David Ross Associates LLC - 900 Industrial Rd. Ste. E, San Carlos, CA 94070
  • 900 Industrial Rd. Suite E
  • San Carlos, California 94070
  • P:(650) 593-2001



Glossary of Common Construction Industry Terms
and Some Legal Terms Often Used in Construction Disputes




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Written information adding to, clarifying or modifying the bid documents. An addendum is generally issued by the owner to the contractor during the bid process and as such, addenda are intended to become part of the contract documents when the construction contract is executed.



An amount of money identified and allocated in the contract for a specific item of work, such as appliances, cabinets, or fixtures, for which details were not finalized at the time of contracting.

Generally, an allowance pays only the contractor's cost for material/equipment delivered to the project for the specific item of work. The contractor's labor, overhead, and profit for installation are typically included in the base contract price, not the allowance amount.

If the actual costs for the specific item are higher (or lower) than the allowance amount, the contract sum must be increased (or decreased) to cover the difference.


Application for Payment

Contractor's written request for payment for completed portions of the work and, for materials delivered or stored and properly labeled for the respective project.



The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines an architect as "a licensed professional with specialized skills who designs buildings and cityscapes and helps make real the unique vision of their clients and communities."

In California, an architect is a person who is licensed by the California Architects Board to practice architecture in this State.


Architectural Drawing

A line drawing showing plan and/or elevation views of the proposed building with sufficient detail for a competent contractor to construct the project.


As-Built Drawings

Architectural drawings which incorporate any and all changes to the design made during the construction process.



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A formal offer by a contractor to perform the scope of work (or portion thereof) specified in the bid documents, for a particular price.


Bid Documents

A written set of documents (including invitation to bid, instructions, forms, and proposed contract documents) identifying the project scope of work, and contract terms, to form the basis on which contractors shall calculate the price of their bid.


Blue Prints

A type of copying method often used for architectural drawings. Typically used to describe the project drawings.


Brick Veneer

A vertical facing of brick laid against and fastened to sheathing of a framed wall or tile wall construction. Non-loadbearing brick facing applied to a wall to give appearance of solid-brick construction; bricks are fastened to backup structure with metal ties embedded in mortar joints.


Building Code

Laws governing construction. The legal requirements set up by various governing agencies covering the minimum acceptable requirements for all types of construction.


Building Envelope / Building Shell

Outer structure of the building including the waterproof elements of a building exterior which encloses the conditioned space of the building.


Building Inspector / Official

A qualified government representative authorized to inspect construction for compliance with applicable building codes, regulations and ordinances.


Building Permit

A written document issued by the appropriate governmental authority permitting construction to begin on a specific project in accordance with drawings and specifications approved by the governmental authority.



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The gray powder that is the "glue" in concrete.



A mixture of cement, sand, gravel, and water generally used in the construction of foundations, slabs, walls, sidewalks, etc. Typically, building codes require internal reinforcement with steel rods (rebar) or wire screening (mesh).


Change Order

A written document, signed by all parties to a contract, authorizing an adjustment in contract work, value, and/or time.


Changed Conditions

Conditions or circumstances, physical or otherwise, which alter the conditions or circumstances on which the contract documents were based.


Change Order Proposal / Change Order Request

A written document requesting an adjustment in contract work, value, and/or time.


CC&Rs (Conditions, Convenants, and Restrictions)

A contract defining and governing allowable property use for the benefit of all owners in a subdivision.


Construction Contract

A legal document which specifies the what, when, where, how, and by-whom in a construction project. A good construction contract should include:


Construction Documents

All drawings, specifications and addenda associated with a specific construction project.


Construction Management

A professional management practice consisting of an array of services applied to construction projects and programs through the planning, design, construction and post construction phases for the purpose of achieving project objectives including the management of quality, cost, time and scope.


Cost Plus Contract / Cost Plus Fee Agreement

A written agreement in which the party performing the work is reimbursed for his/her direct and indirect costs plus a fee for his services. The fee is usually stated as a stipulated sum or as a percentage of the cost.


