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What Is an RFI in Construction?

What Is an RFI in Construction?

A request for information (RFI) is a document used during the construction process to clarify the necessary details of a project. Numerous RFIs are written and responded to during a complex construction project to keep everything moving along with the proper design, specifications and materials.

In a perfect world, every aspect of a building’s design would be accounted for in the contract. In reality, various elements of a project still need to be clarified during construction, and RFIs are the primary vehicle for subcontractors, general contractors, architects and clients to communicate any 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 keeps projects on schedule and under budget, and good RFI management ultimately leads to satisfied stakeholders.

This article will cover how RFIs work and provide templates and writing tips to help you perfect the RFI process.

What Is The Difference Between RFI, RFP, RFQ and RFT?

With so many different kinds of requests, it can be difficult to distinguish between RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and even RFTs. Typically, RFIs are used during the scope of a project, whereas a request for proposal (RFP), request for quote (RFQ) and request for tender (RFT) are part of the initial planning phase.

RFQ RFP RFT RFI
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

 

Not every project requires all of these requests, but it’s important to know the differences between them before starting on a new project.

  • Request for quote (RFQ): Generally, RFQs are used in cases where the client needs information about a specific product or service. Clients can submit an RFQ to solicit information about how a vendor or contractor would handle a particular aspect of a project, like cost estimates or work descriptions.
  • Request for proposal (RFP): An RFP is a more 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 must set 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 responses to RFTs are often 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 Is an RFI Used For?

Clients, contractors and stakeholders often encounter situations that require additional information throughout the course of a project. These cases call for an RFI, which enables subcontractors and general contractors to complete work that satisfies the client and stays true to the architect’s vision for the design.

Clarify the design, substitute materials, identify construction issues, verify contract terms

Requests for information have a variety of functions, but the following are the most common.

  • 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.

The RFI Process

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 it can take much longer with complex and long-term projects.

RFIs typically go through the following series of steps:

  • Step 1: A subcontractor writes an RFI to clarify the contract, design, specifications or standards, then submits the RFI to the general contractor.
  • Step 2: If they’re able, the general contractor gives a precise answer to the question posed in the RFI.
  • Step 3: If more information is needed, the RFI is sent to the architect, engineer, consultant, subcontractor or client.
  • Step 4: Once the appropriate person answers the RFI with sufficient detail, the RFI is returned to the subcontractor.
  • Step 5: Work commences again if the subcontractor is satisfied with the response. Otherwise, the subcontractor revises and resubmits the RFI.

How To Write an Effective RFI

When writing an RFI, keep the following tips in mind that increase your chances of getting a clear and timely response.

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 issue, 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 and use the RFI process to present strong solutions to problems that come up.

3. Offer context: Make sure to include any additional information that is necessary to fully explain 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.

How To Respond to an RFI

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 subcontractor returns the RFI, so always provide a full response when possible.

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

RFI Templates

A well-crafted RFI doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should include all relevant information organized in a way that is easy to understand. To help you get started, we’ve created free templates for you to use in your project and listed the most important aspects to include in an RFI.

Mockup of RFI template on a tablet

Download RFI Log button

Download RFI Template button

What To Include

  • Project name and description
  • Company information and project manager
  • FRI submittal date
  • RFI ID number
  • Description of the requested action
  • Requested response date
  • Level of priority
  • Question and suggested answer
  • Additional information or attachments
  • Name of the issuer
  • Actual Response date
  • Contact information

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. 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 can handle all aspects of the RFI process, from submittal through response, keeping all items logged in a database along the way. It’s also a useful tool for sharing blueprints, tracking punch lists and completing field reports. While specialized software may be unnecessary for simple projects, it can be vital for complex and long-term building projects.

While RFIs can feel burdensome, they are ultimately essential for 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.

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