In construction, a submittal is any written document or physical object that contractors or subcontractors must supply to the general contractor for approval before construction can begin. This ensures that all the correct windows, countertops, paint etc., get used.
Imagine sending someone to the grocery store to get a few things on your behalf, like milk, cereal and some fruit. Unless you give specifications about what brand or product you prefer, you may wind up eating a breakfast with whole milk rather than almond milk, waffles rather than pancakes, and blueberries rather than strawberries.
While this may not be the breakfast you wanted, you may still enjoy it. In construction, however, if the general contractor has the wrong windows, countertops or paint, it can cause major issues and delays. To avoid this problem, contractors and subcontractors in a project must give submittals to the general contractor for approval before construction begins.
Keep reading to learn more about what a submittal is in construction, or skip ahead to download our free submittal log template.
What Is a Construction Submittal? 5 Examples
In construction, a submittal is any written document or physical object that a contractor or subcontractor must supply to the general contractor for approval before construction can begin. A few construction submittal examples include:
- Drawings and Diagrams: These documents show detailed drawings, diagrams, blueprints or plans from the subcontractor. For example, a shop drawing from the cabinetry subcontractor might show where and how certain cabinets will get installed in a kitchen renovation project.
- Product Specifications: These documents outline detailed information about a certain product. This can include anything from flooring material types and colors to heavy equipment models and specifications that the project will use.
- Product Samples: These submittals are physical samples of a material, finish, color or other product. For example, this might be a small piece of the countertop planned for installation in the kitchen.
- Compliance Certifications: This construction submittal would confirm that the product meets any necessary compliance requirements, like being fire-resistant or waterproof per city codes.
- Safety Data Sheets: These outline handling and emergency response protocols for any hazardous materials the construction project will use. Since construction safety statistics show how dangerous hazardous material can be without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), these submittals are especially important to keep workers healthy.
Why Are Submittals Important?
Submittals are important because they foster proper communication in construction projects, maintain quality control standards and ensure all project requirements are being followed. Here are a few examples of where submittals can make a critical difference.
Verifying All Parties Are on the Same Page
Perhaps the most important reason submittals exist is to ensure all parties involved in the construction are on the same page. This includes the general contractor, subcontractors and architect or design team.
For example, say the project architect envisions large glass panels, but the general contractor finds the available panels unsuitable for safety reasons. The submittal process will facilitate both workers opening a conversation about how to best proceed.
Catching Any Long Lead Times in Advance
Another important reason to use the submittal process is to see if any planned building materials or products might have long lead times (wait times). The general contractor can check this while reviewing submittals in the project planning phase.
If a material has a lead time that may delay the project, the general contractor can determine whether using an alternative product might be better to keep the project on track. Alternatively, they can decide whether the delay is simply unavoidable.
Preventing Delays or Redos
Product lead times aren’t the only time submittals can prevent project delays. Imagine if a homeowner contracts a building company to complete a model home with certain cabinetry, paint colors and countertops — only to check in on the project and find these preferences were not honored. Having to redo incorrect work can push a project back days, weeks or even months. By verifying that a project has planned the correct materials and finishes before building, general contractors can use submittals to nullify this issue.
What’s the Construction Submittal Process?
The submittal process generally involves three parties:
- The general contractor or construction manager, who oversees the submittal process.
- The subcontractor or contractor who will submit any requested information or materials for review.
- The architect or design team members who ensure all submitted products match the design in the original building contract.
These parties will coordinate the submittal process, which occurs as outlined below.
1. Creation of the Submittal Item Registry
The submittal process begins when the general contractor creates a list of needed submittal items for the project. This list, called a submittal item registry, can cover over 1,000 items to be reviewed. The contractor must include anything involved in the planned project, from windows to paint, caulking, appliances and more for review.
2. Subcontractors Gather Requested Submittals
Next, the general contractor will notify each subcontractor of what submittals they will be responsible for gathering. Subcontractors must then gather the requested documents or materials and submit them to the general contractor for review.
3. Initial Review by the General Contractor
After receiving the submittal, the general contractor will complete a simple review to make sure the submitted information or item matches what was initially requested. If not, the general contractor will return the project submittal to the subcontractor for changes and resubmission.
If it does match, the general contractor will stamp the submittal document and pass it along to the architect. On large projects, the architect may also have a few design team members assigned to help with the submittal process.
4. Secondary Review by the Architect/Design Team
The architect/design team will then review each submittal to make sure it matches the design in the original building contract. If any changes are needed, the design team can notate them on the submittal document and send it back to the general contractor, where the process will begin again if needed. If no changes are needed, the design team will also stamp off on the submittal document.
5. Subcontractors Notified of Approval and Purchasing Begins
Once the submittal is approved and stamped, the general contractor will notify the subcontractors that they can proceed with purchasing the supplies.
It’s extremely unusual for any purchasing or construction work to begin without an approved submittal. This is because the approved submittal is also a legally binding contract of payment for the subcontractor. Without it, the subcontractor risks not receiving payment for any materials or labor supplied.
How To Stay Organized With a Submittal Log
Because of the large number of submittals that general contractors need to manage, staying organized is extremely important. In construction, a submittal log helps general contractors keep track of all submittals and their status in one easy-to-find place. Contractors can keep submittal logs on apps or other software. However, a simple spreadsheet is also a great solution if technology is out of the budget.
Click below to download our free, ready-to-use submittal log template, or keep reading to learn some simple tips on how to use a submittal log effectively.
1. Designate XTrade or Scope of Work
The general contractor isn’t the only one who will need to refer to the submittal log to see what’s been approved. The construction team will also need to check what’s approved to work effectively — and there are many different trades on the team, from electricians to plumbers, carpenters, HVAC technicians and more.
To help team members quickly find the submittals that relate to their team, it helps to label each submittal with the trade or scope of work it relates to. This can make skimming the submittal log much more manageable.
2. Track Revised Submittals Separately
It’s not uncommon for submittals to go through a few revisions before they get approved. Keeping only one line in your log for each submittal can confuse team members since they may not be sure which revision was approved or disapproved. To keep things as clear as possible, track each submittal revision separately on its own line and make an area to designate which revision the line refers to. You can refer to the first draft as draft “0.”
3. Create and Track Submittal Deadlines — Including Revisions
Since project work cannot begin until the relevant submittals are approved, it’s important to keep the submittal process as timely as possible. Designating submittal deadlines provides subcontractors and contractors with an easy reference point and encourages them to stick to the construction schedule as best they can. Don’t forget to include new deadlines for any submittals sent back for revisions.
4. Track Who Submitted the Document and Who Responded
Help team members know who to ask any questions to by tracking who submitted the document and who responded. This can be as simple as designating a party responsible for fulfilling the submittal, with the main contact’s name, and the contact to whom the general contractor referred the submittal for review.
This simple step can help free up the general contractor’s time from simply referring workers to the correct point of contact.
5. Keep Track of Outstanding Comments and the Submittal’s Overall Status
Most importantly, keep track of the submittal’s overall status as approved, disapproved or other — plus any outstanding comments on the document. This makes it easy for the general contractor, architect and all team members to understand whether certain materials, products and designs on the project are approved — plus whether or not work can begin on the next construction phase. Try to keep comments as concise as possible without sacrificing clarity to make skimming the submittal log easier for the entire team.
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