Essential Commercial Construction Tips for Building Owners

Published Categorized as Project Management
Commercial Construction Managers

Commercial construction involves various complexities. There’s a lot to deal with in terms of finances, logistics, contractors, among other factors. Fortunately, navigating this process with the right people and proper planning is possible.

Some of the essential construction tips involve defining the scope, planning ahead, getting your finances in order, covering all the legalities, working with the right people, preparing for the unknown, and seeking advice from experienced project planners.

What Does Commercial Construction Involve?

Commercial construction can involve remodeling or building a new structure. These projects involve buying and selling business structures like retail centers, offices, industrial buildings, warehouses, and more. Each project varies in size.A few common types of commercial construction projects include:

  • Shopping malls
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Medical facilities
  • Sports facilities
  • Industrial warehouses
  • Institutional buildings

Another thing to note is that you need to know the type of structures allowed in that location when constructing commercial buildings. Understanding the zoning codes will help you determine the type of commercial building you want.

Some types of commercial buildings include hotels, lodges, warehouses, skyscrapers, or multi-family residences.

Levels of Commercial Construction

Although there are various types of commercial construction projects, it’s important to understand the different levels of construction. How a project is handled depends on the budget. The three different scales of commercial construction include:

Large Scale

Large scale commercial construction projects begin from the ground up. These projects require the expertise of a commercial developer or architect as they need to create a structure based on the owner’s vision. Moreover, these projects need lots of preparation, time, and planning to achieve success.

Medium Scale

Medium-scale commercial construction involves expansions, building restructuring, remodels, and more. These projects are time-consuming and work best for people looking to give an existing building a fresh look. Medium-scale projects are suitable for clients who want to remodel, restructure the building, or expand.

Small Scale

Small-scale commercial construction involves structure updates, office redesign, and building repairs. This level provides a facelift to an existing building without involving too many costs. If you’re thinking of opening a new space, rebranding, or adding small extensions to the structure, you can opt for small-scale construction.

What Is the Commercial Construction Process Like?

The commercial construction process involves:

  • Development
  • Design
  • Construction
  • Finished Product

Planning and Development

Planning and development are the first and most critical steps in the commercial construction process. This step involves finding the right location. Budget analysis and the creation of a project schedule are also important in this phase. It’s best to work with a general contractor and an architect during this step to ensure they are on the same page throughout the planning process.

When it comes to setting a budget, the budget needs to account for building packages, foundation, and delivery. These costs could escalate if you require expensive finishes. It’s also important to plan for unexpected outcomes like cases where there is a labor shortage or products are expensive.

Building Pre-Design and Design

The next step is to come up with the building’s design. A good plan needs to:

  • Outline the size and function of common spaces and rooms
  • Determine the building’s orientation and connection to various utility systems
  • Decide on the project feasibility in terms of building regulations and codes
  • Forecast project costs and timelines accurately
  • Decide if the project is close to preferred amenities as things like site access, utility connection, and building orientation can affect the compatibility of amenities.
  • Come up with contract documents outlining the project’s timeline
  • Set the costs for each construction phase

At this stage, the commercial construction owner confers with architects to help them understand the project’s goals. The architect will then create a rough sketch that shows the concepts of the design. The design team will also need to come up with schematics that detail sizes, textures, materials, and colors.

You may also need to involve environmental specialists and feasibility consultants to validate your building design. No one wants surprises of non-compliance when the building is half-way done.

The next stage is the design phase. It features a set of drawings with specifications that have timelines and costs for each construction stage. These drawings have specifications that describe the materials to be used, the installation methods, and the future outcome.

Contractors use the final specs and drawings to construct the commercial building. The specs include the costs involved and the timelines for every stage of construction. Worth noting is that the design phase may involve other professionals apart from the builders and architect. Some of the people who may be involved include:

  • Civil engineer for parking lot design, drainage, and infrastructure connection
  • Electrical engineers to determine the electrical layout and design
  • Mechanical engineers to handle plumbing and air conditioning
  • Structural engineers to handle the structural design

Pre-Construction and Construction Process

The step starts with pre-construction. The subcontractors and vendors get a list of materials to provide estimates. It’s advisable to get at least three quotes to ensure you’re getting the best price. The project manager is responsible for acquiring insurance requirements and building permits. Pre-construction also involves environmental investigation and soil testing to reduce complications and any hazards during construction.

