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12/03/2009

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A mechanical sub working for me changed the piping layouts significantly to save labor and materials. Some of their changes were for the better, but do to the size of the piping, the structural designer had to be consulted. The end result was to put the pipe in per the original deisgn or else the mechanical sub would be taking on design responsibilities they certainly didn't want. Some of the deviations were noted when submitted, but not all of them. Bottom line is that the sub realized that their exposure was reduced when the produced shop drawings that were as close to the engineer's issued construction documents. To reduce their liability with changes, I would suggest using the RFI process. After all the engineer is the paid expert.

Submittals are the Contractor's means of showing the Owner how he intends to comply with Contract Requirements. In the Contract Documents that I see, the Contractor is required to check submittals before forwarding them to the Architect for review and required to point out deviations from contract requirements. Contractors who do not do so are in breach of contract. Neither the Architect nor the Owner should be responsible for doing the Contractor's job which includes quality assurance and control. The Contractor's appropriate processing of submittals is an important aspect of QA/QC procedures.

I am finding this a little hard to track. Was work performed that was different than the contract entailed, which did appear on the documents which were later approved? Was the corrective work done due to bad construction from the work described on the original documents? Were there deviations or discrepancies between the contract and the resulting documents? Was the contractor the advocate for the owner, translating the details of the drawings to the owner/layperson? I would greatly benefit from reading the "whole" story to understand your point more clearly...

We recently received approved submittals, consisting of four sheets of shop drawings (on which no corrections had been noted), six pages of manufacturer's specifications, two sheets of color charts and one manufacturer's cut sheet. On the manufacturer's cut sheet, which was the last sheet in the package, the architect had crossed out the specified item, which was circled, and circled an item with more features. Fortunately our estimator noticed the change and processed a Proposed Change Order for $13,400.

Had the change by the architect not been noticed the wrong item would have been ordered and, undoubtedly, our compay would have been on the hook for the extra material.

When we submit shop drawings where the product, anchoring, etc. differ from specifications we always "cloud" the note and indicate we are in varience with the specifications and/or architectural drawings.

From the Architect's side of the fence:

We talk about the submittal process at pre-construction meetings. The General Contractors nod their heads and smile; they've heard this before, and they have a process that works for them.

So, we often receive submittals without any notations of review by the General Contractor. Perhaps they were too busy shopping the work, finally got someone signed up as subcontractor or supplier, and hurried to get something in our hands to explain what they had installed last week. Even if it hasn't been installed, we send these submittals back as rejected; reviewing the shop drawings is part of the GC's job.

Or, we get a submittal which is stamped (paraphrasing) "it is the supplier's/subcontractor's responsibility to verify that products and dimensions conform to the contract documents", with the GC's initials and a date. In other words, they're trying to delegate their responsibility.

We now have text in Division 01 stating that GC must review and must comment, mark corrections, etc. before submitting. Some times they read this and act accordingly. Sometimes they don't. Somehow there is often whining to the Owner about how the design team is holding up progress.

We (the engineer/owner) recently reviewed some shop drawings for some precast bridge girders. We changed some dimensions on the drawings and sent them back to the contractor marked "make corrections noted". However, our revised dimensions were not correct because they were based on an incorrect string of dimensions on the original shop drawings. The errors were not found until the girders were erected and had to be recast. Who is responsible in this situation.


When an ICC evaluation report indicates a product is "approved" are they really approved by the local building official? No.

When the construction documents are "approved" by the local plan reviewer in the building inspections department, are they really approved? No.

When the shop drawings submitted by the subcontractor are "approved" by the general contractor, are they really approved? No.

When the shop drawings submitted by the general contractor are "approved" by the architect, are they really approved? No.

When the contractor's pay application is approved by the architect is it really approved? No.

Approval on ICC evaluation reports or approval of plans by the plan reviewer does not mean the product or the design meets the building code. Approval of shop drawings do do change the contract requirements. Approval of a contractor's pay application can be voided if it is determined that a mistake has been made. This concept of approval not really meaning approval is long held and requires a clear understanding of situation in order to evaluate how to apply in a construction case. While seemingly complicated, it is really all about "doing the right thing" to protect the public and the intent of the parties.

