Construction Submittals: The Ultimate Guide

The quality of a construction submittal can make or break the success of a project. Improper construction submittals can lead to unstable structures and higher expenses. To keep your construction projects on track, you must have a proper construction submittal. With it, your team can better plan expenses and schedules and ensure the project has the proper materials and equipment.

If you want to know how you can use submittals to improve your projects, it's a good idea to begin by learning what submittals are and the primary forms they take. After becoming familiar with the basics, you can learn how the review process works, why submittals are so important and the ways you can improve them.

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What Is a Submittal?

Submittals are samples, documents and pieces of information given to consultants, engineers and architects before work can begin on a construction project. Typically, contractors deliver these documents to the general contractor. The appropriate parties then review the information provided in the submittals. The reviewers for these documents are often engineers and architects, who ensure projects have the materials needed. They also check to see if these materials will be used in compliance with the project's contract or design documents.

Submittals shouldn't be confused with as-builts or closeouts — these items are meant for times after construction is finished. Submittals are designed for the earlier phases of a project, rather than the conclusion.

Common Submittal Types

There are a few different kinds of submittals that are commonly used for construction projects. Each type of submittal provides a unique piece of information. Below you can find out more about some of the most common submittal types:

1. Product Data

Product data is a type of submittal that relates to the technical information concerning the intended materials. Usually, the material manufacturer will provide this information. The data included in these documents will include performance stats, dimensions, warranty, dimensions and ways the material can be used. Additionally, you can find documentation like blueprints and product manuals in this type of submittal.

Product data is one of the most informational submittal types. All the documentation included in it assist architects, construction managers and engineers as they decide if the materials will fit with the building or project's overall design. Often times, those reviewing the documents will use the submittal to see if the intended materials meet the building standards and if they have enough materials to complete the project.

2. Samples

Samples are a type of construction submittal that gives relevant parties examples of potential products or materials to be used in the construction process. From this submittal, a construction manager or relevant party will analyze the potential products for use. These products and materials often include paint or soil. By receiving samples, project managers, designers and engineers can decide if the materials work with the overall aesthetic of the project.

Besides physical samples, submittals sometimes come in the form of mock-ups. These mock-ups provide a real-life example of what could be constructed if a company is given a contract.

3. Shop Drawings

Shop drawings refer to several materials, including blueprints, drawings, schedules and diagrams. The documents included with shop drawings usually showcase the type of work a contractor is planning to perform. Additionally, the drawings explain the types of work required to complete the project. There will be different standards for shop drawings depending on who is managing the project and the project type.

 

What's Included in a Construction Submittal?

While the information and products included in a construction submittal will vary based on the type, there are some common documents and pieces of information found in most construction submittals. Some of the main materials included in submittals are:

  • Color charts
  • Color and finish options
  • Product components
  • Data on various materials and products
  • Samples of various products, like soil and paint
  • Shop drawings that include the dimension of prefabricated products
  • Product cut sheets that contain information like specifications, model number and manufacturer

 

Why Are These Submittal Materials Important?

The documents and materials included with submittals are crucial for the success of construction products. Essentially, submittals are the building blocks to an effective project. Before a project begins, there must be a solid plan in place to ensure the construction is efficient and produces high-quality results.

Submittal materials allow construction professionals to take a very detailed look at a project. With almost every detail and aspect at a design professional's disposal, they can make informed decisions on the types of materials, products and equipment for the projects. Giving design professionals and construction managers the ability to approve or deny products helps prevent mistakes that could slow down a project or cause it to fail.

Given how important construction submittals are to the process, it's crucial they are of the highest quality. The greater level of detail the construction submittals provide, the more a team can properly schedule and budget for a project. Construction submittals should also be able to provide this information in a way that's organized, accurate and easy to access.

