The Subcontractor’s Guide to Construction Punch Lists
At some point in every construction project—no matter how large or small—a punch list must be created. That is, a document that shows all the parties involved what tasks need to be completed. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when there are numerous players involved.
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What is a Punch List?
The term “punch list” is an old one that comes from the antiquated process of punching holes in a list to mark which items needed fixing.
Created by the general contractor usually at the beginning of a project, the punch list basically ensures that all “must haves” and “must dos” are completed. While punch lists differ for every project, there are always three components: location, name of task, and a deadline.
Essentially, the construction industry uses punch lists to prevent projects from spiraling out of control. Collaboration between team members—general contractor, project owner, architect, and subcontractors—is vital so that all tasks can be tracked and recorded when completed.
Many items can be added to a punch list such as interior or exterior issues; incorrect installations, like flooring and carpentry; mechanical issues related to thermostats, ductwork and appliances; anything that was damaged during the course of the project; and any unaddressed items outlined in the original contract.
Since no project will ever be perfect, contractors may make a distinction between reasonable flaws (minor, insignificant flaws that still meet contract specifications) and unreasonable flaws (errors that must be fixed). A punch list identifies unreasonable flaws for corrections, while larger issues are usually addressed through a change order.
Punch lists also help to justify retainage (also called retention), which refers to the amount of money that is deliberately withheld at the end of a project to ensure the contractor follows up on the punch list and completes all work. Additionally, retainage also helps to ensure that all work is on par with everything that was outlined and agreed upon in the contract.
The Construction Punch List Process
Once the punch list has been completed and distributed to all involved parties, time is then allotted for fixing any issue, followed by another walkthrough of the project with the general contractor and owner. If no further issues need to be addressed, the owner will then sign off on the punch list for the work to be considered fully completed.
The Subcontractor’s Role in the Punch List Process
While it is the general contractor that creates the punch list and assigns it to the team, the subcontractors must ensure that their list of tasks comply with contract specification. Otherwise, they may have a difficult time addressing issues on time.
The role of each subcontractor is to take the punch list they have been given, address the requests and ensure each line item is completed. They must also be prepared to explain each fix and, if necessary, elaborate on why it was not made to specification.
Common Punch List Items for Subcontractors
Effective communication can minimize potential rework and modifications from misunderstanding. And, while it can be a lengthy and challenging process to compile a punch list, the most common punch list items are as follows:
- Appliances are working correctly and fully functional
- Cabinet doors and drawers are opening and closing smoothly without any problems
- Doors open and close properly and sealed tightly
- Floors are damage free from construction
- Hardware (hinges, locks, latches) work fluently
- Hardware is accounted for and not missing
- HVAC system works as it should and is zoned correctly
- Lights and receptacles are fully functioning
- No leaks
- No damage to the building
- Paint and texture are the correct shade and quality
- Paint, dust, and debris is cleaned and cleared from the site
- Plumbing (faucet, sink, drains, toilets) are free of issue
- Proper installation of locks
- Windows open and close smoothly
Best Practices for Construction Punch Lists
The goal of any punch list is to ultimately get to zero. This means that all list items have officially been crossed off and the project is officially closed out.
The key to getting to zero faster is in how you design and manage your punch lists.
Let’s walk through six strategies that can take punch list management to the next level:
Do Not Wait Until the End: Generally, the punch list is not created until after the walkthrough is complete. Nonetheless, this does not mean that punch lists need to be created towards the very end of a project. Instead, it works better to start generating a punch list earlier in the project as a regular check-in on construction quality. When implemented at the start, punch lists can be used to create workflow and standards for starting the project on the right foot. As a subcontractor, consider talking to your General Contractor about getting punch list items earlier so you can stay focused on what matters most.
Implement Regular Inspections: Conducting regular inspections or “punch walks” will support your goal of getting to a zero-punch list faster. Additionally, regular inspections throughout a project can save a ton of time (and money) on the back-end by ensuring things are done right the first time around. One thing that crucially delays projects in the closeout stage is inferior construction quality. An important aspect to remember is that quality should be built in, rather than being an afterthought at the end of the project.
Move into the Future with Cloud-Based Punch List Management: The days of paper punch lists are over. Paper creates massive inefficiencies and leaves construction teams open to risk and errors. Identify punch list technology (such as Procore’s Punch List Tool) that will enable you to easily check off and track issues directly from the field. One option is adopting construction collaboration technology that is powered by the cloud. Technology will be even more powerful if it is made for mobile devices so that team members can easily track and use it from their smartphones and tablets.
Clear Assignment of Items on the Punch List: Ownership and accountability are critical concepts in effective construction management. As mentioned, it is essential to create a punch list that you implement early on in a project. However, the punch list won’t streamline or guide your project if no one knows what they’re responsible for. It’s essential to assign items to specific individuals or teams and to make sure accountability is built into the punch list management process.
In this area, technology helps to streamline the process. Software is available to allow you to assign, alert and track people for what specific items they are accountable for. These programs also increase visibility so everyone else on the team can see who is responsible if any questions arise. This method helps keep everyone on the same page and holds people responsible for their tasks.
Set a Budget for the Punch List: A central goal of every project is to avoid exceeding the budget. Often budget overruns occur when just trying to close out the project. Alternatively, setting a budget for the punch list in advance can be a helpful tactic. This also helps advance punch lists faster because there are fewer questions about where the money needs to come from to complete the project.
Be Flexible and Open to Feedback: You may feel a great sense of relief when you check off the final item on your construction punch list. However, don’t get too comfortable until everyone agrees that the project is complete. You might find that the owner, architect, or another member of the project team has other thoughts. If this happens, don’t take the feedback personally. Be flexible and handle the changes or issues professionally. Work to resolve them efficiently and make sure every team member is satisfied. In the long run, this tactic will be better for business as you’ll build a strong reputation and establish stronger relationships.
Ultimately, the goal of all construction projects is to achieve zero items on the punch list.
Essentially, this stage indicates the point at which both the project owner and contractor determine that all work is complete, and the owner can occupy the space and use it for its intended purpose.