Often on construction projects, little thought is given to submittals for the project. However, these documents play a key role in a construction project; and if they are effectively used, problems can be resolved when they are relatively easy and cheap to fix. The following article answers some of the basic questions regarding submittals and the submittal process.

What are submittals?

Submittals consist of information provided by the contractor to the design professional for approval of equipment, materials, etc. before they are fabricated and delivered to the project. Submittals can be presented in various formats, such as shop drawings, cut sheets on equipment, and material samples.

How does a contractor know which items require a submittal, and when should the contractor provide the submittals to the design professional?

Most contract documents will include a provision that requires the contractor to provide the design professional with a schedule of submittals. The submittal schedule, once it is prepared and approved, will identify project components that require a submittal and when the submittals are to be provided to the design professional.

The submittal schedule required by the EJCDC C-700 general conditions is discussed in Paragraph 2.05.A.2, which states:

Within 10 days after the Effective Date of the Agreement (unless otherwise specified in the General Requirements), Contractor shall submit to Engineer for timely review a preliminary Schedule of Submittals.

The submittal schedule required by the AIA A201 general conditions is discussed in Section 3.10.2, which states:

The Contractor shall prepare and keep current, for the Architect’s approval, a schedule of submittals which is coordinated with the Contractor’s construction schedule and allows the Architect reasonable time to review submittals.

When assembling a submittal schedule, the contractor must take into consideration the lead-times for each item requiring a submittal to ensure that the contractor has sufficient time after approval of the submittals to get the materials and/or equipment fabricated and delivered to the site without delaying the project.

Once the design professional receives the submittal schedule, the design professional will review the schedule to verify that all equipment and materials are listed on the schedule and confirm that the schedule gives the design professional enough time to review the submittals. If the design professional has concerns regarding either of these items, or anything else on the schedule, the design professional will return the schedule to the contractor with comments and require that the schedule be revised.

What information is required to be provided in a submittal?

The contract documents usually contain provisions that discuss the requirements for information the contractor must submit to the design professional for review. For example, Paragraph 6.17.C.1 of the EJCDC C-700 general conditions requires that shop drawings include information such as “quantities, dimensions, specified performance and design criteria, and similar data.” Section 3.12.1 of the AIA A201 general conditions defines shop drawings as “drawings, diagrams, schedules and other data specially prepared for the Work.”

Similarly, for material samples, Paragraph 6.17.C.1 of the EJCDC C-700 general conditions require the contractor to “identify each sample as to material, supplier, pertinent data such as catalog numbers, the use for which [the sample is] intended and other data as [the design professional] may require.” Section 3.12.3 of the AIA A201 general conditions requires the contractor to provide samples that “are physical examples which illustrate materials, equipment or workmanship and establish standards by which the Work will be judged.”

It should be noted that these provisions include a broad “catch-all” provision that allows the design professional to request any other additional information necessary to adequately review the equipment or material that is included in a submittal.

How long does the design professional have to review the submittals?

As discussed previously, the contractor develops the submittal schedule and the design professional eventually approves the submittal schedule after a thorough review. Typically the submittal schedule will not only identify when the contractor is required to provide the submittal to the design professional but also identify when the design professional is required to return the submittal to the contractor.

Also, most contract documents include language regarding the time that the design professional has to review the submittals. Some contract documents have a specific number of days while some contract documents, such as the EJCDC’s in Paragraph 6.17.D.1, state that the design professional “will provide timely review of Shop Drawings and Samples. . .” Similarly, Section 4.2.7 of the AIA A201 general conditions provides that “[t]he Architect’s action will be taken with such reasonable promptness as to cause no delay in the Work or in the activities of the Owner, Contractor or separate contractors, while allowing sufficient time in the Architect’s professional judgment to permit adequate review.”

What does the design professional do with the submittals during the review?

When the design professional reviews submittals, he looks to see if the information in the submittal complies with the plans and specifications. For example, a contractor may provide a submittal for a piece of HVAC equipment for a project. Once this type of submittal is received, the design professional will start a review process of the submittal.

The review of the HVAC submittal will involve the mechanical engineer. The mechanical engineer will review the submittal to see if the equipment complies with the design requirements of the equipment, i.e., does it have the specified air volume, does it have the correct horsepower for the fan motor, etc.

In addition to the review by the mechanical engineer, the architect and the structural engineer will review the equipment to ensure that the equipment will fit the structure and other building components related to the equipment. This review may include cross-checking the structural steel shop drawings to verify that the beams are properly spaced to support the HVAC equipment. At this stage of the project, it is much easier and cheaper to modify the shop drawing for the steel beams than it would be to get the equipment out to the field and find out that the equipment does not fit and have to modify the steel on site.

Does the design professional’s approval of a submittal relieve the contractor of any obligations under the contract documents?

The short answer is…it depends. The default provisions in most contract documents is that approval of submittals by the design professional does not relieve the contractor of its contractual obligations. For example, Paragraph 6.17.D.3 of the EJCDC C-700 general conditions state:

[The design professional’s] review and approval shall not relieve the Contractor from responsibility for any variation from the requirements of the contract documents. . .

Under this section of the EJCDC general conditions, if the design professional fails to catch a deviation in the submittal from the requirements of the contract documents, the contractor is not relieved of the responsibility for that requirement of the contract documents.

Section 3.12.8 of the AIA general conditions accomplishes the same goal where it states:

[T]he Contractor shall not be relieved of responsibility for deviations from requirements of the Contract Documents by the Architect’s approval of Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples or similar submittals…

However, the EJCDC and AIA documents do give some latitude for deviating from the requirements of the contract documents by approval of submittals.

Under the requirements of Paragraphs 6.17.C.3 and 6.17.D.3, approval of a submittal with a variation from the contract documents can relieve the contractor of contractual responsibilities in very specific circumstances.

Paragraph 6.17.D.3 of the EJCDC C-700 continues from above by stating:

…unless Contractor has complied with requirements of Paragraph 6.17.C.3 and [the design professional] has given written approval of each such variation by specific written notation thereof incorporated in or accompanying the Shop Drawing or Sample.

Paragraph 6.17.C.3 states:

With each submittal, Contractor shall give [the design professional] specific written notice of any variations, that the Shop Drawing or Sample may have from the requirements of the Contract Documents. This notice shall be both a written communication separate from the Shop Drawing’s or Sample Submittal; and, in addition, by a specific notation made on each Shop Drawing or Sample submitted for review and approval of each such variation. [Emphasis added]

The AIA A201 general conditions contain similar language. AIA A201 Section 3.12.8 continues from above by stating:

…unless the Contractor has specifically informed the Architect in writing of such deviation at the time of submittal and (1) the Architect has given written approval to the specific deviation as a minor change in the Work, or (2) a Change Order or Construction Change Directive has been issued authorizing the deviation.

Therefore, to be relieved of contractual responsibilities, the following must occur: (1) the contractor must identify the variation in a written communication to the design professional separate from the submittal; (2) the contractor must identify the variation in the submittal; and (3) the design professional must give the contractor written approval of the variation. Without all three of these elements, the approval of the variation by the design professional will not relieve the contractor of its contractual responsibilities.