Since a submittal with little detail or inaccurate information could cause a project to fail, it's important you only receive and produce quality submittals. High-quality submittal materials can provide the following benefits:

  • Prevent unnecessary setbacks: Construction submittals give users the ability to avoid setbacks that could end up delaying their project or causing unexpected costs. The approval process allows design teams to catch potential problems and use only the best materials for a project. By enabling construction professionals to catch errors, construction submittals help projects get started on the right foot and have the best materials for a successful construction project.
  • Develop appropriate timelines: Keeping a project on time can be a problem if you don't have the right materials and a schedule for the team to follow. A huge advantage to a submittal is it allows a company to plan out a project with more detail and develop accurate estimates for how long different steps of a project will take. With this information, a project can have an accurate timeline everyone can be expected to follow.
  • Create accurate budgets: Knowing how many materials and types of equipment a construction project needs assists with creating a budget that accurately predicts costs. The ability to better predict project timelines can help with determining labor costs. A submittal can save a company from unexpected costs and ensure they have enough capital to finance a project.

 

The Importance of Project Manuals

The main piece of an effective submittal is a project manual. Sometimes referred to as the spec book, the project manual for a submittal is an extensive document that lays out the requirements of a project. It covers everything from payment procedures, product selection and scheduling to project documentation and testing. In a way, a project manual tells the story of your project and directs members of the team through the building process. Usually, a project manual will begin with a table of contents section to make navigating the document easier.

As you craft a construction submittal, your project manual will be one of the most important pieces of information team members rely on. Below you can find out more about developing a proper construction project manual:

  • Proper format: Most of the project manuals of U.S. building projects are organized via a standard format. This format is referred to as MasterFormat, and anyone in the construction industry should be acquainted with the different divisions of this format. However, some infrastructure projects will have different formats. As such, it's best to check what the standard format is for whatever projects you're working on.
  • Section for submittal procedures: A section for submittal procedures is absolutely crucial. This area of the document will outline all submittal procedures and how they'll work throughout the project. General contractors and subcontractors will need to pay special attention to this section.
  • Section for general requirements: Almost every project manual will have a general requirements section. The section will include information about project management, closeouts, temporary facilities, testing, submittals and scheduling. Often, the general contractor will use this section the most.
  • Section for specific requirements: The specific requirements section of a project manual will provide the rules for the project's subcontractors. These requirements will often apply to several types of work. You'll find rules for mechanical, electrical, concrete and interior work in this section.

 

The Review Process

Architects and engineers tend to be the ones who conduct the review process. In reviewing submittals, key team members associated with a construction project will go over supporting documents and the materials list. They'll also decide whether or not the materials and procedures for the project are appropriate. The review process will help ensure a building project is going to have proper structural integrity and is in the best place to succeed.

Usually, the first step of the review process is collecting and aggregating all the submittal items provided by contractors. After acquiring the submittal items, the engineer or architects will go over the specifications and data of the project. Today, there's construction project management software that can assist with this stage of the review process. If there's no software, staff members can go over the documents manually, but this can take much longer.

As the different parts of the submittals are reviewed, the general contractor and design teams will often split the details. The design and architectural team will handle checking the documentation for compliance. The general contractor will go over the information in the submittal to see if the proper specifications and materials are going to be used.

 

The Submittal Log

To ensure every aspect of the review process goes smoothly, it's important to organize the information in a project manual and also develop a submittal log to ensure everything has been reviewed. Construction submittals usually involve thousands of documents, so trying to review the items without proper organization may lead to letting key elements of the project fall through the cracks.

