8 Construction Contract Types [+ Free Construction Contract Template]

In this guide, we’ll compare the 8 construction contract types. Plus, give you the tools you need to create your own construction contracts.
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Construction Management Fundamentals
Roles & Responsibilities
Project Management
Tracking & Measuring Progress
Managing Cost & Budget
Quality & Risk Management
Leveraging Technology

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Having the right contract in place can make or break a project in the complex construction world. As a growing construction professional, you’ve likely realized the significance of this yourself. That’s why it’s important to understand the various types of construction contracts and know how to craft them efficiently.

This article aims to help you navigate and better understand the different types of construction contracts. We aim to break down the eight major types of construction contracts, providing a clear, easy-to-understand explanation for each. From cost-plus contracts to design and build contracts, we’ll take you through each type, discussing their advantages, disadvantages, and ideal situations to use them.

But we won’t stop at just explaining what construction contracts are and how they work—we’ll also provide practical insights on how to write these contracts, what to include, and what to look out for, ensuring you’re fully equipped to handle these vital legal documents. And as a bonus, we’ve included a free construction contract template for you to download and use as a starting point for your own contracts.

So, whether you’re starting a new job or simply looking to broaden your construction knowledge, this guide is designed for you.

What Is a Construction Contract?

A construction contract is a fundamental element of any construction project. This legally binding agreement is typically forged between two or more parties, commonly the contractor and the client. The contract stipulates critical aspects of the project, such as the scope of work, the quality and types of materials to be employed, the project’s timeline, and the total cost.

Beyond merely listing terms, a construction contract is a comprehensive document that illustrates the project’s roadmap from commencement to conclusion. It elucidates the specifics of the work, the materials required, the completion time frame, and the payment terms. Furthermore, it stipulates the procedures to be followed during disputes or changes in the original plan.

The value of contracts in the construction industry is simply immeasurable. It forms the foundation for legal relationships and ensures clear communication among all involved parties. Detailing project requirements eliminates any ambiguity, thus mitigating the potential risk of misunderstandings.

Construction contracts are also pivotal in allocating responsibilities among key parties. They outline who’s responsible for what, fostering greater accountability and creating a stronger sense of order and predictability in project execution. This clarity is especially crucial when unforeseen circumstances arise, like project delays or increased material costs, as the contract delineates who’s responsible for such incidents.

In terms of legality, construction contracts are protective shields. They offer a structured legal framework that safeguards the client and the contractor. If a party fails to uphold its contractual obligations, the aggrieved party can seek legal redress through the pathways outlined in the contract.

Moreover, construction contracts include provisions for dispute resolution, which can prevent protracted and costly legal battles. Through mechanisms such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or litigation, disputes can be resolved in a structured manner, minimizing disruptions to the project.

Finally, construction contracts are essential in ensuring a project’s ultimate financial success. They outline the financial plan for the project, specifying costs, payment terms, and procedures for changes or additional work. This financial planning allows for better cost management and fiscal control, thus enhancing the project’s chances of financial success.

Construction Contract Types

Construction projects encompass various contract types, each suited to different project needs. Here, we’ll explore the eight common construction contract types, outlining their key characteristics, advantages, and potential risks.

1. Cost-Plus Construction Contract

In a cost-plus contract, the client commits to covering all actual costs, purchases, and direct expenses related to the construction work. On top of this, they pay an extra amount for profit, either as a flat fee or a percentage of the total costs. This contract type offers the advantage of transparency, ensuring all costs are covered. However, it also requires careful management to prevent possible construction budget overruns.

2. Design-Build Contract

This contract type involves a single entity—the design-builder or design-build contractor – responsible for both design and construction services. This unified approach can streamline the project, reducing risks and overall costs. But, it could potentially limit the client’s involvement and the range of design options.

3. Guaranteed Maximum Price Contract (GMP)

In a GMP contract, the contractor is compensated for actual costs plus a fixed fee, with the total not exceeding a predefined ceiling price. The contractor assumes responsibility for cost overruns unless the GMP has been formally increased via a change order agreed upon by both the contractor and the owner. This contract type provides cost certainty, although if actual costs fall significantly below the GMP, the owner may feel they’ve overpaid.

4. Incentive Construction Contract

Here, incentives or penalties are applied based on the contractor’s performance, often tied to budget management, timeline adherence, or quality standards. While this contract type can encourage contractors to deliver excellent work within a specified timeline, it may inadvertently promote corner-cutting if not carefully managed.

