The Construction Punch List: What is Its Importance?

by Alexander Fraser

Throughout the life of a project, there needs to be a way to implement quality control. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to determine how you will accomplish this. One of the tools that will be very useful to a project manager is the punch list.

Your project is progressing and you’re beginning to see a lot of deficiencies in the field. Of course your first thought as a project manager is that you need to document your findings. Well, by documenting the findings you effectively create a punch list.

Your punch list items can vary based on the type of project you’re working on. So, knowing what to look for during your site walks is important in the list development.

In this article I’ll be providing you with a free template. One that you can use on your projects to ensure you deliver a quality product to the customer.

Let’s dive deeper into this subject.

What is a Punch List?

The primary purpose for a punch list is to document any deficiencies or issues that you find as the construction project progresses. Typically, the general contractor will be responsible for maintaining this list.

As a project manager you need to be developing the list yourself or delegate the task to your team members. There’s bound to be items that come up on the list, so the next task is to get the issues resolved.

The list will build over time and the project manager is responsible for issuing this to the different trades for correction. This means you need to make sure you’re familiar with the subcontractors scope of work to identify the issues. In addition to this, you need to ensure you know what the correction looks like.

Be sure to confirm with any experienced field staff on your team if you’re unsure yourself. As you gain more experience in the industry, you will become familiar with quality work. You want to make sure the subcontractor is not cutting any corners.

The goal here is to eventually get to a zero punch list, meaning you have completed all the tasks on the list. This will be provided to the project owner to indicate that the construction activities are considered complete.

Once the punch list is completed, you will request a pre-final and final inspection with the owner and any owner representatives. If they have given you their blessings this tells you that you’re in the clear for the final payment.

This process might seem easy but you need an understanding of the expectations for a punch list.

Who is Responsible?

As I mentioned above, the general contractor is typically the primary team that is managing the punch list. This involves development of the list, communicating the issues to the team, and resolution.

The deficiency list development can occur early in the project to clear up problems before they get buried by subsequent work. There can also be an outstanding list once the project hits the substantial completion point. Making sure that everything has been documented throughout the process is the best way to utilize this tool.

When a list has been developed, the general contractor will begin issuing this to their subcontractors. It’s important that this is communicated to the subs on a regular basis. The general contractor will require that they complete the issue within a timely manner and conduct regular inspections for confirmation.

If the subcontractor does not resolve the issue within a given time window, they risk impacting the construction schedule. A project that contains a clause for liquidated damages can become the problem of the subcontractor. This cost will be passed on to them since they’re responsible for the delay.

You might be wondering. So, how do the other construction teams come into play?

As you have just read, the subcontractor is responsible for completing everything on the punch list that belongs to them. Meaning that if they performed the work, then they will be liable to correct the deficiency.

The owner also has a part in the punch list. They can add items to the list that they notice, but it needs to fall within the scope of the project. They have the final say if they believe the list of items have been completed and to conduct a final inspection.

If there’s any third party entities on the project (i.e., commissioning agent), they will come up with a list of items that need to be addressed as well. The general contractor might choose to take their list and add it onto theirs.

These are the key players that will have some level of involvement in the punch list process. Basically anyone who is involved with the project may come across this list at some point.

Remember that the project manager is required to maintain this list in the end so they can close out their job. The responsibilities differ depending on the type of contractor you work for, so understand what the tasks might look like for you.

Punch List Template

I couldn’t go through all this information and not provide you a template! Here’s one that you can try out on your next project and see how it works for your needs.

Click here to download the Excel template

The concept of the punch list and what you need to log is fairly simple. For this template, I have you provide some basic information about the project and the team members.

Additionally, the notes that have been included just provide a little information to your subcontractors. This also tells the owner that you’re performing your due diligence for the project.

For the list itself, I’ve included six columns.

  1. Item number – This is just the line item number which one can reference as they develop the list.
  2. Date identified – The date when the deficiency was discovered.
  3. Trade Responsible/Subcontractor – You can include the trade and the subcontractor name here. You can also decide to only include the trade since it isn’t necessary to include their company name.
  4. Punch item description and location – Make sure to indicate what the issue is. Keep it short, but clearly state the problem. If it’s an issue where the project drawings were not followed then mention that in the list item.
  5. Corrective action taken by contractor – Here you mention what will be done to correct the issue.
  6. Date corrected – The date where the issue was fixed.

I’ve also posted an example below for you to reference if you need help filling out a punch list for your job.

Punch List Item Example

Now that you have the tool, you need to know how to best utilize it for a successful project!

Best practices for the construction punch list process

Rolling Punch List

With construction you never want to procrastinate, that will only end up back firing on you. You plan often and early when needed. This applies to the punch list as well.

Begin the list early in the project and continue updating it as construction progresses. Conduct your site walkthroughs and when you see an issue you try to address it right away.

No matter how big or small the issue, you should note it down. Even if the list is long, this shows the owner you’re making sure the corrections are made.

I emphasize making corrections as they’re discovered because as you reach the end of the project, you do not want a long laundry list of rework that needs to be done. This will be a nightmare to chase down all the contractors to correct their incorrect installations.

