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18 Construction Acronyms Owners Need to Know

With all its abbreviations, acronyms and jargon, the AEC industry can feel a lot like alphabet soup. Navigating the industry-speak is important to understanding your projects from start to finish, so we put together a list of some of the most common — and sometimes misused — acronyms to help you out, and make it easy as A-B-C.

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Todd Allsup, Vice President of Food & Beverage Facility Services, StellarTodd Allsup, Vice President of Food & Beverage Facility Services, Stellar

With all its abbreviations, acronyms and jargon, the AEC industry can feel a lot like alphabet soup. Navigating the industry-speak is important to understanding your projects from start to finish, so we put together a list of some of the most common — and sometimes misused — acronyms to help you out, and make it easy as A-B-C!

1. OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Worker safety isn’t just a priority, it’s the law — that’s why it’s crucial to understand OSHA rules and guidelines. Proper employee training and plant management will help keep your facility and workers in top shape.

2. EAP: Emergency Action Plan

An emergency action plan (EAP) is a written document required by particular OSHA standards. The idea behind an EAP is to organize workers’ plans and have proper training in case of an emergency. Employers and employees should understand their roles and responsibilities in emergency situations, and having this plan facilitates this process. There are many resources including checklists, standards and other ways to get assistance in making a plan and ensuring all requirements are met.

An EAP should:

  • Identify roles and responsibilities for those in the workplace
  • Set specific, measurable goals
  • Set procedures for communication and training among employees and employers
  • Establish standards that must be followed
  • Identify risks and establish mitigation measures
  • Create guidelines for monitoring and reporting incidents

3. GMP: Good Manufacturing Practices

Established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Current Good Manufacturing Practices were revised and edited in 2002 to include new terms, remove outdated ones, and adapt several techniques. For example, “allergen” was added in a revision, as well as “ready-to-eat-food.” There are guidelines on training, temperature controls, health, sanitation and importing foods. Especially if you work in facilities that handle food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or other consumer products, these practices are imperative to follow.

4. HAZMAT: Hazardous material

This is a dangerous material, whether it’s dust, airborne, flammable, or poses some other kind of danger to the workplace (for example, ammonia). Be careful around these materials, and take proper precautions if you do handle them. Here’s handy list of some dangerous materials.

5. LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. It’s a points-based certification system ranging from ‘certified’ to ‘platinum’ that can be applied to virtually all buildings (new construction, fit-outs and operation & maintenance). LEED provides the framework that project teams can apply to create highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. You can also become LEED certified simply by taking an exam and applying for certification.

6. SQF: Safe quality food

SQF is recognized by retailers and foodservice providers worldwide as a rigorous food safety management system. This multi-level system reduces inconsistencies and costs of multiple standards. It links primary production certification to food manufacturing, distribution and agent/broker management certification.

7. FSMA: Food Safety Modernization Act

This act became law in 2011, and aims to ensure U.S. food safety and prevent contamination by being proactive instead of reactive. FSMA gives the FDA authority to regulate how foods are grown, harvested and processed. It focuses on foodborne illnesses, through inspections and compliance. These programs include employee training and plans, allergen and pathogen controls, supplier verification activities and recall plans. There was a revision of the FSMA final rules in 2015 in which the FDA drafted recommendations that apply to food processors.

8. D-B: Design-Build

Design-Build is a project delivery method in which the design and construction services are contracted by a single entity known as the Design-Builder (in most cases a Contractor). Instead of the owner being the middleman between designers and contractors (and their sub-consultants and subcontractors), the owner manages one contract with a single point of contact; the designer and contractor are on the same team, under the design-build entity. This helps to make the process more efficient.

9. D-B-B: Design-Bid-Build

Design-Bid-Build is the most common process in the industry. Here, an owner contracts separately with a designer and a contractor. The designer or design firm completes all the design documents. Then, the owner solicits bids from contractors to perform the work. These are almost always fixed prices. The designers and the contractors have no obligations or contracts between each other and are independent of liability.

10. RFI: Request for Information

An RFI is a written request from a contractor to the owner or architect for clarification or information about the contract documents during the bidding/estimating phase or following contract award. Usually, the engineer responds to all RFIs. During the bidding phase, specific paragraphs and drawing references can be made, and clarifying for schedules is common. For construction phase, the RFI includes the identification of construction deficiency, references to specific drawings or paragraphs and the impact the clarification will have on schedule and cost.

11. RFP: Request for Proposal

A company interested in procuring services, often through a bidding process, distributes an RFP to potential suppliers to submit business proposals.

12. BIM: Building Information Modeling

BIM is a collaborative process by which a structure is designed digitally, with physical and functional features. The digital model allows for estimation, scheduling and energy simulations. Benefits to using BIM include lowering the cost of construction by creating an environment where more work can be prefabricated and substantially reducing the number of RFIs. BIM creates a collaborative environment where all contractors and designers are working together before construction begins to make sure the structure is as quick, inexpensive and easy to build as possible. Some people may refer to this as VDC (Virtual Design and Construction).

13. GSF: Gross Square Footage

Gross square footage represents the actual footprint of the building or space including the interior and exterior walls and partitions over every level of a building.

14. COR: Change Order Request

A change order request is issued when work is added to or deleted from the original scope of work in the contract. Change orders are common in almost every project. Reasons for the COR can include:

  • The work was incorrectly estimated
  • The team runs into obstacles that causes them to change the original plan
  • The team is incapable of completing the original plan with current resources and may require more time, money or other resources
  • During the project, a fair price for items must be added for extra materials and labor
  • Weather causes a delay in construction

15. CO: Certificate of Occupancy

A Certificate of Occupancy is a document that is necessary for every building or property. It tells you three things: what the structure is used for, that the structure is used for occupancy and that the the structure complies with all building codes. These codes come from the local Building Department. This document is issued after all inspections have been completed and passed.

16. TCO: Temporary Certificate of Occupancy

A temporary certificate of occupancy grants residents and building owners the same rights as a certificate of occupancy, however it is only for a temporary period of time. It may be used for a stated period of time or for specified portions of the building that the Code Enforcement Officials find acceptable for occupancy. Every part of the permit (Building, Electrical, Mechanical and Plumbing, etc.) must be finalized before the TCO is approved.

17. IAQ: Indoor Air Quality

The quality of indoor air inside buildings is important not only for occupants’ comfort but also for their health. Poor IAQ has been tied to symptoms like headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Some more serious illnesses and cancers have been linked to poor IAQ as well. Plus poor air quality can affect the food safety of product in a processing facility. Some factors that affect IAQ are poor ventilation, temperature control problems, high or low humidity and recent remodeling. Read more about IAQ on OSHA’s website. 

18. OEM: Original Equipment Manufacturer

An OEM is a manufacturer who resells another company’s products under its own name and branding. It offers its own warranty, support and licensing of the product. It’s slightly misleading however, because OEMs aren’t actually the original manufacturers; they customize the original product.

Curious to see some tangible examples of how a fully integrated firm handles food and beverage projects? Send me an email at [email protected].

About Stellar

Stellar is a fully integrated firm focused on planning, design, pre-construction, construction, refrigeration, mechanical & utility, building envelope, and total operations & maintenance services worldwide. Visit the company's blog at or learn about its projects at