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What are Submittals in Construction?

construction plans graph Like the wheels of a clock, countless procedures work in concert to deliver a successful construction project. Construction submittals are one such process and are used to enforce a project’s design requirements and fulfill the client’s vision. If you’re involved in a construction project or are planning one, take the time to find out why proper submittal procedures are essential to your undertaking.

What are construction or design submittals?


Construction submittals are an integral communication channel, via which the project’s stakeholders can verify that the right components are approved for installation. Submittal requirements often vary between projects, but generally encompass shop drawings, product specifications, technical data, and product samples.

Shop drawings


Unlike construction drawings, shop drawings are not drafted by the design team. Instead, they’re prepared by the professional who supplies the item they depict, such as a vendor or a subcontractor.
Shop drawings typically show fabricated components, designed to match the construction drawings and specifications. Items that require shop drawings may include:
  •  structural members and connections
  •  reinforcement
  •  ductwork
  •  plumbing
  •  doors & windows
  •  millwork & casework
  •  equipment
A shop drawing is a supplier’s interpretation of the design specifications and intent, from which it may inadvertently deviate. Shop drawings give the general contractor (GC), as well as the design team, a chance to evaluate the proposed item’s compliance with the design requirements prior to the specialty work being fabricated. When an item does not comply with the specifications, the relevant design professional may modify the proposed solution to conform to the contract specifications, accept an alternative or request that the originally specified component is provided.

Production specifications & technical data


Similar to shop drawings, production specifications show a supplier’s solution for the specified item. Like shop drawings, these don’t always reconcile with the design requirements. The project’s design team must assess these submittals for compliance before the item in question is approved for installation.

Product samples


Product sample submittals comprise portions, or full samples, of various building materials. This extensive category of submittals can include anything from exterior cladding materials to interior furnishing and actual pieces of equipment. On large projects we have seen full size mockups of exterior wall, door and window, eave and overhang assemblies, or other large scale components.

Product samples are notably useful when several variants of the same item are available, as they allow the design team and the client to see the item and assess its physical attributes before making a decision. A client may want to actually handle the component, such as door hardware, to determine if not only its look but its feel is acceptable.

Why are submittals important?


The submittal process is a vital instrument through which the contractor, design team, and client ensure safety, adherence to the design intent, and compliance with applicable codes.

The safety of construction workers and future building occupants is a key aim of the submittal process for structural components: cases of noncompliant, substituted components failing are both tragic and abundant. The Hyatt Regency Walkway disaster in Kansas City, where a hotel walkway collapsed and killed 114 people, is a case in point. In a deadly instance of miscommunication, the steel manufacturer proposed a change to an approved structural connection. The alternative wasn’t adequately scrutinized by the engineers, and ultimately failed, leading to the calamity.

Making sure that the architect’s and client’s vision materializes with the building is another objective of the submittal process. By reviewing shop drawings, specifications, and product samples, the design team, and the client have a chance to see and approve the various building components and finishes before they get installed.

To prevent the recurrence of avoidable tragedies and help fulfill the client’s design intentions, all relevant parties must reach a consensus on the submittal procedures, and record them as approved before the relevant aspect of construction gets underway.

Establishing submittal procedures


A project’s GC is ultimately responsible for managing submittals. To this end, the GC should meet with the design team, client, and/or the client’s representative in the earlier phases of a construction project, and establish the submittal process.

First, the submittal process is generally laid out in the design and construction agreements—make sure that your architect and GC are comfortable with the industry standards proposed for these documents. Shortly after the general contractor is aboard, everyone involved must determine which components require submittals. With this information in hand, the contractor can draft a submittal schedule, incorporate it into their construction schedule, and promulgate the submittal requirements and deadlines to vendors and subcontractors.

With the submittal requirements and schedule established, the project team can work out peripheral details, such as submission deadlines, method of transmission, and timelines for consideration and approval.

During construction

Once construction begins, it’s the GC’s job to manage the submittal procedures. Ideally, the process should not delay operations. An efficient submittal schedule should allow enough time for review and approval while factoring in the item’s lead time.

The GC is the first party to review a supplier’s submittal. With the documents and/or product samples on their desk, the GC verifies their compliance with the project’s design requirements and applicable codes. If the GC is satisfied with the submittal, they forward it to the design team for approval; otherwise, they may send the submittal and their feedback back to the preparer.

After the architect and/or engineer receives the submittal package, they are obligated to assess the item’s compliance with the construction documents and its congruity with the design. Typically, the reviewing design professional will not scrutinize the proposed construction methods and associated safety procedures – these elements are left up to the GC’s discretion. At this time the Owner’s involvement will be requested by the design team, if required. If the submittal is approved, the operations team will get the green light for installation. Should the design team challenge a submittal, it will return to the supplier for necessary revisions, and the cycle will continue until the product is compliant and the submittal marked approved or approved as noted.

Thorough planning and execution of submittal procedures will keep the project in line with its design requirements. For your peace of mind, consider hiring a construction management professional to guide your project through submittals.
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