But you will have some leverage here, and that’s the billing retention. Typically, you will see a retention rate of 10%. If the subcontractor wants their final payment, they will fix their work!

Documentation

You’ll notice that this is a common theme with most of the articles on this site. That proper documentation is one of the most vital skills you can have as a project manager. It is no different here for the punch list.

It’s important to note that the punch list is not only for larger issues. It’s alright to have a list of small fixes.

Remember, your goal here is to maintain quality control for the job during the building process. An issue of any magnitude should be included. This will help you in the long run.

Let’s take the punch list example in the image above. You went to the job site and personally saw that the rafter on-center distance was off. Instead of taking a photo and possibly holding up a tape measure to the rafters you just added it to the list.

When you decide to provide your list to the subcontractor you have no evidence backing up your claim that they made a mistake. If instead you provide a photo and identify the location of the mistake on the contract drawings it provides a reference. It’s hard to argue with proof, they won’t have any choice but to correct their work.

Communication

Another vital skill in construction project management is communication. But what do I mean here? Well, as you’re continuously working on the punch you need to make sure the issues are communicated to the subcontractor.

From my experience, it is always best to address an issue right on the spot. Give the subcontractor a phone call and follow up with an email. Add the item on the punch list, provide this to the subcontractor in email and reiterate the conversation that you had on the phone.

You don’t want to hold off on addressing the issue. There’s always the chance that you might forget until later at which point it might be too late.

I’m sure you’re wondering, “If I called, then what’s with the email?” In construction there’s something called cover your ass (CYA). What this means is get things in writing because someone can be quick to deny a phone call conversation.

This is just another example why documentation is so important.

Follow up

Let’s say you’ve performed all the steps above. Identified and documented the issue and communicated it to the subcontractor. You perform your construction site walk a week later only to find they have not made the correction.

Ask yourself this.

  1. Have you called them after a few days and asked when they will make the correction? Or followed up the email?
  2. Did they provide you with any dates on when they can return?
  3. Were there any issues when you mentioned the punch list item to them? Has this been resolved before they agreed to correct the item?

If you answered “no” to any of those questions then you have not performed the proper follow up. I advise that you go back and speak with them again as to why they have not done the work yet.

If you answered “yes”, then you can continue the attempts to reach out to them. Remember you hold leverage on them. Not only did they sign a contract but they will not get paid until they finish the remaining work.

Say the job is near the end and they still refuse to complete the work. Things can get ugly from here.

First, you would start with a non-compliance letter. Then move on to considering a new subcontractor to complete the work. Once complete, you back charge the previous subcontractor for any additional fees that resulted in their negligence.

If they decline paying the fees, this is where you will need to enter litigation and lawyers get involved. But this is beyond what is discussed her on allthingsconstructionpm.com.

Site Inspections

You’ve reached the point where your project is coming to the end. The punch list is dwindling down as you obtain zero items remaining. This doesn’t exclude you from continuing performing site inspections yourself.

Review the scope of work, look to see if anything remains. If you feel that the project has been completed then you can wrap up the list and request your pre-final inspection. Here’s where the project closeout begins.

The owner and designer of records will likely get involved with the pre-final inspection. During this time they might choose to add items to the list if they identify something that was missed. The work needs to meet contract specifications and the designer will be looking out for that.

If the owner mentions something and you notice that is out of scope. Then you must let them know that their request would require a change order.

Want to learn more about change orders? Check out my post below.

Depending on the outcome of the pre-final inspection, there might be additional punch list work to be done. If the items are insignificant then the construction manager for the project may issue a certificate of substantial completion.

This is a major milestone in the construction industry as it indicates your job is nearly finished.

Project Close Out and Scheduling The Final Inspection

At this stage you need to be collecting all the closeout documents from the subcontractors. If they still owe you operation & maintenance manuals or as-builts, then this can be added to the punch.

Once everything has been completed, you’re finally ready for the final inspection. This will involve the owner and designer of records once again.

They will look at the items that may have come up in the last inspection and confirm it’s complete.

And that’s it! You’ve reached the end of construction. While this is not the end of the job (you still need to get paid), the bulk of the job is completed.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that the punch list process can be some what tedious. But this record will prove your value when the customer looks for contractors on their next project.

If you’re somewhat familiar with the construction space, you know that there’s likely punch list software out there. My approach is that your company might not have the budget or resources to shell out money for the software. You can still achieve just as much with pen and paper and some standard software.

Applications such as Microsoft Excel and Word will be sufficient for most needs.

While I believe in the use of mobile devices or a punch list app, these will not make or break the punch list process. They can help alleviate some of the bottle necks in the entire process but they don’t eliminate them.

If you plan on using a mobile app for your company, please perform your research on it. It’s good to look at the app as a whole to see what benefits it can bring. I don’t advise looking toward a software for a single feature.

Just know that the construction punch list process can be approached in many different ways.

It’s important to find what works best for you in the end. What makes you and your team most efficient in completing these tasks so you can remain under budget.

Thank you for reading this article and I hope you were able to learn something from it.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More