Understanding Construction Terms and Codes

The construction industry is a complex and highly regulated field that requires a deep understanding of construction terms and codes. These terms and codes are essential for ensuring the safety and compliance of construction projects. 

Whether you’re embarking on a construction project or looking to expand your knowledge, this article is for you. We’ll provide you with the information needed to navigate the complex world of construction terms and codes. Ultimately, this will make sure that your construction project is safe, compliant‌ and successful. So, let’s dive in and start exploring the world of construction terms and codes.

Common construction terms

Lack of communication and knowledge gaps lead to inefficiencies on construction sites and projects. A clear set of construction terms makes communication easier and more accurate. While construction terms may vary slightly by region, there’s a general set of terms that ensure consistent communication between all parties.

This can be beneficial for many reasons:

  • Efficiency: It’s more efficient to communicate complex subjects and concepts with technical terms among industry professionals
  • Standardization: For accuracy and clarity, standardized terminology makes contracts airtight. Using specific terms leaves less room for interpretation. Having standardized language will reduce the likelihood of disagreements and disputes later. Legal disputes get resolved more quickly, even if these issues occur.
  • Regulation: Precise terms will ensure all parties, from general contractors to subcontractors and suppliers, agree on regulatory procedures and safety rules.


Construction Terms 101

Here’s a quick list of common construction terms and definitions

Contract terms

  • Construction Management at Risk (CMAR): A project delivery method where the construction manager commits to delivering the project within a guaranteed maximum price.
  • Cost Plus Contract/Cost Reimbursement Contract: This is a construction contract where the contractor agrees to cover the expenses of the project. They also agree to a fee for profit ahead of time. They’re reimbursed upon received expense receipts. 
  • GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price): A contract where you pay the contractor for the actual costs incurred in addition to a fixed fee that has a price ceiling cap.
  • Liquidated Damages: This is an approved sum of money a contractor has to pay in case of any breach of the contract. It usually comes into play if the contractor fails to meet the completion date.
  • Lump Sum Contract: This is a contract where a contractor commits to completing the job for a pre-agreed sum. This sum encompasses all labor, supplies, machinery, services‌ and overhead costs
  • Time and Materials Contracts: A contract method where you pay the contractor for the actual costs, including time and materials.
  • Zoning: These are laws established by local governments to manage and control land development within their jurisdiction. They intent to protect public safety and welfare while promoting the efficient use of land and resources. You apply zoning laws to regulate the size, type, structure, nature and use of buildings in an area—whether residential or commercial. 

Construction management terms

  • Change Order: This is a formal document for recording and tracking changes to the scope of the original contract. A Change Order specifies new work to do or work to omit. It’ll also record the new schedule and budget for the construction project.
  • Punch List/Snag List: A checklist of uncompleted construction tasks that the project must address before completion. You must prepare and complete this list before making final payment.
  • RFI: A Request for Information (RFI) is most commonly a request for additional information or clarification of items. These items can either be missing from or conflicting within the contract documents, including the plans and specifications. At times, issues may arise on site when conditions aren’t exactly as planned. In those instances, you have to alter original plans or make material choices based on actual conditions. Subcontractors and GCs often ask questions of the architect, engineer or owner to ensure construction can continue without delay using RFIs.
  • RFQ: The Request for Quote (RFQ) document features predetermined specifications for the project. as it requests the vendor’s costs to fulfill these specifications.
  • RFP: You send the Request for Proposal (RFP) document to potential contractors to obtain a proposal for the work, including pricing, scheduling, resource information and more.
  • Scope of Work: This outlines the details of a construction project. It details the work that’ll be performed, including requirements, pricing‌ and timeline for completion. By clearly understanding these details upfront, both parties can ensure that they agree.
  • Submittals: Submittals refer to the drawings, data, examples‌ and mock-ups that you submit to the architects and engineers for confirmation. You can learn more about submittals here.

Building codes

Building codes are regulations to protect the safety and well-being of individuals living in and around structures. They ensure that buildings are designed and constructed to meet a standard of safety, comfort‌ and convenience. Building codes also help in making sure that additions and alterations to existing structures are done safely and according to the law. 

To adhere to building codes, having a construction management system is essential. It allows you to easily manage construction documents, safety requirements‌ and building standards. The purpose of building codes is to protect the public and ensure buildings are fit for occupancy. This includes establishing and enforcing:

  • Fire safety
  • Structural integrity
  • Electrical safety
  • Efficient plumbing
  • Energy efficiency
  • Accessibility

The process of building code enforcement involves conducting a plan review and performing inspections. Inspections will occur at different times throughout the construction process to ensure everything adheres to the safety requirements. Ignoring the building codes may result in penalties, prolong the building process, or even stop construction until you solve the problems. 

Key construction codes

There isn’t one specific governing body that establishes building codes internationally. However, there are general principles that may be shared among different regions. Being able to access these building codes when you need to on a jobsite, makes decision-making easier. Construction teams can also make decisions in the best interest of the construction project.

The International Code Council (ICC) created the International Building Code (IBC) that establishes building guidelines. However, local authorities will enforce and manage regulations on their own terms. The ICC has these types of construction codes: 

In Canada, there’s the National Building Code (NBC) that regulates building and fire codes for construction. The Australian Building Codes Board established the National Construction Code to set regulations for building and safety codes. The European Commission established Eurocodes for the regulation of construction and civil engineering.

Electrical codes

Electrical codes regulate the wiring, transformers, electrical equipment‌ and other components of installed and maintained items. The National Electrical Code (NEC) is the primary source of electrical regulations in the US. It lays down detailed instructions for wiring methods and materials, general use equipment, and special occupancies, all of which help ensure safety.

Plumbing codes

These codes govern the effective installation and maintenance of plumbing systems. They regulate the design, construction‌ and materials to protect public health and safety. Plumbing codes also cover the installation of all domestic water supply, sanitary drainage‌ and storm drainage systems. The International Plumbing Code (IPC) and the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) are the principal plumbing codes used in the US.

Fire codes

These regulations reduce the risk and impact of fires. It covers the design and construction requirements to prevent fire and install fire protection systems and fire-safety equipment. By following these guidelines, you construct buildings that are much safer from the potential threat of a fire, helping to save lives in an emergency. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the ICC are primary sources of these regulations in the US.

Mechanical codes

These codes are the backbone of many mechanical systems, including HVAC, refrigeration, duct systems, boilers‌ and other appliances. They provide the necessary regulations to guarantee that the installation of these systems is safe and efficient. It also ensures that you do maintenance, repairs, and replacements correctly.

Why understanding construction terms and codes is important

Having a good understanding of construction terms and codes is essential for any successful building project manager. Not only does it streamline communication, but helps ensure your team follows safety protocols. This helps avoid costly delays or penalties in the process. Having an informed knowledge base allows you to prioritize compliance throughout your construction project. 

Using the power of RedTeam Flex and Fieldlens by RedTeam together allows teams on site to quickly and easily associate issues or tasks with the appropriate construction code. It further helps enable accountability, code adherence and safety standards across the entire project. Learn how RedTeam Flex and Fieldlens can empower your construction teams as well.