5. Integrated Project Delivery Contract (IPD)

In an IPD contract, the owner, architect, and contractor collaborate from the project’s onset. This method promotes teamwork and efficiency, often leading to improved project outcomes. However, it demands high levels of trust and cooperation from all parties involved.

6. Lump-sum Contract

Also known as a fixed-price contract, the contractor agrees to provide specified services for a predetermined price. This contract type provides financial certainty for the client and promotes efficient work from the contractor. However, it may lead to inflated costs due to the risk assumed by the contractor.

7. Time and Materials Contract (T&M)

With a T&M contract, the client agrees to pay the contractor based on the time spent on the project and the cost of materials used. This more flexible approach allows work to begin even before all details are defined. However, diligent oversight is necessary to prevent costs from escalating.

8. Unit Price Contract

In a unit price contract, payment is based on the estimated quantities of items in the project and their unit prices. The contractor is paid for the actual work done. This flexible contract type allows for work adjustments without changing the contract, facilitating an early construction start. However, inaccuracies in quantity estimations can significantly impact the final cost.

Pros & Cons of Construction Contracts

Construction Contract Type
Cost-plus Construction Contract
1. Transparency in cost coverage
2. Flexibility for unforeseen changes
3. Encourages thorough and high-quality work
1. Potential for budget overruns
2. Requires extensive documentation
3. Requires careful oversight
Design-build Contract
1. Single point of responsibility
2. Streamlines project process
3. Potential cost and time savings
1. Limited client involvement
2. Reduced design options
3. Potential conflict of interest
Guaranteed Maximum Price Contract (GMP)
1. Cost certainty for the client
2. Risk-sharing between client and contractor
3. Potential cost savings if the project is under budget
1. Potential overpayment if costs are lower
2. Detailed cost tracking is required
3. The contractor might cut corners to stay under the maximum price
Incentive Construction Contract
1. Motivates contractor’s performance
2. Potential for cost and time savings
3. Improves contractor-client relationship
1. Potential for corner-cutting
2. Difficult to set quantifiable performance measures
3. Can lead to disputes over incentive eligibility
Integrated Project Delivery Contract (IPD)
1. Fosters collaboration and efficiency
2. Can lead to better project outcomes
3. Potential cost and time savings
1. Requires high trust and cooperation
2. Shared risk can lead to conflicts
3. Not suitable for all project types
Lump-sum Contract
1. Financial certainty for the client
2. Encourages contractor efficiency
3. Simplifies client oversight
1. Potential for inflated costs
2. Limited flexibility for changes
3. The contractor may cut corners to increase profits
Time and Materials Contract (T&M)
1. Flexibility for changes
2. Work can begin before every detail is planned
3. No need for a detailed initial estimate
1. Requires rigorous oversight
2. Potential for cost overruns
3. Less financial certainty for the client
Unit Price Contract
1. Flexibility to adjust work
2. Allows early project commencement
3. Transparent pricing structure
1. Inaccurate quantity estimates impact cost
2. Not suitable for complex projects
3. Potential for cost overruns if units exceed estimates

Remember that the best choice of contract for your project will ultimately depend on its specific circumstances and needs.

How To Write a Construction Contract

Crafting a solid, comprehensive contract is key to ensuring a smooth and successful construction project. A construction contract serves as the project’s foundation, clearly outlining the responsibilities of all parties involved, detailing the work to be done, and setting the payment terms, among other things.

Essential Elements of a Construction Contract

When writing a construction contract, it’s important to include several key elements:

  • Identifying Details: The full names, addresses, and contact information of all parties involved, including the owner, contractor, and subcontractor, if applicable, should be clearly stated.
  • Scope of Work: A comprehensive description of the project, detailing the tasks, the materials required, the expected end result, and any specific techniques or methods to be used.
  • Contract Price: The contract must specify the total cost and how it’s calculated, whether it’s a lump sum, unit price, cost-plus, or another contract type.
  • Payment Terms: Define when and how the contractor will be paid, including the schedule for progress payments, retainage if applicable, and any prerequisites for each payment.
  • Schedule: Provide a detailed timeline, including the start date, substantial completion date, and any key milestones along the way.
  • Change Orders: Detail the process for altering the scope of work, including who has the authority to make changes, how these changes will be documented, and how they will affect the contract price and schedule.
  • Dispute Resolution: Specify the dispute resolution process, including negotiation, mediation, or arbitration.
  • Termination Clause: Describe the conditions under which the contract can be terminated by either party and what liabilities or penalties may apply.
  • Insurance and Bonds: Specify the types of insurance required (like liability insurance or worker’s compensation) and any performance or payment bonds if necessary.
  • Signatures: A contract isn’t legally binding until it’s been signed and dated by all parties involved.

