What you Need to Know as PM: Construction As-Built Drawings

by Alexander Fraser

Have you ever looked at the blueprints of your house? There’s a good chance that this is the as-built drawings of the place.

Construction as-builts serve as the most accurate representation of the work performed in a project. Without these drawings it creates major difficulties for maintenance crews and contractors alike. It is the contractor’s responsibility to provide the as-builts at the end of a project.

What is an as-built?

The as-built process in construction

Simply put, this is a set of record drawings that will be provided to the owner for future reference. The information that can be found in these drawings lets you know the actual conditions of the building.

If the as-builts are inaccurate, this can create issues for any future renovations. As an owner, the last thing you want is a bunch of change orders because of inaccurate as-builts.

Starting from the beginning of a project

At the beginning of a construction project you need a team of engineers to perform the design. They will then release a set of design drawings that can be issued with an RFP. The owner will send the RFP out to qualified contractors to bid on the job.

Once a general contractor is selected, they will typically hire out all their subcontractors. Some subcontractors will perform thorough review of the original drawing and use it to develop their own shop drawings. The shop drawings are then submitted to the engineering team for review and approval.

What are shop drawings?

Shop drawings can consist of modifications to the original plans. Contractors do this because they know they can complete the work in a different manner than shown in the design drawings. The contractor might also identify potential conflicts with other trades, thus the importance of shop drawings.

For example, the contractor might see that some of the new ductwork will interfere with electrical conduit. As a result they need to coordinate with the electrician on how they can reroute their duct. Depending on how much relocation needed to be done, this could result in a change order.

While the shop drawings might be a better representation of how the work will be carried out, it’s not final. It won’t have your exact dimensions or equipment layout but it’ll give you a good understanding on the placement. These drawings need to be continuously updated during the construction process to later become as-built plans.

From shop drawings to as-builts

There can be discoveries that happen in the field that were missed during the shop drawing development. The field crew will be responsible for marking up the drawings to later be returned to the drafting department. These markups are often referred to as red-line drawings.

For example, your field crew started work but they noticed the equipment clearance as shown in the drawings were incorrect. As a result, they will need to relocate the equipment to meet the clearance requirements. The new location needs to be shown as a markup on the drawings.

Each time there is a change from what is shown in the shop drawings, it needs to be noted. If not, you will create some frustration for the owner if you provide them with inaccurate as-builts. Not to mention this also looks bad on the company’s reputation.

You’re now nearing the end of a project and all the markups have been made on the drawings. The project manager will be responsible for getting the markups to drafting to convert to as-builts.

Drafting will then take the red-line drawings and reflect the changes in the shop drawings using CAD software. This will be provided back to the project manager for review as the final as-built drawings. If the project manager approves of the final drawings, they will send it to the owner as one of the closeout documents.

What purpose do as-builts serve? 

By this point, you should have a decent understanding of the purpose of as-builts. I want to cover the impact these drawings can have on new construction versus renovation projects.

New construction

In new construction projects, the as-builts serve as the final drawings and specifications for the job. Building owners will use these drawings to help identify where certain equipment, fixtures, electrical panels, etc.. are located. The as-built drawings will become the original building plans.

This can be most helpful for the maintenance teams servicing the building. They will need an exact location for certain devices, sensors, or equipment to perform the service. It would be very inefficient to hunt these things down without any as-built documentation.

Benefits for retrofits or renovations

When it comes to retrofit or renovation projects, as-builts are critical to get an accurate price for the job. Without these drawings the contractor will have to do extra work in order to create their own shop drawings from scratch. This will only add additional cost to their proposal and require more money to complete the work.

Also, as mentioned above, having accurate as-builts will also save the owner some money for renovations.

For example, an owner issues an inaccurate as-built to a contractor. They begin their work and find some existing utilities that are not shown on the drawings. The utilities interfere with the contractor performing their work, and now they have to find an alternative solution.

