Substitution Evaluations: What is the Architect's Obligation?

This morning I opened my email to find a client, an architect, requesting a substitution evaluation for a metal wall panel. The request was sent 8 PM Sunday evening during the break between football games. A reply was requested by noon today even though I am still trying to recover from all the Thanksgiving turkey.

The only data provided for evaluation was a five page product brochure, of which only three pages applied to the product substitution. One of four metal panel profiles was marked with an underscore to show the proposed profile and one of three metal gages was boxed to show the proposed gage. These were the only markings on the submittal.

So what is an architect to do?
First check the spec. The specification lists a basis of design product for the wall panel and four other acceptable manufacturers. There is a specific reference to Division 01 for substitution requests. The proposed manufacturer is none of those that are specified.

Checking the Division 01 reference, there should be additional information submitted for the architect's evaluation:

  • A completed substitution form and
  • A detailed product comparison showing the differences between the specified product and proposed product, if any.
  • A cost analysis showing the difference to the contract amount if the substitution is accepted.

None was provided.

The architect could reject the request based on the contract rules established in Division 01. The architect is under no obligation to review submissions that do not comply with the administrative requirements of the contract.

If this were the first such substitution, rejection may help set the stage for following the procedures defined in Division 01 for substitutions and other administrative requirements. I suspect the architect wants to be cooperative, so instead he asked for feedback on the substitution request from the project specifier (us) and the project building envelope consultant.

Was Anything Missing?
Here is what was missing from the substitution request:

  • Sheet Metal Material. Is it steel and by what reference standard?
  • Galvanizing. What coating class was provided, if any?
  • Finish. Which of the five finishes is proposed?
  • Fasteners. Which fastener from the selection guide is proposed?
  • Warranty. Is any warranty available? None is mentioned.

Without this additional data, there is no way to complete the evaluation. I did not search for the data on the manufacturer's website. I reviewed only what was submitted as in accordance with Division 01.

My Advice to the Architect
More data is needed to evaluate this product as a substitution. Reject the substitution request. If the contractor wishes to resubmit the request with the additional data, it could be reconsidered.

Apply the Division 01 rules uniformly throughout the contract. Trying to be cooperative by bending or breaking the administrative rules can actually change the contract if there is a dispute. The courts may interpret the architect and contractor's actions (ignoring the Division 01 rules) to be the de facto contract requirements, preventing future strict enforcement of Division 01 to resolve a dispute. Plus deviating from Division 01 rules will likely create more unplanned, uncompensated work for the architect, ultimately.

My additional advice was that I could not make sense of the span tables for the proposed product, especially since they showed a 50 percent greater span than the basis of design product for the same load. Yet there was no appreciable difference in the panel profiles and metal thickness. The spans remain a mystery.

Additional Reading
Previous SpecWords blog postings Tech Tips have addressed this issue too. You may want to check these additional resources.

Dealing with a Substitution Request
Acceptable Product Submittals
What Should I Look for During Submittal Review?
Succeeding with Substitution Requests

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