The pre-construction phase will involve a:

  • Project manager
  • Contract administrator
  • Field engineer
  • Supervisor

These people play a vital role in dealing with paperwork and coordinating construction. Contractors also need to complete certain steps before construction can begin. These essential steps include:

  1. Getting a Building Permit: The project or construction manager will need to submit the plans to the building department. The department will evaluate the plan and comment on areas where you may need to improve before they approve the plan. Once you comply with the recommendations, the department will issue a building permit.
  2. Obtaining Insurance: It’s essential to get builders risk insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, and commercial/contractor general liability insurance.
  3. Get Bids: The next step involves getting bids from vendors.
  4. Come up With a Construction Team: A construction team should have a field engineer, project manager, contract administrator, and supervisor.

Procurement Process

After the pre-construction stage, the procurement process starts. The project manager is responsible for purchasing the equipment, materials, and labor required in the construction. There is a need to have a contractual purchase order to make sure the products bought perform as expected.

The construction manager then sets up a meeting where things like quality control, material storage, working hours, among other things, are discussed. Contractors start with excavation and installing underground utilities. The next step involves pouring concrete, steel erection, framing, roofing, and interior/exterior works. The project manager and construction inspector cover quality control.

Project analysis is done after construction is done. That involves the creation of a list of work that doesn’t meet specifications. This list is essential as it helps identify minor issues and small tweaks that may be needed before the building is occupied. Some issues include leaky faucets or cracked tiles.

Finished Product

Once the above steps are completed, the architect issues a certificate of completion. There may be a need for a financial inspection before the building is opened to the public. The commercial construction project owner receives all the necessary information and documentation at this phase. All these documents pertain to the building’s operation.

That’s the commercial construction process from start to finish. Note that the pre-construction phase may take longer than the actual construction process. Consider this when setting up your project timeline and schedule. There are multiple steps involved in constructing a commercial building, which is why communication is vital to ensure the project is successful and sticks to the set budget.

Commercial Construction Tips

After going through the steps above, it’s time to learn some tips that will help you save time and help save costs. These include:

Plan Ahead

Commercial construction involves a lot of intricate details. It’s critical to plan as doing this helps to define the project scope, come up with a project timeline, schedule tasks, among other activities, to help ensure the project is successful.

Planning also helps in fund allocation. At this point, you get the estimates that you can present to the lenders to get funding. In some cases, it’s challenging to know what problems you may encounter along the way.

Pre-construction planning makes your work easier by accounting for unforeseen scheduling obstacles. Moreover, it determines the site’s requirements, lists the permits required, establishes the type of equipment and building materials for the project, and the capacity of soil required.

Another point to note is that having a construction project plan acts as a map to complete a project.

Types of Construction Planning

The different types of construction project planning include:

  • Operational Planning

This involves construction teams creating detailed plans to meet the set goals.

  • Strategic Planning

Strategic planning involves corporate planners to ensure that the owner and the end-user are satisfied. A strategic planner’s work is to come up with a construction delivery plan that details specific guidelines agreed upon in the contracting and strategic plans.

Have a Budget in Mind

Apart from planning ahead, you need to have a budget to ensure that you have the financing available to complete the project. Cost estimation and budgeting play a critical role in the construction industry. You need to prepare the first budget once the architect completes the schematic design phase.

Understanding the key elevations, floor plans, and the site plan can aid in cost planning in construction. After coming up with the initial budget, the construction manager and architect need to manage the balance of the design to ensure they meet the project owner’s budget requirements. The best contractor needs to prepare an early total project budget that consists of the design and construction costs and potential costs of the project.

If your commercial construction project falls under the large scale level will include engineering-electrical, plumbing, mechanical, civil, structural, acoustic, permits and fees, landscape architecture, testing and inspections, fixtures, furniture, management fees, among other costs.When creating a budget, there’s a need to allocate contingency to ensure you account for unforeseen conditions and other hidden costs. In a case where the estimated costs exceed what the project owner had in mind, the owner can opt for value engineering recommendations to reduce costs or accept the cost increase in return for value received.

