What's so Important about Submittals?

An interesting question--no doubt about it! More than 90 Specifying Practice Group members, an attendance record, met last week to discuss it.

View the meeting recording.

There are four basic types of submittals defined by CSI's SectionFormat:

  • Action Submittals
  • Informational Submittals
  • Closeout Submittals
  • Maintenance Material Submittals

Action submittals and informational submittals are the two that are most contentious. These two headings appear as alternative article titles under the broad heading: Submittals. SectionFormat suggests the submittals that may be specified without indicating whether the submittal should be considered an action or informational type.

Currently MasterSpec is the only commercial specification system that uses Action Submittals and Informational Submittals as article titles in technical specifications sections. This allows specifiers to choose under what article to specify each submittal. This may lead to perceived inconsistency if one type of submittal is specified as action in one section and as informational in another section.

Does the distinction really matter?
Louis Medcalf argued that he has separated submittals for years. Keeping them separate helps the contractors know what to expect of the architect and the helps construction administration staff know how to process the submittals they receive. So it seems its best use may be for communication.

Action submittals require an A/E's action, including returning the reviewed submittal to the contractor. Ultimately the submittal must be "approved" for the contractor to rely on it to build the project. This approval puts the construction players on notice that that A/E has reviewed the document and found it complies with the design intent.

Informational submittals, however, imply inaction by A/Es. The submittal is often simply files as information for record. Kevin O'Beirne and I both believe that A/E has a responsibility to review informational submittals to ensure the submittal actually reflects what is required for the project. Simply filing an erroneous or incorrect submittal without any review, could open the A/E to unexpected liability if something goes wrong.

I can't imagine explaining to the jury that I never looked at the design calculations to confirm the correct design loads were used for the structural computations because it was an informational submittal.

Who Benefits from Submittals?
The sentiment was that the primary beneficiary is the contractor. The submittals work as a quality assurance step to check the contractor's understanding of the project requirements before the work is built. Contractors working with A/E's that rely on the attitude of "we'll pick that up in shop drawings" may have a different opinion.

How Can I Reduce the Quantity of Submittals?
I suggested that we can rely on a contractor's certification that he will furnish the specified product, especially if the product is not custom fabricated to size or to fit the project. Toilet accessories are a great example. If the model number is specified, and the contractor intends to furnish that model, what is the point of seeing a submittal? Allow the contractors to avoid submittals when the specified product will be furnished.

Do the Type of Submittals Increase Liability?
Think about what you specify. Are you able to provide a meaningful review of manufacturer's instructions, qualifications statements, and warranties? Are these reviews even necessary? Louis pointed out that if you believe a product is not installed according to the manufacturer's instructions, ask the contractor for a copy. Products are shipped with installation instructions. Just hope they are more than the pictorial instructions that come with today's electronic gadgets.

Electronic Submittal Processing
Nearly everyone attending is receiving submittals electronically. This is not a particular surprise considering the cost of mailing or shipping tons of paper that would be required, for even a small construction project. But simply avoiding the shipping reduces the owner's costs for reimbursing that expense. If design and construction teams are not reviewing and marking submittals electronically, printing costs could be enormous.

Louis demonstrated some of the features found in New Forma, a project management software, that can be used for receiving, processing and tracking construction submittals.

Join the group on the first Thursday of each month, 3 PM eastern time. But first you must join the group. Group member receive the meeting registration announcement. You must register for the meeting to receive the login instructions.

Future Practice Group Topics
Tweet your ideas to @dstutzman or email to dstutzman@conspectusinc.com. Louis and I keep lists of your suggestions and try to use all of them.

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