Crafting a submittal log that's comprehensive and detailed is crucial for keeping track of all the different parts of a construction project. A good submittal log will keep track of the project's elements and help keep a record of what's been reviewed and approved. If you're building a submittal log for your project, it should include these main elements:

  • Title and description requests: For every part of your project where you're requesting materials or pieces of equipment, you need to title it, so it's easy to find. Additionally, these requests should have a description of what the request is and how it plays into the project's overall construction.
  • Element location specifications: To make whatever information you need to find simple, the elements of the submittal should include where the requirement or request can be found. Generally, the location information will include the section number, subsection and name.
  • Submittal type: With the different types of submittals, you should make sure to label your submittals based on the group they fall under.
  • Responsible party: The person responsible for collecting information for the submittal should be listed on the document. This information helps team members be aware of their responsibilities, while also helping anyone with questions know who they should direct their questions toward.
  • Submittal manager: The submittal manager refers to the person responsible for submitting whatever item or information needs to be reviewed. This person should be listed in the submittal log.
  • Submittal reviewer: Like the submittal manager, the submittal reviewer should be included in the submittal log. The submittal reviewer is responsible for reviewing specific items and information that's submitted. They'll either approve or deny the document under review.
  • Priority: To ensure the submittal review process goes along at the appropriate speed and keeps people as productive as possible, it's important people know each section's priority. Since you can often begin certain processes of a project or move on to a new task after reviewing a section of the submittal, it's important reviewers know to handle these sections first.
  • Required date: The required date for receiving the submittal should be included, along with listing which contractor is responsible for submitting it.
  • Required approval date: Besides adding a date for the submittal to be turned in, it's also important the reviewer knows when it should be approved or denied by. A date will keep the review process on track.

 

How to Improve Construction Submittals

There is a lot of information out there about the construction submittals process, but ways to improve this process are often overlooked. The submittal workflow can be time-consuming and confusing for those who don't have a strong system and the proper tools to keep submittals on track. In order to set yourself up for success, check out some of the top ways you can improve your construction submittals:

1. Add Filters

One of the easiest steps you can take to improve your construction submittals is to ensure you have filters set to help you sort through the large amount of information. Not having filters can cause reviewers to overlook items and pieces of information.

Any piece of software or technology you use to review construction submittals needs to have filter capabilities. The filter should let you narrow down whatever pieces of information or types of submittals you want to review. The most helpful filters will allow users to break down information by qualities like priority, approvers, due dates, submittal dates, specs, status of reviewers and created by dates.

2. Automate Submittal Log Creation

There's software available that automates the process of placing all your items in one central document. Instead of pouring over hundreds, even thousands, of documents to find all the items your project will require, you can use automation software to quickly place all the project's items in one spreadsheet. By automating it, you save a significant amount of time and reduce the chance of mistakes.

3. Centralize Submittal Edits

A submittal usually requires multiple people to look over documents and approve them. Often, team members reviewing the documents may have notes or edits to the material. If the information isn't centralized, some of these edits can get lost in the shuffle of different team members reviewing the documents and adding their insight to them.

One of the biggest ways you can improve the construction submittals process is to work with software that allows you to centralize all the documents in one place. Keeping submittal documents on one platform helps users see all changes to a document made by other users. The software should allow users to have tools to add callouts, shapes, stamps, highlights and text to a document to showcase any changes and keep everyone on the same page.

4. Add Email Notifications

Before any work begins on a project, various submittal documents have to be approved. To ensure your team knows about any approvals as soon as possible, you can work with project management software that provides automatic alerts about approval through email. After approval or a major change occurs, an email can be sent to the relevant parties, helping them get started on parts of the project or give feedback on any changes.

5. Implement Security Features

Your data must be kept secure. Though many people will need to look at your construction submittals, it's important the information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. When you share project information with external individuals, you should be taking care to ensure they're only receiving the documents they need. For example, you can use a program that allows external individuals to review relevant documents through email, without being given access to the whole project.

6. Allow Multiple Reviewers

It takes time for reviewers to go over construction submittals. You usually need more than one reviewer to look over the material and approve it. Don't wait for a single reviewer to approve the document before sending it to the next one. Instead, work with a program that lets you have reviewers looking over documents simultaneously. Additionally, it's a good idea to choose a program that gives you the ability to see all the reviewer comments in one place.

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