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Understanding Cost Plus Construction Contracts

Nov 10, 2023 | Blog

The construction industry, known for its dynamic and often complex project landscapes, encounters various contract models tailored to the unique needs of each project. Among these, Cost Plus Construction Contracts stand out for their distinctive approach to project billing and management. This article aims to demystify Cost Plus Contracts, highlighting their features, typical use cases, potential pitfalls, and considerations for whether they should be embraced or avoided.

What are Cost Plus Construction Contracts?

Cost Plus Construction Contracts, also known as Cost Reimbursement Contracts, are agreements where the client agrees to reimburse the contractor for the project costs plus a fee, which could be a fixed amount or a percentage of the total costs. These contracts differ from fixed-price contracts, where the total cost is agreed upon in advance.

Key Components of Cost Plus Contracts

  • Direct Costs: These include labor, materials, equipment, and services purchased directly for the project.
  • Indirect Costs: Costs not directly attributable to a specific task, like administration fees.
  • Fee: This can be a fixed fee or a percentage of the costs, serving as the contractor’s profit.

When are They Typically Used?

Cost Plus Contracts are often chosen for projects where the scope is not clearly defined, or there is a likelihood of changes. They are prevalent in custom projects, research and development works, and situations where the client wants more control over the project process.


  • Flexibility: They allow for changes in the project without needing to renegotiate the entire contract.
  • Transparency: Clients have a clear view of where their money is going.
  • Quality Focus: Contractors are not incentivized to cut corners to save costs.

Things to Watch Out For

  • Open-ended Budget: Without a cap, costs can escalate quickly.
  • Detailed Record-Keeping: Requires meticulous documentation of all costs.
  • Client-Contractor Trust: These contracts rely heavily on trust between the client and the contractor.

Potential Pitfalls

  • Cost Overruns: The lack of a fixed price can lead to budget overruns if not carefully managed.
  • Project Delays: Without stringent deadlines, projects can experience delays.
  • Increased Supervision: Clients may need to be more involved in monitoring project progress and expenditures.

Should They be Avoided?

Cost Plus Contracts should not be outright avoided but used judiciously. They are ideal for certain types of projects but may be unsuitable for others. Here are some considerations:

  • Project Nature: Best suited for projects where scope and specifications are not clearly defined.
  • Client Involvement: Suitable for clients willing to be actively involved in the project.
  • Risk Appetite: Ideal for clients who are comfortable with a certain degree of financial uncertainty.

Best Practices for Managing Cost Plus Contracts

  • Set a Maximum Price: To mitigate the risk of cost overruns, consider setting a maximum price.
  • Regular Audits: Conduct regular financial audits to ensure costs are kept in check.
  • Clear Communication: Maintain open lines of communication between all parties involved.
  • Detailed Contracts: Ensure the contract is detailed, outlining the scope, responsibilities, and procedures for handling additional costs.


Cost Plus Construction Contracts offer flexibility and transparency but come with their share of risks and require active management. Understanding their intricacies and knowing when and how to use them can significantly impact the success of a construction project. By carefully considering the project’s nature, client’s involvement level, and risk appetite, industry professionals can make informed decisions about employing these contracts to their advantage.