We did a job for the DOT three years ago where this exact situation had a severe impact. The contract required that we design and build a temporary shoring wall for a portion of the work. We hired a geotechnical firm that reviewed the contract docs and designed the temporary shoring wall. We subimtted the shop drawings to the Owner as required by the Standard Specifications. The shop drawings were returned to us Approved As Noted. During installation, we complied with the "as noted" notes.

30 days or so after the installation was complete, the wall began to lean or fail. The reasons are still being debated. But the DOT is saying that the design "had fatal flaws" and that it wasn't designed properly.

If it truly has/had "fatal flaws" why weren't those pointed out during review so we could address and fix them before installation?

It seems that Owners always want authority without responsibility!

Twenty-five years ago I worked in an architectural office that had a big Shop Drawing Review rubber stamp with a lot of fine print and then check-off boxes for "Approved", "Approved with markings noted", or "Not Approved -- Resubmit". Then some lawyers questioned the meaning of "approved" in several large construction claims. Suddenly, word got passed down through the architectural practice to "stop accepting the risk of responsibility" so "approved" got taken out of our dictionary, and "No Exceptions Noted" replaced it. That was just about the time we stopped doing "As-Built Drawings" and started doing "Record Drawings" instead.

The process is how many mistakes, errors or omissions are picked up. At the end of the day, unless the specifications are changed through a concensus process (RFI, RFP, etc.); the contractor is liable. The question remains; how involved should the reviewer be and when does the reviewer assume responsibility for resultant failure/non-compliance? Is it when the reviewer directs the change of prescribed work?

"The contractor had not notified the owner that the submittals contained deviations from the contract requirements."...that item is what went wrong. Shop drawings are not a game where the builder tries to sneak deviations past a reviewer (with approval unwittingly accepting those deviations)...that is a game the builder would win every time. The contract documents are binding for builder and reviewer. However, the shop drawings process is useful as a method of collaboration that can ultimately change the contract documents for the better (with the appropriate add or deduct to the contract amount).

My pet peeve on shop drawings is the contractor's approval stamp, which generally means that he's logged the drawings in to his computer system, but hasn't actually looked at them or checked to see if things fit. We're talking about good, experienced guys with multi-million $ contracts. The shop drawings are processed in the office by the PM and his assistants. The supers in the field get the drawings but don't seem to have the time to check things out in advance. The shop drawing dialog is pretty much with the subcontractors - the GC only gets involved when I don't "approve" something, or the sub needs more $ to address my marks.

I put $ in my architectural fees to do a thorough check, and try and schedule things so I do it the week the drawings hit. I also spend enough time in the field with the supers and foremen to work out whatever problems arise. And construction is my favorite part of the architect's job!

To answer and understand this question, we must first properly identify what shop drawings are and equally as important, what they are NOT! Shop drawings, according to most standard Contracts, are only a communication tool. Their purpose is to inform the design team and Owner of how the Contractor intends to comply with the requirements of the Contract Documents. The shop drawings are NOT contract documents, revisions to the contract documents or anything else that is formally linked to the Contract for Construction. Again, they are simply a means of communication. Herein lies the problem. The problem is with the base assumption made in the original post: "One might assume that if a contractor proceeds in accordance with an approved submittal, the contractor has complied with the contract." Absolutely not! You cannot assume that proceeding in accordance with a submittal is compliance with the Contract, because a submittal is NOT a Contract Document and that is the issue. Several times in the original post, submittals are referred to as "documents". They aren't documents in the sense that they are a legally binding portion of the Contract for Construction, because they are not. In metaphoric terms, submittals are the equivalent of a phone call saying, "hey this is how we are interpreting your drawings and how we are intending to proceed." The review by the design team then correspondingly is to respond back to that call saying, "yeah, it appears you're on the right track." That is all that they are.