The alternative could result in some additional cost, since they have to deviate from their original plan. Because this would be considered an unforeseen condition, the contractor will ask for more money for the additional work.

How to manage the as-built process

As mentioned earlier in this article the contractor is responsible for marking up their drawings. These drawings will later become as-builts that need to be sent to the owner. In order to provide an accurate set of drawings you need to use a methodical process.

Each contractor will manage this process differently, it’s up to you to find what’s most effective to your team. Let’s look at a couple different options that you can use to manage this process.

Physical sheets method

Once the shop drawings have been created and approved, you would print out a physical set. This set will then be provided to your field crew to manage throughout construction. You need to be clear about your requirements to manage the markups.

I recommend that you tell your team to utilize a master set of drawings. This could be a full size set (which is 24 by 32 inches), and would be used by everyone on the team. This drawing set will be kept at the construction site and be a living document throughout the job.

The concept of completing markups might be easy, but it’s also easy to forget to apply a markup. Make sure it’s clearly stated that any changes that are made from what is shown in the drawings must be noted. Then, as you get near the end of construction you will need to prepare to receive the drawings from the field.

If you’re responsible for managing the as-built drawings, you also need to make sure you are getting accurate information. I suggest you visit the job site regularly performing as-built surveys. This way you’re not scrambling towards the end of the project to gather the necessary information.

Check the master set of drawings to confirm its accuracy while you are on site. So, this is just one way that you can go about the as-built process. Nowadays we use technology for everything, so let’s look at how we can use technology to improve our process.

Using technology

There is plenty of construction software out in the market today. The construction industry is one that is evolving constantly thanks to technology. One software that I have used personally is called Plangrid, this helps us with our markups and document management.

The software is nice because all you need to do is provide your field crew with a mobile device. Any files that are uploaded to Plangrid can be viewed by anyone with a mobile device. Additionally, you can have your shop drawings loaded on there and markups can be made from a tablet.

This is very handy because it eliminates the use of a physical set of drawings. If you’ve ever tried to use a Master set, then you will quickly find that there are some challenges that come with this. Mainly, the field crew needs to refer back to the master set if they want to include any markups.

As a general contractor, this may not be as difficult because you typically have a job site trailer onsite. You keep a full set of drawings in the trailer and come back to this for your red lines. The subcontractor will not have this luxury, instead they would have to keep it in a gang box onsite.

A physical set of drawings are susceptible to damage and the outside elements. Adding to the difficulty of managing the red line drawings. With technology we don’t have to worry about things like this.

Of course when using a digital platform there is a bit of a learning curve, so implementation can be a challenge. Once you can get your team to adopt new software you can save a lot of time and money. This is always better for your bottom line when it comes to the budget.

These are just two options that you could use for your own projects. This is not necessarily the best way to go about creating as builts, but it’s just to provide you with some ideas.

What to do once as-builts are completed?

As you near the completion of a project, ensure the as-built drawings are provided to the property owners. So, you may need to chase down your drafting team in order to get the final drawings. This would then be turned over either to the general contractor or to the owner directly.

This would be considered as one of the closeout documents for the project.

As-builts for general contractors

I wanted to mention that the process if you work for a general contractor is a little bit different. At the end of the project whether it’s design-build or design-bid-build, the drawings go to the engineering team to finalize. The engineers are responsible for producing the as-built drawings.

They would take the construction drawings that were provided at the end of the job to reflect any design changes. The process is very similar to doing the work in-house.


As-builts are one of many important construction documents, it’s vital for construction teams to manage them properly. Without accurate as-built drawings, you’re basically setting up the next contractor for failure.

The key takeaway here is to understand that as-builts are the final drawings on a construction project. They can be used to provide valuable information not only to the building owner, but any future contractors and maintenance crews. If you are ever involved in the creation of as-built plans, make sure they’re accurate for the next person who has to view them.

Thank you for reading.

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