Updated: Sep 11, 2021
Construction Submittal Is Part of a Detailed Planning Process
Construction Submittals follow a defined process to ensure the accountability of all project participants and that construction runs smoothly.
The following are the steps to doing your own Construction Submittal:
NOTE: Construction Submittals are something different to what is referred to as just “Construction Submittals”, to learn more about Construction Schedule Submittals - Click Here!
Step One: Pre-Construction Conference:
This step is to bring together the architect, engineer, general contractor, and sometimes the owner’s representative and subcontractors as well.
This is also called a pre-submittal meeting or conference, or submittals meeting.
(The term submittals meeting also describes the meetings that many city and local planning departments offer developers to discuss the outlines of projects that they intend to submit for formal review. That’s a different usage that we don’t go into here.)
In this step, the parties clarify and confirm the submittal process.
This includes everything from setting deadlines for delivery and review of submittals, to deciding on the format or electronic tool use and determining how you will route the submittals among the participants.
The purpose of the meeting is to make sure that all the individuals who play a part in the submittal process understand how they should work together and to establish good lines of communication.
The participants often discuss how they might avoid submittal delays and mistakes, which increase costs.
The submittal schedule often becomes a process for addressing ‘gotcha-type’ contract issues without deriving meaningful feedback or clear answers,
It’s important at this stage to set up a clear process with expectations and response time with consequences for both parties, not just one.
Prompt response in the submittal process which includes meaningful answers helps to keep projects on schedule with a common understanding of conformance with the contract documents,” he adds.
Step Two: Submittal Schedule Development:
Again NOTE: this is different than “Schedule Submittals, which are when the contractor submits the schedule to the owner’s side for review.
This instead is when the general contractor receives the plans from the owner’s side and then should prepare a Submittals Schedule - which should list all of the items that require submittals, along with a timeline for those submittals.
Preparing construction submittals is the responsibility of contractors, but architects and engineers lay the groundwork.
As construction plans are being drafted, the design team needs to identify the types of submittals and the relevant technical specifications that are required. You may collect this information in a log or register.
To limit professional liability, experts recommend that architects and engineers take no action on submittal that is not specified in the contract drawings.
The schedule of submittals needs to be coordinated with the building schedule, so there is enough time for the architect to review submittals without delaying construction.
The submittal schedule should factor in time for the architect to send submittals back if changes are needed. Materials that you need early in construction or that require long lead time should also be given priority.
The Engineers Joint Contract Documents Review Committee calls for the contractor to submit the schedule of submittals within 10 days of contract start.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) also has standards covering submittals.
Step Three: Submittal Preparation:
The general contractor should either prepare the submittal or delegate it to the relevant subcontractor.
The submittal might be in many forms, such as shop drawings, physical samples of materials, and data about the items. The preparer should explain any deviation from the construction documents on the submittal.
If a subcontractor is preparing the submittal, it should first go to the general contractor for review, to either approve it or return it to the subcontractor for further work. Once the general contractor deems the submittal acceptable, they are to stamp it - traditionally, this meant using an actual rubber stamp, but today’s stamps are mostly electronic.
The stamp acts as a signature representing acceptance.
The general contractor reviews the submittal to make sure it accurately reflects field conditions, its dimensions are correct, and it meets all contract requirements.
Step Four: Submittal Review:
In this step, the architect reviews the construction submittal. They have a legal responsibility to approve or reject it.
Each submittal must clearly identify the part of the building to which it applies. The design team is responsible for approving the submittals and making sure the materials selected to comply with the requirements laid out in the construction documents and meet the use and performance needs of the design.
The designer or consultant who works on the building system in question reviews the submittal and makes any comments or requests changes. It then goes to the supervising architect or engineer. Each reviewer checks the submittal for compliance with the construction documents and the quantity and installation requirements.
Because a shop drawing that is not designated as “rejected” is considered approved, architects and engineers must properly label the outcome of every review. Some common submittal results include reviewed, approved, rejected, revise, or resubmit.
Architects should also qualify their review comments with limiting language, such as:
“Review is limited to general conformance with contract documents and design concepts and does not release contractor of its responsibility to determine and control construction means, methods, techniques, sequences, and procedures as well as quantities of materials and dimensions of work.”
