An Example Construction RFI: Guide to Perfecting the Process

by Alexander Fraser

Think of the last time you tried to build furniture and required instructions. 

Now imagine that the instruction booklet was missing important information, which kept you from finishing the job. 

You might call or email the place you bought it from to get the necessary information. Once obtained, you can finish building the furniture. 

Well, this is how the construction RFI works, and in this article we will look at an example construction RFI.

When you find a discrepancy or missing information from the contract plans & specs, you submit an RFI. 

The construction RFI will go to the general contractor, architect, engineer, or owner, and they will provide a response. The RFI response includes additional information or design clarifications to the issue found. 

Identifying the issues early in the project will help when the construction phase begins. It’s also essential to submit the RFIs in a timely manner to avoid any delays. 

While this may sound simple, there are steps you should follow when putting together the RFI. 

This article will cover the importance of RFIs, an example construction RFI, and what construction documents to include. A well-made RFI will allow you to get a resolution on the issue efficiently. 

This article will go over the following topics:

A Free Construction RFI Template

You can use the link below if you need free templates. 

This is a Google sheets template that anyone can use.

Components of a Construction RFI

In the image below, you will find the example construction RFI I will reference throughout the article. 

example construction rfi free rfi template construction rfi template

Here’s a list of the RFI template items with brief descriptions. 

  1. Project Name: This is the name of the project you’re working on when creating the RFI.
  2. Answer Required By or Intended Recipient: The project’s design team or architect firm should be included in this field.
  3. Contractor: You should include the name of your construction company here. 
  4. RFI Number: Keep track of the numerous RFIs on the project using this field. 
  5. Date: Date when RFI was submitted.
  6. Date Response Required: When you expect to receive a response for the RFI. The typical response time is 7 to 14 calendar days. 
  7. Cost Impact: Select either “Yes” or “No” if the issue found will result in additional work and added cost. 
  8. Time Impact: Select either “Yes” or “No” if the issue found will result in additional work and require more time to complete.
  9. RFI Question: Use this to describe and identify the issue. Provide possible solutions and if there will be a cost and/or a time impact. 
  10. Name/Position: Write down your name and position, so the engineer or architect knows who to contact. Occasionally they will want to discuss what you found and work out a solution on the phone. 

What to Include When Writing the RFI

Identify the Location of the Issue

I always start the RFI out by referring to the place where I found the issue. This will generally be a reference to the construction contract plans or specifications. 

In the example construction RFI, notice how I immediately include the drawing sheet numbers. It allows the reviewer to quickly understand where the issue lies. 

Be as specific as possible when writing down where you found the problem. 

If you found an incorrect detail on a specific page, reference the page and then the detail.

For example, let’s say the drawings have a detail call out 5/M401 on sheet M202. You look at the project details and find that it’s incorrect and would cause issues. 

It would be best if you started the RFI like this… “On sheet M202, the drawings display detail M401 for…” Then continue describing the issue. 

Describing the Issue in the RFI 

When describing the issue, remember to keep it clear and concise. 

Try to explain the issue with the least amount of words possible. I’m not saying that a lengthy RFI is wrong, but it can cause confusion. 

Let’s look at the example above again. In the first two paragraphs, I’ve clearly stated what the drawings show. 

The following paragraph is a single sentence that covers both the issue and provides a solution. It’s also good to offer an alternative solution, so the project owner has some options.

It sums up that we can’t power 208v equipment with 120v. 

If you can, state the issue within a single sentence. Doing this will force you to find the best way to write the RFI clearly. 

Additionally, you’ll want to include the pages that you’re referencing in the question with the RFI form.

Proposing Some Solutions and Stating the Impact

Once the issue is stated, you can suggest some solutions.

I recommend giving solutions for the engineer/architect to choose from. It helps to expedite the review process. 

The image below is the solution that I provided to the engineer of the project.

If you leave the RFI open-ended, then it may take them longer to develop a solution. 