Contemporaneous Documentation

Contemporaneous documentation refers to the files created “at the time.” On a construction project, these are the letters, memos, e-mails, requests for information (RFIs), change order requests (CORs) change orders (COs), project invoices, plans, specifications, job site photos, job site videos, inspector reports, and any other documents that chronicle the status of the project and were created during the actual construction.

This is distinguished from documents such as deposition transcripts which chronicle people’s memories of the events of a project after the project has been completed.

Unfortunately, our memories can be less reliable than we would like to believe. Administrative workers, project staff, engineers, superintendents, project managers, all have different views of a project and will remember key events in a variety ways. Additionally, memories can change over time as folks hear the stories of others. Therefore, contemporaneous documents are the best source available for reconstructing the facts of a project if a dispute arises.



An amount of money reserved by the owner to pay for unforeseen changes in the work.



An agreement between two or more parties and the written document expressing the terms of such agreement.


Contract Documents

A term generally used to represent all executed agreements between the parties; all general, supplementary, and/or other contract conditions; all drawings and specifications; all addenda issued prior to execution of the contract; and any other items specifically stipulated as being included in the contract documents.


Critical Path Method (CPM)

A management system used for project planning and control which combines all relevant information into a defined sequence and duration of operations and identifies the interrelationship of Work elements required to complete the project. A CPM schedule chart uses a control line and symbol diagrams to show the respective activities and interdependencies.


Critical Path

The longest sequence of activities in a network which establishes the minimum length of time for completion of the project. The particular group of construction activities that must be completed on time for the project completion date to be met. Generally, activities on the critical path have no float.


CEQA – California Environmental Quality Act

The California State law that requires construction projects to undergo a review to determine what impacts the project may have on the environment. Areas studied include air and water quality, biological resources, cultural resources, aesthetics, noise, population and housing, public services, recreation, transportation and traffic.



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Daily Report (Field Report)

Day-to-day recording of the operations and status of a project. It is primarily of historical value as a basic reference to determine the exact history and progress of the work at any given point in time when some phase of the work is questioned or under dispute.

Care should be exercised to make the report as complete, yet concise, factual, and unbiased as possible. The report should be written to provide someone with no knowledge of the project a solid understanding of specific events occuring on the project.

More weight is generally given to reports when their quality creates confidence in their credibility. Reports should always note the initiation and/or completion of any major item of work, which subcontractors are on site, general description of work being performed, any problems encountered, general weather conditions, etc.


Direct Cost / Hard Costs

All items of expense directly incurred by or attributable to a specific project, assignment or task.



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A formal contract allowing one party to use another party's property for a specific purpose; such as a utility provider having easement rights to run power and water lines through one person’s property to reach the neighbor’s property.



A calculated guess of the amount of material, labor and equipment required for a given project necessary to complete the work as specified.



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Fast Track

A method of construction management which involves a continuous design-construction process wherein construction work begins prior to final completion of the plans and specifications; and the design team provides updated design documents as needed to keep the project moving forward on schedule.


Field Report (Daily Report)

Day-to-day recording of the operations and status of a project. It is primarily of historical value as a basic reference to determine the exact history and progress of the work at any given point in time when some phase of the work is questioned or under dispute.

Care should be exercised to make the report as complete, yet concise, factual, and unbiased as possible. The report should be written to provide someone with no knowledge of the project a solid understanding of specific events occuring on the project.

More weight is generally given to reports when their quality creates confidence in their credibility. Reports should always note the initiation and/or completion of any major item of work, which subcontractors are on site, general description of work being performed, any problems encountered, general weather conditions, etc.


Fire Rated

Materials that are not combustible in the temperatures of ordinary fires and will withstand such fires for a specified period of time.


Fixed Price Contract

A set contract amount for all labor, materials, equipment and services; and contractors overhead and profit for all work being performed for a specific scope of work.



Contingency time that exists on a schedule of activities. The flexibility with non-critical activities that allows start and/or end dates to be adjusted without affecting the overall project completion date.



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Gantt Chart

Form of scheduling chart showing start and finish dates, critical and non-critical activities, slack time, and predecessor relationships.


General Conditions

Written part of the Contract stating detailed terms for the contractor's minimum acceptable performance requirements; including rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the parties involved in the performance of the contract.