Cost management in commercial construction needs to account for tasks like:

  • Analyzing the project requirements to verify the scope
  • Coming up with true costs and time parameters to obtain approvals
  • Determining and analyzing cash flow requirements
  • Preparing cost budget including all consultants
  • Implementing ongoing controls for tracking of cost impacts
  • Allocation of enough contingency and cost escalation
  • Analyzing inspection and testing costs

A contingency fund needs to be accounted for in budgeting and should include accidents, breakdown of equipment, design/material upgrades, and any changes to the initial project scope.

The project owner budget may include:

  • Land/property acquisition
  • The construction cost
  • Planning costs
  • Approval fees
  • Site investigations
  • Fixtures and fittings
  • Contracts outside of the main works
  • Consultant fees
  • Insurance
  • Inflation
  • VAT
  • Contingency

All these costs play a critical role in budgeting. Lack of financial planning can lead to delays, errors, omissions, and sometimes incompletion. Successful budgeting involves determining the owner’s vision, understanding building codes, knowing which items are necessary and flexible, and accounting for hidden costs.

Work With the Right People

Another vital tip when dealing with a commercial construction project is to work with the right people. Remember that this type of project is intricate and requires a different skillset to execute successfully. A construction project has many roles, with the most common being:


An architect plays the role of envisioning the project owner’s needs and coming up with a solution. He/she is responsible for designing, conceptualizing, and planning construction. Although most architects handle any project, some specialize in commercial construction. They understand what commercial structures are involved, and their work is to ensure the building meets the set laws and is functional.

Commercial construction involves a large budget in regards to design. The job of a commercial architect is to work within a client’s budget to implement different features in the commercial building. They need to create a space that houses the various structures and choose the building materials to help come up with the look the project owner wants.

A project owner can choose a limited amount of services or a full package depending on what he/she needs. The package will determine an architect’s involvement in the project. Some of the services provided by a commercial architect include:

  • Egress analysis
  • Site analysis
  • Town building code plan approvals and management
  • Building investigation
  • Cost estimation
  • Elevator design
  • Masonry analysis
  • Schematic design
  • Barrier-free design and compliance
  • Roof analysis

Commercial architects also provide general design services like interior renovations, 3D renderings, façade renovations, and cabinetry/furniture design.An architect is not only an asset but also a key in your long-term investments. When looking for a commercial architect, you need to:

Find a Local Architect

A local architect understands what the local building codes entails and has a connection to local engineers and other contractors that may come in handy for your project. Remember that having the right connection is key for a demanding industry like commercial construction.

Look For Someone Experienced and Licensed

Licenses and board certifications show that the architect is knowledgeable about what is involved in construction. An architect with at least ten years of experience means that he/she has worked on a couple of projects. You can trust the architect to bring your construction plans to life and complete the project within the set budget and timeline.

Finding someone who’s also knowledgeable about technology is critical. Design software and 3D modeling are fantastic tools that aid in plan creation. Using these tools also makes revisions smoother, and the architect can make adjustments along the way to make sure your vision is brought to life.

Get Someone Who Understands You

It’s essential to find an architect who understands your desires and guides you in making the right choices when dealing with commercial construction. The right architect should align with your style and be willing to listen to your needs.

Communication will tell you if you can connect personally with someone. You need to be on the same page and have clarity on the set expectations of each other.

After learning what criteria to use, it’s time to find the best commercial architect for your project. The best place to start is through referrals from friends, family, and associates. You could also take your search to the internet by typing commercial architect and adding your area code. Go through the architect’s websites to get a feel of their personality and learn more about the projects they are working on.

Narrow down your top choices by interviewing them. This could be through calls, emails, or face to face. Don’t forget to check references and ask difficult questions.

Construction Manager

A construction manager is another person involved in a commercial construction project. He/she is responsible for overseeing the project from start to finish. The person is responsible for budgeting, planning, and overseeing progress, which is why a construction manager needs to be in contact with the architect and other contractors.

A construction manager is also responsible for scheduling employees, determining the materials to be used, and coming up with a project schedule. When choosing a construction manager, find someone with years of experience, a person knowledgeable about the local building codes, and someone who also uses cloud-based software for planning, implementation, and communication.