The Construction Industry as a whole has begun to use and rely on these drawings as the instruments by which they are building the buildings, rather than relying on the original Contract Documents. Too many times in recent years I have been on job sites, uncovering errors in the work, only to find that the sub-contractors in the field working on particular items are working solely from the shop drawings and do not even have copies of the Contract Documents with them in the field. Hence, in their minds, these were sent to the design team and "approved" (regardles of the stamp reading "exceptions noted" or whatever) so they are the "real" documents to them, even though by Contract, these documents have no legal binding. By Contract, as others have stated, the Contractor is required to notify the design team clearly if they are intending to make deviations to the design. If they don't, then they are liable to make any corrections to bring the project back into compliance with the Contract to which they are legally bound. It is not the design team's job to be detectives and try to find the hidden easter eggs of changes that may be hidden in shop drawings and not clearly identified. Sometimes they are obvious, many times they are not. The responsibility is solely on the Contractor to notify of these deviations. The Contracting side of things is simply being lazy with regard to this question. Yes, I said it, lazy. The requirements of the Contract are clear, they simply far too often, as has been noted by other commenters, fail to due their due diligence in policing their subs and the subs themselves get lazy in not identifying the changes they are making. They too often are trying to take the cheap and easy way out by shortcutting the shop drawing process. The Contractor signed a binding legal Contract to provide the Owner with a building that is constructed in accordance with the documents provided by the design team and for the fee specified. If they fail to do so without proper written notification and approval of changes, in the form or Change Order or other approved Contract Modification Documents, then they are fully responsible for any corrective actions. We must stop seeing the shop drawings as a part of the Contract Document process, they aren't. And we must be more mindful to enforce the requirements for shop drawings in the process. Shop drawings are simply a communication tool to try and head off potential problems should there be a misunderstanding or some confusion about aspects of the CD's. They are not replacements for the CD's themselves.

I have continued to see problems with this process. Contractors typically do not point out deviations in cover letters that most specs require to clearly point out deviations. Sometimes that are no problem at all, other times they come back to create issues that were not intended.

I also have a problem with Architectural and Engineering documents that hang on the idea that they are 'schematic' when in fact they dont allow for the proper clearances for all the 'stuff' to fit into. Seldom will an A or E cut sections through the most restricted areas to find conflicts, it is very basic. Seldom do contractors do 'layout' drawings in most work, to confirm fit issues.

I am not the ultimate authority, I recognize, but I have to disagree with some of the comments I see. The submittal process should not be a way of saying "it looks like you're on the right track". What does that do? You might as well save your efforts, skip the whole process and let the contractor execute his contract to the best of his ability.
It is not the contractor's responsibility to mark-up submittals neither, unless it is specifically stated in his contract. He is responsible for compliance with the contract documents. The means and ways for doing so are his.
It is my understanding that submittals, such as shop drawings, are a way for making final adjustments to a project's design. Often designers do not have all the information that they need to make final construction documents. For example: they may not have dimensions for a particular equipment because it has not been bought yet. When the equipment shop drawings are submitted, they can be reviewed and final adjustments can be made to the ductwork and/or piping.
Submittal reviews may become binding contract documents too, in a sense. Reviewer markups are in the same category as field directives. They are not part of the contract, but all construction contracts that I have read state that the contractor must execute changes when directed to by the owner. The problem arises when proper contract change procedure is not followed. Submittal markups that deviate from contract documents must trigger the contract change procedure. By the same token, if no markups or comments are made, and no contract change request is submitted, the contract documents remain unchanged, even if the submittal deviated from them.

Shop Drawings are simply a communication tool, period. They are not part of the contract documents. The specs usually require that any and all deviations be CLEARLY identified. The sooner everyone understands this and actually does this, the sooner this cronic problem will be solved. As a GC, we simply do not have the expertise to understand all aspects of every part of all disiplines of work. We rely heavily on our Subs to get it right. A pre-shop drawing meeting between design, GC & Sub will help to aleviate a lot of re-working of shop drawings. If you think the pre-shop drawing meeting is too time consuming, wait until you have to re-work 8 copies of shop drawings and re-produce all of the appropriate cut sheets. And then wait for the A/E to re-review and possibly charge you for the additional time for the 2nd or 3rd review.
Communication between all team members is the key to making this a non-issue.