General Contractor

Properly licensed individual or company having primary (prime) responsibility for the work.



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An abbreviation for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning.



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Indirect Cost

Overhead expense; expenses indirectly incurred and not chargeable to a specific project or task. The terms Indirect costs and soft costs are synonymous.



An official examination or review of the work completed or in progress to determine its compliance with contract requirements or relevant governing codes.



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Lien (Mechanic's or Material)

The right to take and hold or sell an owner's property to satisfy unpaid debts to a qualified contractor for labor, materials, equipment or services to improve the property.


Lien Waiver / Lien Release

Written document from a contractor, subcontractor, material supplier or other construction professional, having lien rights against an owner's property, relinquishing all or part of those rights. Lien waivers are generally issued at each progress payments for work completed and materials provided to date.


Lump Sum Contract

A contract in which the owner agrees the pay the contractor a specified sum of money for the complete scope of work.


Liquidated Damages

An amount of money, generally set on a per-day basis, which the contractor agrees to pay the owner for delay in completing the Work.



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Meeting Notes / Meeting Minutes

A written report consisting of a project number, project name, meeting date and time, meeting place, meeting subject, a list of persons attending, and a list of actions taken and/or discussed during the meeting. Generally, this report is distributed to all persons attending the meeting and any other person having an interest in the meeting.


Mechanic's Lien / Material Lien

The right to take and hold or sell an owner's property to satisfy unpaid debts to a qualified contractor for labor, materials, equipment or services to improve the property.



Measures taken to minimize or lessen the impacts of a problem identified in the construction project.



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OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

The federal regulatory agency charged with oversight to maintain a safe environment for workers. (CalOSHA is the California state equivalent.)



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Preliminary Lien Notice

Written notice, provided to the property owner of a specific project by those furnishing services, equipment, or materials to that project, stating that if bills are not paid in full for such labor, services, equipment, or materials, a mechanic's lien may be placed on the property; even where the owner has paid a prime contractor in full.

California requires that a Preliminary Lien Notice must be provided to the property owner not more than 20 days after starting work or delivering materials to the project site.



A screening process to determine qualifications of prospective contractors to perform the work prior to requesting bids for the project. Analysis of qualifications should include such considerations as: contractor competence, integrity, dependability, responsiveness, bonding rate, bonding capacity, work on hand, similar project experience, and other specific owner requirements.


Progress Payment

A payment made during the course of construction for work completed to date and materials stored on site.


Project Manager (Project Management)

One responsible for coordinating time, equipment, money, tasks and people for all or specified portions of a specific project.


Project Manual

A organized book detailing specific requirements, conditions of the contract, and the technical work specifications for a specific project. (see Specifications)


Punch List

A list, created near completion of the work, indicating items of work that remain unfinished, do not meet quality or quantity requirements as specified, or are yet to be performed. Discrepancies that need to be corrected; generally prepared by the owner (or owner's representative) of contract scope of work items requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor.


PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)

The plastic material used to manufacture some types of conduit, pipes and fittings.



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Quality Assurance (QA)

The application of planned and systematic methods to verify that quality control procedures are being effectively implemented.


Quality Control (QC)

The continuous review, certification, inspection, and testing of project components, including persons, systems, materials, documents, techniques, and workmanship to determine whether or not such components conform to the plans, specifications, and applicable standards.



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Radiant Heating

A method of heating, usually consisting of a forced hot water system with pipes placed in the floor, wall, or ceiling. Also electrically heated panels.



A naturally-occurring, heavier than air, radioactive gas common in many parts of the country. Radon gas exposure is associated with lung cancer. Mitigation measures may involve crawl space and basement venting and various forms of vapor barriers.


Rebar (Reinforcing Bar)

Ribbed steel bars installed within the formwork area of a concrete installation prior to pouring the concrete into place. Rebar in various sizes and grades increases the strength of the concrete.


Release of Lien

A written action properly executed by and individual or firm supplying labor, materials or professional services on a project which releases his mechanic's lien against the project property.


RFI - (Request for Information)

A written request, generally from a contractor to the owner or architect, for clarification or to obtain additional information about the contract documents, which in the contractor's opinion is necessary to continue construction of the project.

