure your project’s feasibility
  • Determining if the desired amenities of the client can be incorporated. Factors such as building orientation, utility connection, and site access can affect the project’s compatibility with these additional amenities
  • Creating contract documents that help establish a timeline for the project
  • Setting the costs for all phases of construction
  • Creating a construction document package complete with code-compliant designs

With these tasks accomplished, construction bidding can begin.

Design Phase

During the design phase, architects, contractors, and other professionals are expected to produce a full set of drawings that include all the project’s specifications. Architects and designers will also create a building model, which will make it easy to estimate the various costs. They will also make sure that the design of the building complies with all building codes and requirements.

In addition to architects, other professionals also play a critical role in the design process. Structural engineers are in charge of the building’s structural design. Electrical engineers are the ones who make decisions regarding the electrical layout and design of the building.

Mechanical engineers are the ones who take care of the plumbing and air-conditioning plans. Meanwhile, the civil engineer will handle the parking lot’s design, the drainage system, and the connection to other infrastructure.

Also, if the project consists of three or more stories, a threshold inspector will have to do structural inspections during the construction phase.

Contractors will use these drawings, design plans, and final specs from the architects and engineers in constructing the building. Architects and contractors maintain an open line of communication to ensure that the design process is executed smoothly.

More specifically, the design phase involves:

Construction Bidding

Every commercial building construction project requires a construction bid to determine the total cost of the project. During this stage, construction companies are selected and hired as the main contractors.

Bids from potential vendors and suppliers are obtained at this point. Usually, price quotes are requested from at least three vendors to perform a budget analysis. Before the bidder or supplier is selected, the owner will weigh which one offers the most reasonable price for their products and which one can deliver to the location within a given timeframe.


Feasibility means that the site requirements and the desired amenities will be considered. Such feasibility concerns will also have to address certain aspects of the project, including site access, utility connections, size, location, and building orientation. Any building is likely to fail if crucial items such as these are not understood and ignored.


The architect handles programming for the building. A building program provides an idea of the building’s space, flexibility, and functional needs. It also establishes a clearer picture of the building’s size, the number of rooms it is going to have, and how the space will be used, and by whom.

Schematic Design

This early-stage design phase takes into account how a business or company will be represented visually. These schematic designs will include sketches and information on the materials that will be used for the construction of the building, as well as details on the sizes, shapes, forms, colors, textures, patterns, and functions of the rooms and other portions of the building.

Design Development

Design development involves the research and investigation of the types of equipment and materials needed and used for the building construction. This also includes looking into how much each of these pieces of equipment and materials cost.

Contract Documents and Working Drawings

Working drawings or contract documents include the final specifications and the complete schematic drawings for the commercial construction project. These drawings and documents help the owner assess the construction bids, and they will also help builders throughout the construction process.

What’s more, the contract establishes the costs and timelines for each of the construction project’s stages. The documents will serve as a guide for both the contractors and the vendors.

Pre-Construction Phase

Before the construction begins, contractors need to complete more tasks. These pre-construction tasks include:

Obtaining a Building Permit

A building permit can be obtained by submitting the designs and plans to the building department. The department will provide comments about the plans, and the building owner, contractor, and consultant teams will have to comply with these comments before a building permit is granted.

Obtaining Insurance

An insurance policy that is carried by all the necessary parties is important. The insurance helps ensure that stakeholders are protected in case of any untoward incidents. Policies will include builders’ risk insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and general liability insurance for contractors.

Forming a Construction Team

The construction team should have a project manager, a contract administrator, a superintendent, and a field engineer. The contract administrator is the person who deals with contracts; the superintendent coordinates all the different construction activities and maintains the schedules.The field engineer is the one who looks into the condition of the construction site and manages all the paperwork. The project manager is the overseer of all the construction operations and the point-person for the entire team.

Procurement Phase

During the procurement step, the general contractor gathers and secures all the building materials, equipment, services, and labor force needed to commence construction.

The general contractor will draw up purchase orders to confirm that the building products meet all the project’s specifications for the determined price. The necessity of the materials and order of construction will depend on the building’s design and functionalities.

If the project is huge and the construction work is too big for the general contractor to handle, subcontractors can also help and take care of specific areas. For example, a subcontractor can help with glass installation, another can focus on woodwork, and another can deal with concrete work. And just like with the general contractor, the subcontractors’ hiring takes place during the bidding phase.

Construction Phase

The construction phase is when an empty site begins to transform into a building or an architectural marvel. This process starts when the superintendent calls for a meeting, and decisions are made based on the drawings and pricing documents, especially those that pertain to work hours, material storage, and quality control have been determined. A groundbreaking typically kicks off the main construction process.

Depending on the building’s functionality and design, the order of construction usually follows each of these steps, and these steps are inspected by the state construction inspector and the project manager.

Site Preparation

Preparing the site alone involves many tasks. These tasks are:

  • Implementation of drainage to building code
  • Site clearance and excavation to prepare the site for the construction of the building’s foundation
  • Utility layout
  • Arrangement of water, power, and sanitation lines
  • Removal of vegetation on the property
  • Construction of temporary storage hub
  • Inspection of structural, utilities, building code, electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioner, or HVAC lines.


foundation is the lower part of a building, and its primary function is to distribute the structure’s load evenly over its huge base area then transfer this gravity load to the soil under it. The transferred load should not exceed the soil’s allowed bearing capacity. Foundation work, including its type, size, length, breadth, and depth, is based on the architect’s drawings.

