GuardRailed Construction6 critical areas of focus to help the construction industry have more success!  Welcome to GuardRailed Construction, by Glenn A Cort, Esq., LEED AP

Cone 5:  “Submittals”

Good or bad, helping or hurting – Submittals!

Are Submittals helping or hurting your construction project ? When you think about a “Submittal” related to Design and Construction of a commercial building project it would seem pretty straight forward, however it’s not.  In fact,  “Submittals” could be one of the most misunderstood and poorly defined issues in all of construction leading to disputes and delays of all kinds.  At Triumph we believe that a discussion of submittals prior to executing a final contract has proven to have many benefits to our clients.  By exploring this topic in detail,  we hope to bring more fulfillment to our clients as well as help others enjoy success with their projects.

To look at submittals it’s easiest to place the reader in a classic Design-Bid-Build context. The designer took the trouble to meet with the Owner to design a building with every last detail committed to a set of plans.  It took them months and several stages from “conceptual designs”  through further detailing often called “design development” to come up with a set of plans which serve several critical purposes-   for permitting, and to instruct builders with enough detail that they can provide a fixed price.  It would only make sense in this context that the Builder, hired to build the design, would have to prove to the Designer and Owner at various stages of the build  that he/she is building according to the plans.

This presupposition would hold true even if the builder was very involved with the designer in creating the plans — which, by the way, is a requirement for successful modular projects. There would still be details in the Specification that might not make it into the drawings for construction and therefore submittals protect all parties as a clarification.  There would be color selections for example that all parties would want to be sure were exact, and which in many cases were not detailed in the base contract documents.  Nobody wants surprises.  Submittals for Owner approval therefore are important for builder to verify, to check (and balance) that he is not moving ahead with materials or systems that will not meet the specification or owners expectations.

Sounds simple enough, yes? Before I tell you how poorly understood this process is and why, let me explain one more obvious benefit:   a submittal log will create the Owner’s operations and maintenance manual as cut sheets of systems such as HVAC units, windows, and appliances provide a manual for the Owner to know how to use or replace most every element and moving part, functioning system in his new building.  Wonderful right?  Mostly. Submittals are “all good”  as long as the parties discuss in advance of contract.  I suggest asking three questions. What will be submitted on? Which ones will be for record only versus for owner approval?  And Why?  These three questions alone, when discussed with a healthy team, will make for a smoother, faster and happier project for all.

Why?  For a few reasons. If the specification is clear and the Owner trusts the builder (for example, they have worked together in the past ) the team may wish to limit those for approval.  This will save the builder a ton of time.  The owner will still get a complete operations manual, for example, but also the builder may cut its fees because submittals have been limited.  Let’s keep in mind that most projects have detailed architectural drawings that define the work for the builder, so some projects could suffice with a limited list of for approval submittals.   It’s all about meeting Owner expectations.  By asking the Owner what they think about submittals, it will reveal a lot about the project overall, from the role of architect to overall project budgeting.

No two projects in construction are formed the same way and this is what causes most of the complexity.  Speaking from experience, sometimes you get in a room with a new prospect and client and you’re thinking among other things, Glenn, don’t ask the stupid question! How will I possibly raise the topic of submittals, they are gonna think Im crazy.   Moreover, in some cases the architect has done a good job explaining what the builder will submit on. In a traditional design-bid-build context this is often the case. But we have found, and it may be that our focus is on modular construction, we operate in more design build and collaborative forms of contracting.   In this context as an expert modular builder we are asked to help in design.  The rules of who will make the submittal log and what will be on it can be become less clear.  For example, when the owner puts out a bid or RFP based on only a “performance specification” and asks the builders to act as design builders.  In this case, will all Submittals be for record only? It’s possible, aside from color selections.

Also, regardless of contracting format,  submittals can slow down a project if people are not paying attention. Particularly in modular construction we cannot accept a submittal log for owner approval that will slow down the modular factory.  We need to be sure that how the contract defines submittals, places an obligation on the Owner (or their architect) to return certain long lead items by a particular date.

Hopefully these comments showcase some of the variability with submittals.  Owner preference, relationship between designer and contractor, contractor and Owner, speed of the contracting process could be present variability if you let it.   Don’t let it.  Take the variability out of the process.  Construction is complex enough.   Join us.  Be courageous and broach the subject of Submittals with your owner in the planning stages of your next project, prior to forming any contract.  I think you will find it helpful.

PS. In doing a bit of legal research I found that Shop Drawings is a Submittal that will become a part of contract documents.   I will say that it took some time to understand whether all submittals are contract documents.  I found a few cases where approval of a shop drawing clarified obligations and intent of the parties.  This in two cases where misbuilt or wrongfully designed fastening or support systems were the subject of a legal dispute following an injury …  Good or bad, helping or hurting: Submittals …


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