How to Read Commercial Build-out Construction Plans

Commercial “build-out” construction applies often to business locations who start from a “white box” which has to be “built out” from there. A white or “vanilla box” is typically a commercial interior space which is either new or has been gutted to be concrete flooring, white walls, basic HVAC, electrical and plumbing, with no customization (such as fixtures, industry-specific equipment or furnishings). It is the starting point before “tenant improvements” (or TIs) are built out for the occupants.

There are a lot of parties involved in the commercial build-out construction process. There are the architect, engineer, the builder, construction project manager, construction subcontractors, the tenant and landlord (to name the primary parties). Understanding how to read commercial build-out construction plans can be a critical skill for all parties involved, so we’ve explained it here.

How to Read Commercial Build-out Construction PlansConstruction plans include a lot of information – from dimensions to placement to parts and materials. Construction plans also communicate installation techniques, measurements, building codes and quality standards. Construction plans can be printed and output from the size of notebooks to oversized sheets. Whether the plans are electronic or include traditional drawings (used less and less these days), it is vital to understand how to read them. Construction plans are necessary for materials and labor estimates, obtaining permits, setting up construction schedules and completing projects.

Typically construction plans include a cover page, key notes, title blog, general notes, drawing scale and a legend.

The “title block” appears at the start of a set of construction plans – it provides necessary info to understand before beginning a project. The title block can vary in size for different construction plans, but typically includes info about the project and design firm that created it. Information included can be the plan number, copyright info, creation date, revision date, sheet number and scale of the drawing. The title block includes the blueprint’s name, number, address, site, location or vendor. Information can also be included as to the drawing’s sequence in a set (for filing purposes). Each block on the construction plans is important – if the title block has a blank then it is not ready for release and will not be signed by the engineer. The title block also includes the approval signatures and dates including contact information. Finally, the title block includes a list of references or construction plans that were used to inspire the project at hand.

The “revision block” in a commercial build-out construction plan includes the changes executed and dates. Each time there are revisions, the construction drawing has to be redrafted.

Also in the plans are “key notes” – which reveal details, specs or info the designer or engineer considers important to communicate. There are also “general notes” which reveal technical information applying to the drawing in lieu of lengthy written explanations.

The “drawing scale” is also an important source of information in commercial build-out construction plans – revealing the scale or ratio of actual size. This is typically separate from the “legend” – which defines the symbols in the blueprint. Similar symbols can mean different things in different projects so it’s important to review the legend to understand the meaning of the symbols pertinent to the project at hand. There are also unique, industry-specific symbols which can appear in some blueprints but not others.

There are a lot of parties involved in the commercial build-out construction process such as architect, engineer, builder, construction project manager, construction subcontractors, tenant and landlord. Understanding how to read the components of commercial build-out construction plans can be a critical skill for all parties involved.

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