Steps to Writing a Construction Contract

Once you understand the core elements of what a contract should include, you can use the following steps to help you write a construction contract of your own:

  1. Specify the Parties: Begin by clearly identifying all parties involved, including full names, addresses, and contact information.
  2. Describe the Scope of Work: Give a thorough description of the project, specifying all tasks, necessary materials, and the expected result.
  3. Determine the Contract Price: Detail the total cost and how it was calculated, whether through a lump sum, unit pricing, cost-plus, or another pricing structure.
  4. Set Payment Terms: Describe when and how the contractor will be paid, including any schedule for progress payments, retainage if applicable, and prerequisites for each payment.
  5. Establish a Project Schedule: Provide a start date, substantial completion date, and any important milestones.
  6. Outline the Change Order Process: Include a procedure for changing the contract scope, including who can make changes, how they’re documented, and how they affect price and schedule.
  7. Describe the Dispute Resolution Process: Specify a method for resolving disputes, whether through negotiation, mediation, or arbitration.
  8. Include a Termination Clause: Detail conditions for terminating the contract, including any penalties or liabilities that would apply.
  9. Specify Insurance and Bond Requirements: Include the types of insurance each party must carry, and any performance or payment bonds, if necessary.
  10. Sign the Contract: Have all parties sign and date the contract, and ensure each party keeps a copy.

Remember, it’s crucial to consult a legal professional to ensure your contract is legally sound. With the right guidance and attention to detail, you can create a construction contract that protects everyone involved and contributes to the successful completion of your project.

[Free] Construction Contract Template

A construction contract template is a preformatted document that outlines a construction project’s standard terms and conditions. It typically includes placeholders for all the essential components of a construction contract, such as identifying the parties, the scope of work, contract price, payment terms, project schedule, change order clause, dispute resolution methods, termination clause, insurance requirements, and space for signatures.

The benefit of using a construction contract template lies in its ability to streamline the contract creation process. Rather than drafting a contract from scratch, a template provides a robust starting point, ensuring that all necessary elements are considered. 

Choosing a template over drafting a contract from scratch can save significant time and help avoid potential oversights. Furthermore, a template is generally designed in direct consultation with legal professionals, adding an additional layer of security for both parties involved.

However, it’s important to note that a template is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Every construction project is unique, and the contract for it should reflect this. Therefore, the template should be customized to suit the specific requirements of each project.

Looking to get started with a construction contract for your project?

👉 Download, customize, and print our free construction contract template today.

Constructing Success with Effective Contracts

Understanding construction contracts is fundamental to achieving success in any construction project. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored the various types of construction contracts, each with its unique characteristics, advantages, and potential risks. From cost-plus contracts to design-build contracts and unit price contracts, the choice of contract type plays a significant role in defining the financial and operational dynamics of the project.

We’ve also underscored the significance of construction contracts in establishing legal relationships, allocating responsibilities, and ensuring project success. A comprehensive contract acts as a roadmap for the project, setting clear expectations and fostering open communication among stakeholders. It acts as a critical tool for mitigating risks and resolving potential disputes in a structured and fair manner.

Furthermore, we’ve walked through the process of writing a construction contract, emphasizing the importance of including key elements such as the identification of parties, work description, contract price, payment schedule, and more. With our step-by-step guide, you’re now equipped with the knowledge to draft a solid contract that can protect your general interests and help ensure smooth project execution.

Our free construction contract template is available to help you get started. It’s designed to make the contract creation process more efficient, but always remember to customize it to suit the unique requirements of your project and consult with a legal professional to ensure its validity.

Remember, contracts aren’t just legal documents; they’re instrumental in facilitating successful construction projects. They help to build relationships based on mutual understanding, trust, and cooperation. When understood and utilized properly, construction contracts can be a significant asset for clients and construction professionals at any level of experience.

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