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Construction Documents: Definition, Purpose, Inclusions and More

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The overall design of a building is first weaved into the minds of the architects and is then passed onto the papers in the form of sketches, models, and their calculated iterations. If you are involved in the construction industry, you might have seen or worked over construction documents. But for anyone else, it is quite a mystery to understand what is included in those documents handled by architects, contractors, and other stakeholders involved in any construction project.

Although the term ‘construction documents does not sound appealing, they are indeed an important part of the architectural process. If you are keen on understanding what all is included in these documents, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s start with the fundamentals.

What are Construction Documents?

Construction documents refer to the paperwork that defines the work to be done/shared amongst the contractors and architects for a specific project. Through these well-defined documents, all the parties involved in the construction of a building coordinate together to turn its on-paper representation into reality.

Construction documents are also considered as the on-paper design that comes next to the schematic design phase involving building sketches, model making, and other related conceptual conversations. They serve as directions for architects to the main contractor. They describe, through drawings and specifications, how a contractor will convert the architect’s design into a full-fledged building.

Basically, two sets of construction documents are created with every fine detail included in them. One of them will be used to obtain the building permit while the latter will be used by the contractors to get the design built. It is a common practice to create the permit set prior to the construction set. This also helps in addressing the issues in the construction set that may arise while getting the permit.

For a completed building to receive its occupancy certificate from the authorities, its design must closely match the construction documents submitted to get the building permit.

Purpose of Construction Documentation

The primary purpose of having construction documents is to get the architectural design built from scratch. However, these documents do not consist of the building design only. Rather, they are contract binding documents that precisely detail how the design shall be built, be it method selection, building systems, or materials to be chosen.

In other words, construction documentation is the process of describing every facet of the building design, small or big, on paper. When done right, it gives contractors a comprehensive idea of the intent of the chosen architect for a particular project.

What is Included in the Construction Documents?

All construction documents primarily consist of two things – specifications and drawings as standard inclusions. This standard helps the reader in analysing where to look among hundreds of pages of architectural specifications and drawings.

More About Construction Drawings

Typically, construction drawings consist of eight types of sheets, including:

  • General sheets that include general drawings, cover page, building and zoning code analysis, sustainability standards, and life safety plans
  • Civil engineering sheets that include notes from the hired civil engineer, grading plans, and similar other details
  • Landscape architecture sheets that include drawings to be submitted to a licensed landscape architect that further specifies plans, sections, and other details about constructing various landscape elements for contractors
  • Structural sheets that are drawings from a licensed structural engineer providing structural plans and calculations
  • Architectural sheets that contain drawings to communicate several architectural components (section, elevation, etc.) of the building design
  • Plumbing sheets that contain drawings showcasing locations and sizes of various outbound and inbound water supplies and a detailed plan for each level including every drain, faucet, and pipe to define the overall functional plumbing system in the building
  • Mechanical sheets that contain drawings made by a mechanical engineer showing the location and sizes of mechanical equipment such as exposed or concealed ductwork, vents, thermostat, and heating/cooling units
  • Electrical sheets containing the locations of all power outlets, light fixtures, and switches for each level of the building along with the details of energy compliance

Various pages of construction drawing sets are created in standard architectural sheet sizes which may vary by jurisdiction. Some of the standard sheet sizes are:

  • ARCH A (9×12 inches)
  • ARCH B (12×18 inches)
  • ARCH C (18×24 inches)
  • ARCH D (24×36 inches)
  • ARCH E (36×48 inches)

Another important component of construction documents are schedules related to hardware, door, window, and equipment. These schedules help the contractors in understanding the location of various building components in the architectural design. As per the United States National CAD Standard, there are certain standard formats for schedules in drawings and specifications.

More About Construction Specifications

Construction specifications accompany the drawings for both construction work and to obtain the permit. Similar to the construction drawings, a standard is followed for specifications that make it easier for all the project team members to find what they are looking for. Every design team and consultant holds the responsibility to provide specifications along with their drawing sets.

Specifications are further classified into different divisions, which are detailed in the table given below:

Divisions Description

For the entire project team

Division 00 Procurement and contracting requirements
Division 01 General requirements



For structural and architectural teams

Division 02 Existing conditions
Division 03 Concrete
Division 04 Masonry
Division 05 Metals
Division 06 Wood, Composites, and Plastics







For architectural and interiors

Division 07 Thermal and moisture protection
Division 08 Openings
Division 09 Finishes
Division 10 Specialties
Division 11 Equipment
Division 12 Furnishings
Division 13 Special Construction
Division 14 Conveying equipment





For mechanical, electrical, and plumbing

Division 21 Fire suppression
Division 22 Plumbing
Division 23 HVAC
Division 25 Integrated automation
Division 26 Electrical
Division 27 Communications
Division 28 Electronic safety and security

For landscape and civil

Division 31 Earthwork
Division 32 Exterior improvements
Division 33 Utilities

Besides this, there should be close coordination between specifications and drawings in the construction document set to ensure a seamless construction process.

Standard Order of Construction Drawings

Construction document drawings follow the standard order as defined by the United States National CAD Standard. Here, the lower right corner of every drawing sheet contains a series of letters and sheet numbers (as given below). With the sheet number, the reader gets to know where he is in the drawing set and allows him to know where to look for specific information.

Letter Number Numbers
L # ##
Discipline Drawing Type Sequence

Here, the first part of the sheet number is a letter that indicates the discipline of the drawing as defined in the Standard mentioned above. It can be – G, C, L, S, A, F, P, M, or E.

  • Similarly, the second component of the sheet number indicates the type of drawings – for plans, elevations, sections, etc. It can be – 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 9.
  • The last two numbers represent the sequence in the sheet type for each disciple (01 to 99).

Construction Documents Checklist

It is quite important for construction companies and contractors to keep in mind several aspects while working on a project. Given below is a simple checklist that helps them stay on track of things:

  • Review unresolved issues from earlier design phases
  • Review schedules of completion dates with the owner and project team
  • Identify all the required construction documents and due dates
  • Check with regulatory agencies for compliance
  • Coordinate with all the project team members regularly
  • Review code compliance in the project design
  • Review potential bidders with the owner
  • Create a scaled draft of all construction documents for review
  • Submit the documents for delivery

How Do Construction Documents Help in Streamlining the Construction Process?

  • Construction documentation helps in correcting faults that may arise later in different stages of the project, hence saving time and money.
  • Having a well-defined set of documents for a construction project to all the team members allows everyone to collaborate and stay connected.
  • Working on a construction project requires the team to grasp the reality of design, money, and time to be involved. Here, the documentation acts as a critical tool to maximise the use of labor, material, and machines for seamless project execution.
  • Construction documents also help in keeping a phase-by-phase account of the work being done.


Every construction project is unique and has a specific set of requirements. Documentation of every stage of the construction process helps in defining the scope of work and ensures the completion of the project within the stipulated time period.

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