What Is an RFI? (Free Templates)

A request for information (RFI) is a document used during the construction process to get clarification about the necessary details of a project. Over the course of a complex construction project, numerous RFIs will be written and responded to in order to keep everything moving along with the proper design, specifications, materials and more.

In a perfect world, every aspect of a building’s design would be accounted for when a contract is drawn up. In reality, however, numerous aspects of a project still need to be clarified during the course of construction, and RFIs are the main vehicle used for subcontractors, general contractors, architects and clients to communicate about questions as they arise.

Construction RFIs are extremely common: Navigant Construction found that roughly 10 RFIs occur for every $1 million spent on construction. Having a solid process for handling RFIs will keep projects on schedule and under budget, and good RFI management will ultimately lead to satisfied stakeholders.

In this article, learn more about RFIs, including:

  • The difference between an RFI and other requests like RFQs, RFPs and RFTs
  • What RFIs are used for during a construction project
  • How the RFI process works
  • How to write an effective RFI
  • How to respond efficiently to RFIs
  • Ways technology is reshaping the RFI process

We’ve also created free templates for you to use in your project, including an RFI template (Google Doc) and an RFI log template (Google Sheet). After opening a template, click File > Make a Copy to edit online, or File > Download to use on your computer.

What Is The Difference Between RFI and RFP?

With so many different kinds of requests, it can be difficult to distinguish between RFIs and RFPs, not to mention RFQs and RFTs. Typically, RFIs are used during the scope of a project, whereas a request for quote (RFQ), request for proposal (RFP) and request for tender (RFT) are part of the initial planning phase.

Name Request for Quote Request for Proposal Request for Tender Request for Information
Purpose Gather information about specific aspects of a project Request for in-depth project information Formal request for terms of a project agreement Clarify questions about project specifics during construction
Deliverable Description of work and cost estimate Detailed list of methods, costs, and timelines Contract with specific project information Detailed answer that enables work to proceed

Importantly, not every project requires all of these requests, but we have listed them here in order from most exploratory to most solidified.

  • Request for Quote (RFQ): An RFQ is used to solicit information about how a vendor or contractor would handle a specific aspect of a project, including cost estimates. Generally, RFQs are used in cases where the client needs information about a specific product or service.
  • Request for Proposal (RFP): An RFP is a more formal request used to gather information about in-depth project information, like methods, timelines and specific pricing details. Most often, RFPs are used by clients who want a detailed understanding of the requirements to complete a project.
  • Request for Tender (RFT): An RFT is the most specific request, and the respondent to an RFI sets out clear terms that they will be bound to if the tender is accepted. In essence, an RFT is a request for a contract, and often responses to RFTs are considered legally binding.

Once a contract is created and a project is underway, RFIs are used to clarify details that may have been incorrectly or insufficiently explained in the original plans.

What Are RFIs Used For?

Throughout the course of a project, numerous situations will arise that require additional information. These cases call for an RFI, which enables subcontractors to complete work to the satisfaction of general contractors, who in turn do work that satisfies the client while staying true to the building’s design and architect’s vision.

The different reasons to use an RFI in construction.

Requests for information have a variety of functions, but some are extremely common in construction.

  • Clarify the design: Query the contractor for design specifics if information in the original plans is unclear or conflicting.
  • Substitute materials: Suggest a reasonable change when materials are unavailable, unaffordable or unsuited to a project.
  • Identify construction issues: Find a resolution when construction issues occur due to site problems, sequencing issues or conflicting information.
  • Verify contract terms: Understand the specifics of a contract when the terms, including timeline or budget, are unclear.

In short, RFIs are used in any situation where a question needs to be answered, a change ought to be suggested or any part of the project plan requires clarification.

How Does the RFI Process Work?

The RFI process is complex and often involves many stakeholders, including subcontractors, general contractors, consultants, architects, engineers and clients. On average, RFIs receive a response after eight days, though with complex and long-term projects, it can take much longer.