Surprised nobody mentioned Kansas City Hyatt- which was a shop drawing failure by both contractor and engineering consultant- and indicates the importance of the shop drawing review by all parties.
CSI taught me shop drawing review is primarily for the contractors benefit and a base step in its quality assurance oprogramme. Recently I was told by a contractor they are just bits of paper, but I believe consultants also are at fault through not ensuring a clear approval process is included in the bidding/contract documents.
Currently I have a design build contractor who refuses to submit shop drawings before proceeding with the work so our attorney has confirmed he is not due payment until he submits as shop drawings are an essential part of the work- Very intetesting debate

We at Morgan Window continually see owners/architects/Contractors work it from both ends. Which ever suits issues at hand to their advantage. Regardless, man with the money bag has final say. Unfair,yes, in my 36 yrs of subcontacting i see no resolution that empowers a subcontractor. In short we are at the mercey of the personality of the powers that be. We would like to think we are not but it simply is not the case.


Gen Mgr

Breakneck construction schedules against a the snail's pace of RFI and Change-order processes exacerbate this issue. Drawings and specs being called "contract documents" are often incomplete, unclear, conflicting, outdated, illogical or physically impossible. Subs accept these ONLY because they're not going to get much work otherwise. But getting clarifications when you're already on the job and bound to a schedule is a challenge for everyone.

My God, will this debate never end before I pass on? I don’t think so!

Let’s accept the empirical fact that we are not perfect, A/E construction documents are not perfect, submittals are not perfect, contractors are not perfect, owners are not perfect, and our legal system is not perfect.

The contract documents quite simply set the rules and limits for the game and field in which we play. Through the course of a project we have many “contractual” methods for changing, adjusting, adding, and terminating whatever was originally published for consideration in the construction contract.

In my experience a significant cause related to this issue can be naive project management that insists that tasks be done in a certain amount of time - no more but definitely less - the “time’s up, pencils down” method has its limits, and one is that it does not always help solve the problem. Staff can be persuaded into working more hours to deal with problems and into not recording their time for the record (the historical account that sales and marketing should be using for predicting the effort required for future project proposals). Tasks can be assigned to practitioners of more limited experience (i.e., new hires, recent graduates, inappropriate staff, and those with the lowest billable rate available) in order to make up for budget overruns at the front end. In this regard my rule of thumb is that for every hour it takes to solve the problem up front, 3 hours will be saved later (i.e. during construction administration); or in other words it takes 3 hours to solve problems during CA then taken during design and documentation prior to publication for bidding; partly because the effort of formally documenting the solution during CA takes additional time than that required to document it during pre-publication.

I consult with our construction administrators on this issue quite often on every project for which I produce project manuals. I “walk” them through the documents and sections of the project manual helping them to read and understand it. I make them aware of project conditions and requirements different than previous projects worked on. I ask them to help the contractor’s field engineer understand the conditions and requirements similarly. I suggest to them that it may be more expeditious to solve the problem rather than arguing about whose problem it is, or whether or not the contract documents are perfect. The idea that solving problems during CA ultimately becomes a cost to the owner, A/E, or the contractor for that matter, is not always true and often can’t be proven until final completion. Most contracts I’ve read stipulate that problem solving (some may term this “changes in the Contract”) critical to the project’s satisfactory completion can be made, but that payment resulting from this type of activity may be withheld pending further consideration (this applies to A/E/Owner contracts as well as Owner/Contractor contracts). Too often I see the O/A/E/C project team failing to read the documents - quite often assumptions are made that are in direct conflict to what has been documented.

Let’s not forget that the main purpose of Owner’s contract documents is to garner equitable bids from contractors, whether the documents are right or wrong, complete or not, ambiguous or clear, the contractors first and foremost responsibility is to bid on what is presented in the contract documents. This sets the stage for actually building the project, kick starting it into existence. From that point on it’s our responsibility to get it done with the resources available, get out of there, and move on to the next project.