During the submittal meeting, an approval workflow is to be set, and all related documents go to the project’s reviewers in the order indicated by that workflow. Then, the documents go back to the general contractor and subcontractor. Although the process may seem lengthy and laborious, following the sequence ensures that all participants are aware of the status, comments, approvals, and rejections that occur at other levels.
No redesign takes place during submittal review. If a reviewer identifies a problem and requires a design change, you should start a new submittal.
However, a designer may make minor corrections that do not need to be resubmitted.
The contract should also discuss the length of time allowed for the review of the submittal. This time period can be specific (a set number of days or weeks) or broad (a “timely” review).
There is often tension between contractors, who rush to get submittals compiled within a short window and want to start ordering materials as soon as possible, and architects, who often feel squeezed by the contractor to complete their review quickly but want to make sure they have vetted the contractor thoroughly.
The architect stamps the submittal once they have approved it.
While this is the architect’s legal responsibility, contractors who do not carefully handle submittals may increase the frequency of project failure or litigation,
So, it’s in the contractor’s best interest to make sure that all materials match the plans and that no unapproved changes have been made.
Types of Construction Submittals and the Information They Include
There are many types of submittals, including product data, shop drawings, and samples.
As mentioned earlier, the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee and the American Institute of Architects have standards governing submittals. The type of information included should vary with the type of submittal.
Shop Drawings: These are the most common type of submittal.
The American Institute of Architects defines shop drawings as “drawings, diagrams, schedules, and other data specifically prepared for the work by the contractor or a subcontractor, manufacturer, supplier, or distributor to illustrate some portion of the work.”
While the term shop drawing technically encompasses other information beyond images, most construction professionals think of shop drawings as drawings. These detailed drawings are different than the plans produced in the design phase, and true design work should not happen through the submittal process.
These diagrams illustrate how the building components and assemblies are planned to come together during construction.
Remember though, contract documents and anything contained in a shop drawing does not alter the need to comply with specifications and drawings in the plans.
This means that shop drawings are not formally part of the agreement between the owner and contractor and are not legally enforceable. If a contractor wants to do something different than what is in the contract documents, a formal change order must be approved by the architect.
Shop drawings include quantities, dimensions, and performance and design characteristics, as well as other data.
These are examples of the physical products that builders wish to use in construction.
They may be full specimens, such as brick, rebar, or quantity of soil, or partial, like a paint swatch or a square of wallpaper.
Samples help designers assess aesthetic choices since the texture and color of physical samples can vary greatly from those in catalogs and on websites.
Another form of a sample is a mockup, which shows how elements may come together (for example, a wall mockup that includes the window, cladding, and waterproofing). Mockups offer designers the chance to test how well a design concept could work.
Material samples provide information on the material, supplier, composition, and catalog. The AIA says the samples should illustrate workmanship and establish standards for judging the completed construction.
Once the designers approve the construction submittal, builders should then store the samples at the construction site and compare them to the material that is delivered to make sure the two match.
This provides information about building materials, including dimensions, manufacturer, model, quantity, use and performance characteristics, finish, warranty details, and more.
Submittal data may be critical to documenting compliance with standards for the origin of materials (such as using American-made steel). These standards are generally found on government projects.
Other kinds of construction submissions are also sometimes called submittals but serve a different purpose than illustrating materials. These would include schedule submittals as we mentioned before, action submittals, informational submittals, submittals at project closeout, submittals on maintenance materials, a quality control assessment plan, an accident prevention plan, schedules, budgets, and more.
Best Practices for Managing Construction Submittals
Contractors need to coordinate the submittal process carefully as part of strategic construction cycle management.
Submittals that cover materials needed early in the project must be given top priority, but builders also have to factor in lead time for items that need fabrication. This lead time issue may require them to preorder items that are not going to be used until late in the construction process.
These time constraints should appear on the construction project schedule and indicate dependencies between work and submittals.
If, when construction is underway, a problem arises with a certain material, a general contractor may wish to vary the item within the approved submittal.
However, any change must follow a specific procedure: The contractor should submit the variation in writing to the architect, who would then approve or reject it in writing; the contractor would also update the original submittal to show the revision.