In general, all RFIs go through the same series of steps.

  1. A subcontractor writes an RFI to clarify the contract, design, specifications or standards, then submits the RFI to the general contractor.
  2. If able, the general contractor gives a precise answer to the question posed in the RFI.
  3. If more information is needed, the RFI is sent to the architect, engineer, consultant or client.
  4. The RFI can also be sent back to the subcontractor for more information.
  5. Once the appropriate person answers the RFI with sufficient detail, the RFI is returned to the subcontractor.
  6. If the subcontractor is satisfied with the response, work commences again. Otherwise, the subcontractor revises and resubmits the RFI.

In order to keep this process as streamlined as possible, it is helpful to learn how to write an effective RFI, how to respond efficiently to RFIs and how to use technology to manage the RFI process.

How To Write an Effective RFI

When writing an RFI, it’s helpful to keep a few tips in mind that increase the chances of getting a clear and timely response.

Tips for writing an effective RFI.

  1. Define the problem: An RFI should always begin with a clear statement of the problem that needs to be resolved. Additionally, an RFI should focus on one specific problem, as this is more likely to receive a satisfactory response.
  2. Provide a solution: As experts, subcontractors typically have excellent ideas for solving challenges throughout a project. Use the RFI process as an opportunity to present strong solutions to problems that come up.
  3. Offer context: Make sure to include any additional information that is necessary to fully understand the problem. Many RFIs are returned to the subcontractor simply because there is not enough context to fully answer the question.
  4. Include visuals: Attaching key visuals, like building plans or photographs, can help clarify the situation in a concrete way, making it easier for the general contractor to resolve the issue.

Most importantly, RFIs should always follow a standard format — either by using construction management software or a template, like the one you can download below.

How To Respond Efficiently to RFIs

General contractors may receive hundreds of RFIs over the course of a multi-year construction project, so it’s vital to have an efficient process for handling them.

  1. Log all RFIs: Using a spreadsheet or construction management software, log all incoming RFIs, making sure to tag each with a unique number and a due date for the response.
  2. Read RFIs carefully: Too often, RFIs are returned before a question is adequately answered because the RFI was not completely understood. Take the time to look carefully at the RFI and supporting documentation before writing a response.
  3. Involve others if necessary: Some questions are beyond the scope of a general contractor, so make sure to bring in engineers, architects, and consultants when a problem surfaces that requires special attention.
  4. Respond fully: Although it’s tempting to rush through the RFI process, failing to give a complete response to an RFI will usually mean that the RFI is returned by the subcontractor, so always give a complete response.

Above all, make sure to respond to RFIs in a timely fashion, because lingering RFIs can lead to project delays and cost overruns.

Using Software For the RFI Process

Construction technology is reshaping every aspect of the industry, from wearable technology aimed at improving safety to modular building techniques that are aimed at increasing building speed.

However, technology is not only affecting building processes but also how stakeholders handle the massive amounts of information involved in a complex project.

Capital project management software (CPMS) has revolutionized the construction industry by providing construction managers with tools that help keep track of everything needed to keep a project moving steadily along.

This software helps streamline numerous aspects of the construction process, like sharing blueprints, tracking punch lists and completing field reports.

Additionally, construction management software is able to handle all aspects of the RFI process, from submittal through response — keeping all items logged in a database along the way.

For simple projects, this sort of software may be unnecessary, but for complex and long-term building projects, it is absolutely vital.

RFIs Help Projects Run Smoothly

While RFIs can feel burdensome, ultimately they are an essential part of keeping projects running smoothly. Given the dynamic nature of construction projects, RFIs are very useful in responding to changing situations or conflicting information.

With a solid process for writing and responding to RFIs, you will be able to keep projects on time and under budget.

Use our templates to get started writing and logging RFIs today. After opening a template, click File > Make a Copy to edit online, or File > Download to use on your computer.

Google Sheets Template

Google Docs Template

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