Punch list 101: Best practices for general contractors, subcontractors and architects

Tara Callinan imageTara Callinan  •  


While rework is inevitable in construction projects – either due to new demands from the client or from unexpected problems encountered on the field –, they can be avoided or more easily managed by improving communication. A good jobsite management app can help construction teams easily report and correct defects, making the punch list process quicker and cost effective.

Understanding all the steps involved in punch lists and implementing best practices to make sure information is shared to the right people at the right time can make the closeout process easier for general contractors, subcontractors, owners and architects. In this article, we share some valuable tips to streamline your punch list process.

What is a punch list?

A punch list (also called a snag list, deficiency list, or punch out list), according to the online Business Dictionary, is “a document listing work that does not conform to contract specifications, usually attached to a certificate of substantial completion.” Put simply, it is a list of to-do’s that need to be completed before a project can be considered finished.

Why is it called a punch list?

In the past, these checklists created during closeout were often written on paper. When an item was completed, the person responsible for the task would punch a hole next to it using a hole puncher – hence the name “punch list”. Nowadays, punch lists are usually made with digital solutions like construction management software, which makes it easier to share information on deficiencies with other team members.

The punch walk process

When construction is 99% complete, a combination of the owner, architect and general contractor will walk the entire project, or a section of the project, looking for deficiencies. This is what is called the punch walk.

The general contractor will put together a report of all of the deficiencies found on the jobsite, including photos and location on plans. Then, the architect will review the report and confirm that it includes all of the items discussed during the punch walk. The deficiencies will be distributed to the responsible subcontractor, who will then be responsible for addressing all the punch list items in time.

Who is responsible for the punch list items?

All stakeholders of a construction project play an important part in the punch list process. Some will be more involved in creating the punch list, while others will have more responsibility in addressing the punch list items.

The general contractor will do walkthroughs with the owner and the architect to create the punch list. The GC will then assign the items to be fixed to the corresponding subcontractor. It is the general contractor’s duty to communicate punch list progress to the owner and communicate punch list items with specialty contractors.

The specialty contractor must resolve the items on a construction punch list. It is their job to get in and do the actual work in an efficient manner to streamline project close out. Subcontractors must ensure that the work they do complies with drawing specifications set by the architect or design team to avoid unnecessary rework or conflict.

The construction project owner should be present for site walkthroughs at various stages of a project so they’re aware of construction pace and progress. At the completion of a project, it is the owner who will sign off on a construction punch list and ensure all punch list items are resolved.

From project start to project finish, it is the architects, designers, and engineers duty to ensure all construction meets the approved, specified drawings and everything will work as intended. They must be included in final site walkthroughs to sign-off on punch list items and confirm that the final product matches the original drawings.

Best practices for punch lists

Punch lists are commonly tackled towards the end of a project when deadlines and tight and workers are exhausted. Which, in turn, increases error and prolongs project turnover. One punch list best practice is the ‘rolling punch list;’ a real-time log of punch list items that develops as deficiencies arise. According to Michael Clippinger, the National Director of Quality at JE Dunn, an ENR Contractor of the Year, “a rolling punch list is the most common approach toward achieving the ultimate zero-punch list goal.” A zero punch list indicates that there is no outstanding punch list work at the time of project completion. For this to occur, effective planning, project management, and transparent communication is required.

No matter whether you’re working from a rolling punch list or working towards a zero punch list goal, everyone — from the project owner to the various subcontractors — must understand their role and responsibilities in the punch list process. While certain punch list items are common, there isn't a universal "best practice playbook" applicable to all, but rather a set of best practices for each unique team. Below, we list some punch list best practices for general contractors, subcontractors, owners and architects.