It is common for the contract to allow the architect, engineer, or owner 15 calendar days to review and respond to an RFI. Thus, a competent contractor will always try to submit an RFI a minimum of 15 calendar days (c.d.'s) before the information is needed to avoid impact to the project schedule.

It is typical on a well managed project that the RFI curve will be asymmetric, peaking at around 30% to 40% of the project duration.


Resident Engineer

An individual permanently assigned at a job site for the purpose of representing the owner's interests during the construction phase.



A percentage amount of money withheld from progress payments until final and satisfactory project completion.



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A plan for performing the work within the required time frame.


Schedule of Values

A list of basic contract segments showing both labor and material, where each line item consists of a description of a portion of the work and related cost. Generally used as the basis for reviewing the contractor's applications for progress payments.



A preliminary sketch or diagram representing the proposed intent of the designer.


Scope of Work

The entire package of contractual performance requirements of a project.


Shop Drawings

Drawings, typically prepared by the contractor or its subcontractor, that show the designer how the contractor intends to assemble the referenced work so that the resulting construction is consistent with the design intent and the contract documents.


Soft Costs

Project cost items that are not part of the direct Construction costs, such as architectural, engineering, legal, financial, operational, leasing, advertising, promotion, and supervision expenses.



A detailed list of materials, methods, model numbers, colors, allowances, and other details which elaboration in specific detail about, and supplement the information contained in the contract drawings.


Special Conditions

A section of contract requirements detailing conditions or requirements unique to the project under consideration. Generally covering work and/or materials required in the proposal and estimate, but not sufficiently detailed in the General Conditions.


Stop Notice

A formal, written notice to a contractor to discontinue some or all work on a project for reasons such as safety violations, defective materials or workmanship, or cancellation of the contract.



A written agreement between the prime contractor and another contractor or supplier for the performance of a specific part of the scope of a construction project scope of work.


Substantial Completion

Period of project when the work or a designated portion of the work is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the contract requirements, so that it may be used for its intended purpose; even though all work may not be complete.



A proposed replacement or alternate offered in lieu of, and represented as being equivalent to, a specified material or process.


Supplementary Conditions

A written section of the contract documents supplementing and qualifying or modifying the contracts general conditions.



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T&M (Time and Materials)

A form of construction agreement wherein payment is based on the contractor's actual cost for labor, equipment, materials, and services plus a fixed add-on amount to cover the contractor's overhead and profit.


TIs (Tenant Improvements)

Interior improvements of a project after completion of the Building shell. TIs usually include such items of work as finish floor coverings; ceilings; partitions; doors, frames, hardware; fire protection; HVAC consisting of branch distribution duct work, control boxes, and registers; electrical consisting of lighting, switches, power outlets, phone/data outlets, exit and energy lighting; window coverings; etc. to accomodate the intended use of the space by the specific tenant.

Costs & Schedule of TI work can vary significantly depending on the specific needs of a particular tenant.



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Underwriter's Laboratories Label (UL)

A label on a product or manufactured item showing the material is regularly tested by, and complies with the minimum standards of the Underwriter's Laboratories specification for safety and quality.


U.B.C. (Uniform Building Code)

National standard building regulations first published in 1927 by the International Council of Building Officials (ICBO) to promote public safety and provided standardized requirements for safe construction. In 2000, the UBC was replaced by the International Building Code (IBC) published by the International Code Council (ICC).



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Value Engineering

A process whereby the project is evaluated on a financial basis by technical specialists with the intent to reduce costs without compromising usability or quality of construction. A specialized cost control technique, which utilizes a systematic and creative analysis of the functions of a project or operation to determine how best to achieve the necessary function, performance, and reliability at the minimum life cycle cost.



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Work Order

A written order, signed by the owner or owner's agent, requiring performance by the contractor without negotiation of any sort.



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Restrictions of areas or regions of land within specific geographical areas based on permitted building size, character, and uses as established by governing urban authorities.


David Ross Associates LLC
900 Industrial Rd. Suite E
San Carlos, CA 94070
Phone: (650) 593-2001