Occasionally, the engineer/architect will not accept the solutions provided and respond independently. Don’t be offended if your options are not selected; determine the impact of their response. 

Recall that “impact” refers to the additional cost or amount of time required to complete the new work. You will need to figure out if the response from the engineer/architect is out of scope. 

Additionally, when you write in the solutions, consider mentioning if there’s a cost/time impact associated with it. Providing this key information can help with the decision-making process. 

An Example Construction RFI

Let’s look at the example construction RFI shown earlier in the article. 

I had to make this exact RFI for one of my projects where I found a discrepancy. 

The scope of work for this project was to replace the HVAC system in the building. The owner wanted a design change from chilled water to Mitsubishi’s VRF system. 

example construction rfi mechanical demolition plans

The note indicates in the image above indicates which units to remove. 

The next photo displays what units will be used as replacements. This is important when referencing the equipment schedule. 

example construction rfi new mechanical floor plans

Your equipment schedule will include all the building’s new and sometimes existing equipment. It’s an excellent item to reference when confirming your order meets the design. 

example construction rfi mechanical equipment schedule electrical power discrepancy

We can see here the design specification for FCU 1-13 & 1-14. The power requirement is 208v.

It seemed like a straightforward project until I got to the electrical plans. 

example construction rfi electrical demolition plan floor plans electrical

A small note on the floor plans stated, “Disconnect existing 120v circuit… & reconnect to new FCU.” Looking back at the mechanical equipment schedule, the new FCUs require 208v. 

I knew I had to reach out to the owner and ask them how they would like to proceed. 

The best way to do this is by generating a construction RFI. 

I followed these next steps when creating the RFI. 

  1. State the Conditions Shown in the Plans or Specs
  2. Identify the Issue
  3. Propose Solutions
  4. Provide Any Cost/Time Impact

By keeping the RFI short and limiting the options I could push for timely responses. 

The owner notified me they will be performing an upgrade to use the 208v FCUs. 

All that was left was providing an official change order to cover the cost of the additional work. 

Tips for Writing a Construction RFI

Here is a list of tips to consider when writing your next RFI.

  • Be Clear and Concise: Maintaining a clear and concise RFI will help to avoid confusion and produce a response sooner. Think about writing the RFI in the least amount of words possible. 
  • Collaborate with Team Members: When learning to write an RFI, I constantly bugged my boss for feedback. It took some practice until I could create RFIs to send independently. It would help if you also had some project team members review the RFI for the accuracy of specific questions and solutions. 
  • Follow Up Regularly: Sometimes, the RFI will get stuck in the review process. As the project manager or project engineer, you must follow up. You need to try your best to obtain the response to keep the project moving.

Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Construction RFI

When writing an RFI, make sure to avoid the following mistakes.

  • Lack of Information: When there’s insufficient information in the RFI, it makes it hard to identify the issue. For example, let’s say you state that there’s an issue with the original plans but don’t mention the sheet. The engineer can’t respond without further information; this goes back to clarity. 
  • Poorly Worded: Consider the tone when you write the RFI. You should exhibit your technical writing skills here. Do not write casually; we are not texting our friends with the RFI. 

Conclusion

The RFI is a powerful tool when it comes to documenting issues on the project. 

It would be best to begin writing RFIs early in your construction career. This way, you can develop some best practices early. 

You’ll need to write many RFIs as a project manager in the construction industry. Best to get used to writing them early. 

At the beginning of a project, this is your opportunity to identify the items to RFI. If you’re involved in the bidding process, you can write up RFIs then. 

Express to your supervisor that you want to gain practice writing RFIs. Let them review it before you send it off to the owner and engineer. 

While the construction RFI process is tedious, it is one of the best documentation tools. It will protect your company from paying for out-of-scope work without getting paid. 

I can’t describe how critical it is for you to understand how to use this tool. Especially if you’re working toward being a project manager. 

Before you go, consider reading my article on “What is a Project Engineer.” There you will learn about their role and responsibilities on a construction project. It’s where I started on my path to construction project management. 

Thank you for reading. 

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