So if we go through all the trouble to draw shop drawings and submittals, and don't follow them what is the point? Why do architects and owners insist we do this when all we have to do is say "we will build what you drew". As an ex-architect and a current large scale commercial general contractor, I find this entire process completely retarded. The real reason owners and architects require us to do shop drawings is that they finally have started to realize that they can not draw a building that works. Architects over the last few years are starting to take less and less responsibility for the accuracy of their drawings and dump it on the contractor. THAT IS BULLSHIT. Why review something for design intent, if your intent is for the contractor to build exactly what is shown on the prints. Take it from me as an ex-architect. Shop drawings are just the architect's way of saying "You draw the building so it works, and I'll still get paid for it".

From my understanding, shop drawings are a translation of the contract documents. It is also a proposal of doing things a little different to be more efficient. In this case, it is clouded and requests special attention.

Submittals needs to be proof read and checked forwards and backwards to make sure the translation is accurate. It is hardly ever checked.

All project procces are made to erect that prroject by good way.
so the contractor, consultant, and owner engineers are responsiple to acheved the work by correct way.
i think the shope dwg is reqiured but not for everything
for example: thorugh contractor coordanations going on and they found some mistakes or misscoordanations on contract duocments at that case the contractor can submitt RFI (requset for information)
or shope dwg for approval other wise no need

The bottom line is that in my 20+ years in this business, the construction process has evolved from one of "building a building" to "trying to exactly follow a set of drawings."

20 years ago, everyone knew that the A/E drawings were imperfect, that contractors were imperfect, and communication through shop drawings, RFIs, and other means were necessary to fill in the holes and resolve the conflicts and get on the the basic task of building the building. The Designer could rely on standard details, manufacturer's instructions, and the expertise of the craftsman to construct the building in a sound and reasonable fashion, and everyone went away with a good building and a little profit in their pockets.

Over the past 20 years, the construction business has become enamored with concepts of "project management." Our construction management schools spend way too much time on CPM schedules and RFIs, and not nearly enough on how to form a retaining wall, how to run conduit, or how to install a fire damper.

As others have pointed out, shop drawings are intended to be the Contractor's method of demonstrating to the Designer how he intends to comply with the contract documents. In our MEP design firm, we also see them as an opportunity to discover those inevitable mis-coordination items, where perhaps we circuited an exhaust fan with the wrong voltage. We then have the opportunity correct such mistakes before installation begins, hopefully at no additional cost.

Having spent 20 years reviewing shop drawings, I become most frustrated when the Contractor has clearly not even looked at what he is submitting. For example, just a few weeks ago we received a set of product data for a solar water heating system, which included solar collectors and a heat exchanger. The product data was printed directly off the internet, with 8 or so different models of heat exchangers shown -- and not one marked or indicated as any way as the model/size proposed for the project. My review was simply then to use the REJECTED stamp, and return it to the Contractor with instructions to please indicate exactly what he is proposing to use. Such a submittal is a waste of my time and his.

Submittals are NOT Contract Documents. Below are a couple of submittal related excerpts from an actual construction contract that illustrate this point.

Submittals. The Vendor shall promptly prepare and deliver, at the Vendor’s expense, all submittals, shop drawings, samples, lists, drawings, cut sheets, manuals, schedules, and other documents or items (collectively, for purposes of this Paragraph, “submittals”) required by the Contract Documents including, without limitation the Drawings and Specifications, and related to the performance of the Vendor, and the Vendor shall do so in efficient and expeditious manner that will not cause delay in the progress of the Project or the work of the Contractor or other subcontractors. Approval of a submittal does not relieve the Vendor of its responsibility for compliance with the Contract Document.

Substitutions. No substitutions or alternates shall be permitted except upon prior written approval of the Contractor after timely request by the Vendor.

Clearly, submittals cannot be used to modify the Contract Documents. Accordingly, the answer to the question posed by the author of the post above is NO, subcontractors cannot rely on “approval of submittals” if the submittals vary from the underlying Contract Documents.

I’ve litigated this issue several times over the years and the concern of Owners and Architects are always concerned that the subcontractor will “slip nonconforming” products / services in via that submittal process. The plain language of the Contract Documents address this issue by denying submittals status as Contract Documents. If a subcontractor wants to change something there are other mechanisms for doing so. Submittals are NOT Contract Documents and should not be treated as such.

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