Most commercial structures stand on a concrete foundation. A form made of wood, foam, and panels will be added to the foundation’s formwork and reinforced with mesh or rebar prior to the concrete being poured into the form.

Utilities and certain miscellaneous items like heating and electrical wiring are sometimes added to the forms. Contractors will also fill these forms with concrete or cement and leave them to cure before dismantling the forms to create a finished foundation.


A building needs a strong skeletal system for support. This skeleton is called structural framing, and it ensures that a structure is strong and stable enough to be able to hold all the weight that is applied to the roof, walls, and other building elements.Proper framing is crucial because it ensures that the building does not collapse. Aside from stability, structural framing also ensures that your building is safe and can stand against the elements and natural disasters.

The contractor will construct the frame or skeleton to give shape to the structure. The frame will be made of wood for wood-construction buildings. For buildings that are mostly metal, a similar steel frame will be made, while for masonry structures, the frame will be built brick by brick, which will be laid out by hand. With the frame done, the contractor can now add windows more easily and exterior metal doors.

Roofing, Siding, and HVAC

Roofing and siding serve a purpose beyond just giving a commercial building a distinct look and color from the outside. They both protect the building from rain, the harsh heat of the sun, snow, wind, and other environmental elements. Both also protect everything inside of the structure from problems associated with moisture. They help the building retain heat and make the people inside comfortable.

The contractor will construct a building envelope over the structure by adding a roof and siding or wall. At this point, the HVAC company can also install the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system.


With the structure now having a roof and sides to protect the inside of the building from the elements, the contractor can then start installing insulation and other fixtures to the interior.

The interior of a building involves a broad range of horizontal and vertical surface treatments to enhance and complete the comfort and aesthetic experience of everyone who enters. Horizontal surface treatments refer to the floors and the ceilings, while vertical surface treatments refer to the walls.

Insulation is also installed during this phase. For insulation, the contractor may opt for spray foam, batt insulation, or blown-in insulation.

Other tasks and installations in the interior include the drywall, paint, trims, air sealing, flooring, tiling, and other finishing touches that make the building comfortable. Lighting systems are also put up. There are also the cabinets and shelving units.


A commercial building’s exterior envelope includes the exterior wall that separates the accommodation outside from the inside. The exterior provides environmental control, and it mediates between the outdoor and indoor conditions. It also offers aesthetics, privacy, security, and fire control.

The exterior also includes openings, which allow access to and from the building. These openings also allow ventilation, entry of natural lighting, and views of what is in and what is out of the building. In masonry and other load-bearing construction types, the exterior supports the wind loads of the floor and roof construction and distributes them to the foundation.

Meanwhile, a framed structure’s external walls may be non-loadbearing and are relieved of any upper roof and floor loadings. However, these walls are typically self-supporting, and they are designed in a way that they can resist wind loads, accommodate thermal movements, and prevent accidental fires from spreading.

The exterior process also involves installing a weather-resistant barrier and painting the outer part of the building. Unless, of course, a pre-finished siding is used. Once the commercial building’s exterior is finished, the project is almost complete.


Utilities, such as power, water, sewage, and communication systems are usually implemented in different stages throughout construction. For instance, water will need pipes to be run from the municipal water system or another source to the building.Initial piping will be put up and cast into the foundation, then extended up the building’s framing. At the end of the waterline will be your sinks and faucets, toilets, and appliances, which will be installed during the interior stage of construction.

Electrical lines pretty much work the same way. Installing the entire power system is done in different stages of the construction process.


Landscaping is usually handled by a subcontractor that specializes in landscape design. The job ranges from basic site cleanup and the addition of gravel to the turf to something more elaborate, like adding trees, shrubs, flowerbeds, and even garden fountains. Landscaping increases the aesthetic value of the building and adds more greenspace to make it more inviting.

Post-Construction Phase

Near the end of the construction, the contractor will have to conduct a final walk-through and punch-out, then make a punch list. This step identifies unsatisfactory components and minor issues to be addressed so that final repairs can be made before the project wraps up, and the building is officially turned over.

Spotting and fixing these walk-through problems, such as cracked tiles and faulty paint, may be harder to spot once the occupancy phase begins and furnishings and appliances are brought in.

Once construction is complete, the architect will issue a Substantial Completion Certificate, giving the building official the go signal to do a final inspection of the structure.

Multiple inspections will be conducted at several stages of the construction process, and these are typically done by the authorities who require certain permits. Foundation, structure, plumbing, electrical wiring, building code, utilities, HVAC, and every other aspect of the project will need to pass inspections.

Warranty Period

Some contractors give clients a warranty period on their construction work. This means that if you discover areas of the house that are unsatisfactory to you or that reflect poor construction methods or practices within this period, they will fix these free of charge.

Faulty materials and appliances that are not due to the contractor’s work are typically not covered by this warranty. They usually have their separate warranty from their distributors or manufacturers, and this warranty may not include labor.

Final Thoughts

Before beginning the construction of a commercial building, there are many things to consider. From the initial steps up to the point when the building is turned over to the owner, there will be a massive checklist of things that need to be accomplished before proceeding to the next phase. Every step is important and there should not be any shortcuts.

Moreover, all aspects of constructing a commercial building will involve many professionals, subcontractors, suppliers, and workers. Everyone should be able to communicate effectively, coordinate with each other, and work harmoniously together. While each person has a specialized role and function, everyone should also rely on each other’s expertise.


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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