Saturday, July 7, 2007

Minimizing the Punch List in Construction Projects

What is a punch list?

In all construction projects the divergence between the plans and specifications and the finished product or unfinished work can result in what is called in the industry a “punch list”. As a job nears completion construction personnel often find it valuable to create a list of items that remain to be completed by the various subcontractors employed on the project. This is an ever changing compilation of unfinished, poorly executed or incorrect work that has occurred during the construction project. On good projects it is regularly updated and culled until the final completion date and sometimes can continue past the point of occupancy depending on the urgency of the end user. Competent, conscientious construction professionals are acutely aware of the short comings of some of the work that has been performed by the various subcontractors under their domain and are constantly trying to manage these issues to their conclusion. Construction professionals are in turn reminded by the architect, and in turn the end user (usually in the form of an Owner’s construction representative), through the use of a separate punch list of items that they have deemed fail to meet their individual expectations or the design and intent of the drawings. This back and forth process often is repeated multiple times and can be daunting, time consuming, frustrating and extremely unproductive. It becomes inherently obvious that whatever one can do to minimize the need to generate these various punch lists, the more likely that the client will ultimately get a better end product with less stress, acrimony and at a lower cost.

How can we minimize the punch list?

Building projects are generally the result of a required or perceived need for a new structure for a specific use in a specific location. To this end architects and site planners as well as other professionals are engaged by the party wishing to create the new structure. The design and planning phase of any construction project is the most critical phase in minimizing the eventuality of a long and arduous punch list. Several factors can all be contributory to the smooth and accurate execution of the project:

• Architects must carefully spend the time necessary to evaluate the client’s needs and to ensure that the client is fully aware of what is being proposed, if necessary by the use of three dimensional simulation that visualizes the two dimensional drawings into three dimensional format that is more client friendly.

• Engineers and surveyors must methodically perform the necessary research to accurately determine the probable site conditions and peculiarities of the specific site geography and geology to ensure that the design meets the site requirements.

• Construction professionals in conjunction with the architect must establish a strong and cooperative link to local authorities having jurisdiction over the project to ensure compliance as well as to address local considerations.

• Qualified construction professionals should be brought to the project as early as possible, if necessary on a consulting basis in the planning stages of the project to ensure feasibility of execution of the proposed design and compatibility with project’s proposed economics.

• Lending institutional representation should be involved in the planning stages to ensure that cash flow requirements for the project meet the expectations of the project schedule so as not to impede the natural flow of the construction.

If all of these considerations are taken into account in the planning and design stage of the project they will go a long way to minimizing the generation of an untenable punch list at the end of the project.


Punch list items are often generated by poor architectural planning. This can be the result of ill conceived ideas that have not been thought out to their conclusion and are simply a concept in either the client or the architect’s mind with no consideration for ultimate cost, feasibility of execution, time considerations or compatibility with site conditions. This is not to say that creative concepts done through unconventional methods should not be employed, to the contrary they should be encouraged, but they can only be properly executed and meet expectations if they are carefully planned and correctly implemented well in advance of actual construction.

In the past master builder’s were able to execute almost any architect’s concept given enough time, enough money and sometimes when attempting untried concepts, through trial and error. Some of mankind’s most impressive structures were the combined result of visionary ideas, unlimited budgets and master craftsmen who were given the necessary time to complete the work envisioned to near perfection. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe are testament to this process.

Today’s building projects are usually restrained by unreasonable limitations of both time and money. Modern buildings have become by necessity a practical compromise that try to achieve a desirable, functioning product at a reasonable cost and within a very restricted time period.

In order to achieve this architects and planners are usually required to create detailed drawings and specifications that meet or exceed code requirements, address their
client’s needs can be practically executed by a competent builder using conventional methods and can be accomplished within a specified time and for a specific cost.

Understanding the Clients Needs:

It becomes imperative that the architect first and foremost thoroughly understands the client’s needs. He must see the operation of the client’s business, take into account human engineering and determine the culture of the environment he is trying to create. Once he has settled on a design that meets both his and his clients aesthetic sensibilities, he must ensure that the client does, in fact, understand the design and can truly visualize the end product. Many punch list items are not the result of incomplete or incorrect work. They are the result of the client not truly understanding the space until it is built and walked through. When this occurs the change orders shortly follow and this jeopardizes the timing, cost and ultimate customer satisfaction.

Changes made after the fact are extremely expensive and counterproductive and while they are inevitable, especially with some client’s whose requirements at times seem transitory, they are a formidable part of many punch lists. It is helpful if the architect anticipates this problem by creating three dimensional visualizations to help the client understand the space. Actual samples of materials and finishes to be used can often time assist the client to come to terms with what they are actually getting. New more affordable computer aided tools go along way to making it a reasonably standard procedure to convert two dimensional plans into three dimensional perspectives and virtual reality touring of the proposed space.

It is also imperative that the architect coordinate with a qualified construction professional during the design process so that the feasibility and cost considerations of the proposed design are addressed prior to their actual construction. Long gone is the time when architects were mandated to perform years of training in the field with the trades, visually absorbing the techniques that they would be specifying and intimately understanding the use and limitations of some methods they would want to employ. Consequently punch list items are sometimes the result of poorly conceived ideas that are not made apparent until they are attempted to be executed. This results in compromises due to time or budget restraints and these compromises can often wind up on punch lists since they usually do not fulfill all of the design criteria as originally intended.


Coordination of construction trades is probably the single most contributing factor to the development of punch list items. Here is where it is incumbent upon the qualified construction professional to actually mentally build the project prior to the start of the actual construction. By doing so, the construction professional can anticipate coordination problems between various subcontractors before they become insurmountable or require some compromise.

Since modern buildings require a multitude of engineering and architectural professionals to design the final product and since few architectural firms have all the engineering disciplines required on staff, the hiring of multiple outsourced professionals on a single project is a common practice. This means there can be multiple engineering professionals for structural, mechanical (i.e.; plumbing; heating, ventilating and air conditioning), electrical; telecommunications; security; fire protection; fire alarm; energy management; computer systems; process power; conveyance systems etc.) Despite the best efforts of the architectural team, the coordination of these systems with the architectural drawings and with each other is daunting.

It becomes the formidable task of the construction professional to as Harry Truman once said make sure that…”the buck stop here.” The construction professional must again mentally build the project prior to the actual construction and bring to the architect all conflicts of coordination that he can anticipate. He must often do this in conjunction with his mechanical trade subcontractors, who can aid in offering design solutions that can be practically achieved and integrated into the overall plan. These suggestions can then be incorporated into revised drawings prior to or concurrently with the commencement of the actual construction. These conflicts can be anticipated and properly designed for, thus eliminating a major source of potential punch list items.

During construction a conscientious construction professional can, by careful monitoring of the various trade professionals and by utilizing their individual expertise in a cooperative effort, anticipate problems through the use of weekly or if necessary daily progress meetings and can minimize or eliminate details in work that will not meet the client or the architect’s intended expectations.

The bottom line is that while it is inevitable that the punch list is a working tool in the construction industry that is here to stay, the onerous and unproductive nature of the lengthy and ominous punch list can be minimized by the use of careful planning and diligent monitoring by knowledgeable professionals throughout the project cycle. As in Japanese influenced production facility techniques, the use of feedback from qualified participants that are part of the process throughout the project can only lead to a more successful end product and a more satisfied client.

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