Construction Superintendent

A construction superintendent checks the operations of a construction site from start to finish. Common duties include daily scheduling, ensuring compliance and safety of the site, and overseeing all tasks and activities.

Project Engineer

Project engineers oversee all technical aspects of engineering projects to ensure quality and a high level of accuracy in everything that is done. They are involved in the preparation, scheduling, coordination, and monitoring of assigned engineering projects.

You may need to work with other people, including construction estimators, electricians, plumbers, equipment operators, construction laborers, and more. The good thing is that the construction manager can help source labor.

Note that every person in the building process needs to understand their distinct responsibilities. The contractor, subcontractors, and other parties need to have a defined list of responsibilities followed by a timeline and plan. That keeps the project on schedule and makes sure each person is responsible for their actions.

Be Realistic With Your Involvement

As a project owner, you need to be realistic about your involvement in the project. You need to decide how much time you can devote. The best thing to do is to hire a project manager to oversee the process.

Get All the Documentation Ready

After deciding that you want to have a commercial building, it’s time to get all the documentation ready. Failure to get registered and licensed by the Construction Industry Licensing Board could get you in legal trouble. The types of permits you need depend on the type of commercial project you’ll be undertaking. You may need to contact the local city department to know which permits you need.

Note that before you get a permit, you need to submit the required notifications, request and receive the necessary inspections, and get utility connections. The people responsible will have to evaluate the quality of building regulations, safety mechanisms in place, and quality control strength.

Getting a building permit helps to protect property value. It also saves money as property insurers may avoid covering work done without inspections and permits. Another benefit of getting a permit is that it reduces potential hazards involved with unsafe construction. You want the project to meet the set standards of safety and be safe for future owners. Going through inspections acts as a system of checks and balances that make the project safe.

Acquiring a building permit also makes selling property easier. Most financial institutions avoid financing a purchase without proof of inspection.

Understand Contractor Delivery Methods

Commercial contractors provide different delivery methods for finishing a commercial project. Some of the deliverables include design-build, renovations, remodeling, hard bid, among others. These delivery methods determine the degree of responsibility and risk between the project owner and commercial contractor for the whole construction project’s costs.

Have a Realistic Completion Date

While it’s normal to want the project completed as soon, it’s also important to be realistic about the completion date. Remember that it takes time to build a commercial building when following quality standards and the set building codes. The construction involves building inspectors, contractors, local laws, and heavy equipment. Other factors like environmental conditions and weather can affect the construction timeline. The best thing is to talk to a commercial contractor who will help you come up with realistic delivery dates for your construction project.

Communication is Key

Any commercial construction project requires effective communication. There are many processes involved in the construction, which means everyone, including the contractors, architect, and construction manager needs to be in constant communication to ensure the process goes smoothly. You don’t want surprises when the project is ongoing. Another option would be to have a single point of contact, where the construction manager acts as the general contractor to streamline communication.

Don’t Forget to Have a Contingency Plan

It’s not possible to know what will happen during the construction phase. Sometimes the costs may exceed the set budget. That’s why it’s essential to have a contingency plan representing 10% of the total project cost. Things like plumbing/electrical modifications and landscaping costs can never be ignored.

Don’t Make Last-Minute Changes

Project owners are tempted to make last-minute changes when the construction is underway. Unfortunately, what this does is cause budget overruns and could lead to delays. It’s recommended to stay in touch with the architect and construction manager to discuss any necessary changes and make sure they won’t affect your budget. You can choose to stick to the initial plan from start to end.

Understand How to Resolve Conflicts

Conflicts are bound to arise during a construction project. Sometimes discrepancies occur in the middle of a project and need to be settled by the main contractor who handles the materials, work, and other subcontractors.

Having a contract in place means that the contractor is liable for any defects that may occur from the work of hired subcontractors.


Commercial construction requires collaboration between the project owner, general contractor, architect, and subcontractors. That ensures the successful completion of the building project. Modern technology has introduced data-driven project management software that increases productivity and promotes efficiency. Overall, time management, cost management, quality administration, communication, and safety administration are some of the best practices to complete a commercial construction project successfully.


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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