Certain problems tend to reoccur with construction submittals:
Incomplete or incorrect specifications of submittals by the architect or engineer in contract documents
Submittals that were sent to the architect or engineer without first being reviewed by the general contractor
The architect’s receipt of submittals directly from the general contractor’s subcontractors
Submittals from the general contractor that are not on the specification list
A missing or incomplete submittal schedule from the contractor
Too short of a review time for a submittal due to delays
Late submittals relative to the schedule
Shop drawings that contain errors or are incomplete
Risks and Cautions When Working with Construction Submittals
While we mentioned earlier that construction submittals are not considered contract documents, the process does impose legal responsibilities on project members in other ways.
As in the case of the hotel walkway collapse, architects and engineers may be found liable for not upholding their professional standard of care if submittals did not go through a proper review or had errors.
Contractors can also be held at fault if they do not handle the submittal process properly. Construction experts say that everyone involved in a project should review shop drawings and other submittals, regardless of the contract language, and that the schedule should leave adequate time for a full review.
Major construction projects that suffer delays, extensive change orders, or cost overruns often prompt litigation, and submittals may be brought into lawsuits to document performance and communication.
But, for the contractor, getting approval of shop drawings or other submittals does not necessarily constitute document contract compliance - and there is legal precedent for courts to deem the approval by an owner’s representative not binding.
Diligence with submittals can minimize the occurrence of change orders, and careful management — especially with the use of electronic tools — help to make sure that submittals are accurate, timely, and properly reviewed.
Earlier, we discussed the architect’s professional responsibility in reviewing shop drawings and other submittals. Barthet says that the architect must be familiar with all the contractual requirements of the project and be knowledgeable enough to spot potential construction or design problems in submittals.
Software Tools That Simplify Construction Submittals
Given the large number of components involved in structures, project participants can find it challenging to keep submittals organized. Traditionally, submittals were on pieces of paper and recorded in a logbook or register.
That use of paper and books later evolved into the use of spreadsheets and dedicated software. Today, the pros use cloud-based software.
These applications have made the submittal process more efficient, and they make managing large document sets much easier. Submittals are easier to find and route to the correct individual. Notes and revisions are well organized and easy to read.
Software tools may audit who has reviewed and approved submittals, notify team members when submittals are ready for review or late, and attach the submittal to the relevant part of the project plan.
It is now said that the entire industry has now shifted to electronic submittals. Material samples are now the only submittals reviewed in physical form.
Electronic submittals speed up the process and have since shortened the review cycle. The process is now updated almost rapidly when a submittal has been reviewed.
The digitization goes beyond document management, he says. Fabricators are using bar codes on components, so they are easily tracked and matched to plans. The trend toward building information modeling (BIM) has been a means for linking materials to electronic drawings, making drawings more detailed and accurate.
Common Submittal Problems (and How You Should Look To Avoid Them)
Construction experts say that submittals are prone to some common problems.
With diligence, however, you may avoid or minimize many of them.
Still, both contractors and architects say their training does not adequately prepare them for dealing with submittals, and they learn on the job.
Some of the problems reflect the different agendas of contractors and architects when dealing with submittals.
Here are just a few of them:
Friction over Timeline:
Contractors may often find submittals tedious and time-consuming, and when they finally finish them, they want a quick approval from architects.
Architects, on the other hand, may sometimes complain that they receive submittals later than they should and then immediately face pressure from contractors to approve them. Architects and engineers also say that general contractors occasionally do not give subcontractor submittals enough scrutiny and instead rely on the design team to catch any errors.
Compressed timelines on more projects add to these pressures, emphasis may be placed on teamwork, starting in the preconstruction conference to avoid animosity.
Not Sticking to the Process:
Contractors may perceive architects as misusing the submittal process to insert design changes, such as switching colors.
Architects feel that contractors sometimes do not put enough effort into understanding their design intent and cut corners by relying on the architect’s own drawings rather than on more detailed shop drawings in the submittal.
Lack of Performance Indicators:
Both sides understand that mismanagement of submittals can lead to mistakes, excess costs, and delays, but the improvement has been limited by a failure to track performance. Construction managers may use a performance index to show how each party is performing in the submittal process.
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