Defining the Scope of Work for the Builder

“We propose to complete the kitchen and bathroom remodel as per the plans and specifications.” Have you ever seen those magic words on a contractor’s estimate?

That sentence is very common, and you may think that the contractor is taking responsibility to build all the work you’ve designed.

He just might do that, too, but if your plans and specifications are not complete and thorough, the words may be worth about as much as the paper they’re written on.

This is especially true if your plans are being used to “bid out” the work with different remodeling companies. This is happening a lot these days – one company prices the work with an inexpensive dishwasher and tile bought at an Internet auction, the next firm talks to the clients and finds out what they really want. The prices are wildly different, yet the companies are both looking at the same plans.

So how do you and your client ensure that the builder doesn’t misunderstand things? Or not provide you with the work you want? Or just give a low price and “change-order” the job once it gets under way?

We could write a book about this, but here are a few reminders for you to keep out of trouble.

At the core of all this is the documentation you put together for the project. The bigger the project, the more paperwork you may need, but you can’t ignore the basics.



Many design professionals try to put all of the job information in one place – part of the actual plan pages. This way the specifications are right there – in a stapled set, not in a separate book.

The people who are building your project have enough going on without keeping track of even more paper work, and that spec book can easily get lost. The plans tend to stick around, even if they do attract coffee stains and sheetrock mud splatters.

The cover sheet – the first page of the plans – is a good place to define the basics of the project. Be sure to include the key information: job address, location map, owners’ names, engineer (if there is one), your contact information, and perhaps a specific description of the job, along with a listing of the areas to be remodeled or worked on: “Kitchen – remodel as per plans; Bathroom two– repaint ceiling only; Den – new electrical fixtures as per schedule; Guest bedroom – no work.”

You may want to include specific language about what the contractor requirements are, i.e. being licensed. Putting work in place that complies with local codes and ordinances is a big one! You should also include what procedures should be followed in the event of the discovery of hazardous materials or other unforeseen conditions, how existing work that’s not built to code should be handled, etc. Permits and fees – and who bears the costs of these – belong here, too.

Should the builder provide toilet/sanitary facilities on site? An outdoor porta-potty is usually a good idea. Where should job materials, tools and equipment be stored? Who pays for temporary power, water?

Be sure to insert a paragraph concerning protection and damage to the owner’s property, both indoors and outdoors. You may want to add in rules about garbage and dumpsters, and for clean-up, too – what is expected daily, weekly and particularly at the end of the job.

Some designers put in the plans that there is a time requirement for completion of the work. If it’s not in the specifications, make sure it’s in the builder’s contract.



The first few pages of the plans can be a good place to describe the details of scope. If you want to remind yourself of all the different categories of building, go online and look at the 16 “divisions” that the construction industry uses to break down the parts of our business. The sections may be a good tickler list for you to check that you haven’t forgotten to mention a particular trade.

If your project isn’t a huge one – say it’s a small kitchen gut and replace – you can probably get by with basic lists.

The critical one is for the appliances; you’ll need to list the makes and models, and it’s always a good idea to include the manufacturers’ Web sites as well. Windows, doors and skylights can be on a “schedule” – a simple table can suffice – with location, manufacturer, model or type, sizes and most importantly, the direction you want them to open.

Fixtures – plumbing, electrical – are, of course, key. Be as specific as you can here, as you probably don’t want any substitutions. Lead-time for the builder is important, so if you, as the designer, know that the bathroom faucets are coming from Italy, note that. If the owner is supplying anything, note that in bold here also.

For tile, stone and flooring, it’s a big deal for the builder that he knows where you’re sourcing the materials you want on the job, especially if they are unique – so add that into your lists, right here, along with contact and location information.

Cabinets are often the biggest expense, so if you’re using a factory-made source rather than a local shop, get specific with maker, door design and finish. If the builder wants to substitute here, you need to know. Add in a requirement that you must be notified if the cabinets are different than what you and your client want – bold that note, too!



Bear in mind that with plans, the clearer and cleaner the information is, the better the work will proceed. It’s good to show existing conditions (“as-builts”) and perhaps even a basic demolition plan, too. This way there’s no confusion for the builder about what’s getting destroyed.

For the new work, the builder may not need exact dimensions of every item to be put on the plans – but if some alignment is important to you, call that out. You may not need to size a door height, but if you want the window and door casings to be at the same level, write that requirement on the elevation, without a measurement. Do the same with cabinet door sizes; if you want to see a run of wall cabinets have equal sized openings or doors, put that on the plans.

If it’s critical to the design that tiles not be trimmed down or cut, call that out, preferably on the elevations and in the tile specifications, as well. Center lines – too often missed – may be a key element, so call those out, too. Once again, actual dimensions may not be necessary.

You may want to draw up the details that matter most to you – for example, where tile meets trim or baseboard or what you’re thinking for crown molding or other trim.

The best projects are usually the ones that are well-planned and have few surprises, so build that process into your documents!