General Contractor: Create punch list items from the jobsite

When the general contractor starts a project, they should also start a punch list. It can become like a punch list checklist. Anytime they walk through a site and notice a defect, it should be documented immediately for future discussion with the owner and/or specialty contractors. Instead of waiting until the end of a project to communicate punch list items, the general contractor should produce punch list reports that are automatically sent to each specialty contractor on a given day, week, or month. Construction punch list software like Fieldwire makes the construction punch list process easy. From any device in the field, a general contractor can annotate site issues on the fly to create a project punch list and tag specific trades. They can generate a trade-specific punch list report or construction daily report in seconds and send it to each specialty contractor in just a few clicks. Repeating this process regularly will help general contractors reach project close out faster because the more punchlist items they tackle now, the less there is to do later. This process is far more efficient than having to manually take notes during site walkthroughs, type them up, and attach them to an email for subcontractors back in the office.

Specialty Contractor: Prioritize what needs to be done

Subcontractors must clearly understand what to do to resolve punch list items, knowing what are the deficiencies but also when, where, and why they need to be addressed. For subcontractors to have access to the information they need at all times, construction punch list software like Fieldwire should be used to bring jobsite data and teams together in one place. For example, when a punch list item is assigned to a specialty contractor in the field, they will be notified in real-time. From a smartphone or tablet, they can open the punch list item on the Fieldwire app, see the exact location of it on a plan, the man-hours required, and a due date. As they work to resolve the punch list item, the subcontractor can send messages, photos, and videos to the general contractor using the Fieldwire app to communicate progress. This way, punch list items are resolved efficiently, everyone remains on the same page, and there is no need for back-and-forth emails between the various parties to communicate change.

Owner: Use the punch process to track progress

An owner-specific best practice is to ask the general contractor a list of questions during site walkthroughs that may spark additional punch list items. A few example punch list questions from the owner include: “Does every outlet work properly?” or “Is there adequate paint coverage?”. If the answer is no, the general contractor will need to create a new punch list item(s) for trade contractors to address.

By using a construction management app to foster transparent communication, owners can keep track of the construction site conditions even before doing a walkthrough. Setting up permission levels in construction jobsite software that gives the owner (and only the owner) the right to verify punch list items will help the project progress in a way that meets their demands, contract specifications, and original plans. At the completion of a project, it is the owner who will sign off on a construction punch list and ensure all punch list items are resolved. Setting up permission levels in construction punch list software that gives the owner (and only the owner) the right to verify punch list items will help the project progress in a way that meets their demands, contract specifications, and original plans.

Architect: Verify that punch list items match final drawings

By continually checking in with the owner to align on expectations architects, designers, and engineers can ensure the final walkthrough should be painless and very minor in nature. Creating and following a set of punch list best practices is critical for attaining zero punch-list status and finishing construction projects on-time. Having templates and checklists in hand can also help with accurate walkthroughs, effortless reporting, and faster close out.

Save time using punch list templates

When an inspection is approaching, prepare for it by easily assembling every component within Fieldwire’s construction management app. Add tasks for items across the job site, whether they’re trade-specific, location-based, or pertain to a specific room or building. Each task can include detailed notes, instructions, and checklists so that each contractor knows exactly what needs to be completed (and in what order). Every checklist template you create is saved within Fieldwire, so you can quickly add that same checklist into any other similar tasks or sample punch lists in your project.

Once your tasks are created and you’re ready to begin the walkthrough, take your punch list template with you into the field on your mobile device. You can access project data in Fieldwire even if you’re offline, and if you see any outstanding punch list items, document everything in the app and let your team know that more work needs to be done. When you reconnect to WiFi, the project will be updated with all of the new data you added while on-site and your trades will be notified. And to make sure your team knows exactly what to look for, take photos of every deficiency and add them directly in the task comments. All content added to tasks is timestamped and real-time notifications are sent out to all parties involved. Tasks can easily be duplicated as well if certain items are found in multiple locations. This is particularly handy if you place the tasks directly on your drawings, so there is no confusion regarding where to find each snag.

After the punch walk, you can easily create a report using Fieldwire. Learn how to create a punch list report in this blog article.

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