How Change Orders Can Impact Schedules

Jun 4, 2024

I’ve written about change orders and how best to manage them in the past. Now, I’d like to point out one important side effect of change orders that deserves focused attention: their effect on schedules. Even the best contractors can sometimes forget or overlook an approved change order’s impact on schedules.

An initial construction schedule is put together without any change orders considered. Change orders are changes to the base contract, so we don’t know what they are when creating the initial schedule. Any change to the initial agreement will not just involve a monetary adjustment but a schedule addition as well.

Change Order Information

I went online and typed in ‘change order template.’ It probably won’t be a surprise that many residential and multifamily contractors just borrow templates from the internet or previous companies for their paperwork. Sometimes, they come from software programs that help estimate or project management. Most seem to be an Excel document of some kind, making it easy to enter all the change order information.

Out of the 15 or so templates I looked at, I only saw one with a tiny little line for duration. But it didn’t clearly say what it should have, which is something like “change order will add XX working days to project schedule.”

A change order form needs to have the following information in it:

Equally important as the information above, there must be two places for each party to sign at the end. This means it was reviewed and approved together.

What a Property Owner Needs to Know

As a property owner, you are presented with a change order that clearly describes what you are paying for and the details above. If this happened every single time there was a change order, there would never be a conflict—unless there was a conflict with the change order itself (a separate issue).

If the schedule implications for all change orders are not clear, you should ask what they are. And if your contractor does not have a section in their change order for the schedule, ask them to add one for your project; it will only help.

What a Contractor Needs to Consider

It saves you a frustrated property owner if you clearly track the additional time that each change order adds to the master schedule and use an email paper trail when you do. As projects move forward, people only get more anxious to complete them.

As contractors, we cannot rely on memory or past verbal conversations. You need to point to a document or email that clearly states schedule implications and any and all change orders. On large projects, change orders can add weeks or even months of additional time.

Construction Fatigue

Construction projects, both big and small, wear on everyone involved, but specifically on property owners. An organized change order process can help lessen the condition we call construction fatigue. It occurs when money starts running low, timing is becoming critical, and the homeowner just wants to be done with it all.

I’ve seen projects start going through change orders near the end and—no surprise—tempers flare. If all timing and monetary issues are dealt with as they happen, the project has much higher odds of a successful punch out.


Change orders can have a major impact on project lengths, and ensuring they’re handled in a way that minimizes stress for both the property owner and the contractor is essential. You should always keep a paper trail in the form of emails and documents and ensure your change form has all the necessary information, including the time it will take. Keeping this knowledge in mind will help your next project run smoothly for everyone involved.

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