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Why product submittals matter

The submittal review process is critical on construction projects to ensure that the project is built in accordance with the architect and design team’s intent, and also meets the owner’s initial expectations. In layman’s terms, a submittal is a product sample, product data or shop drawings that the design team can review and approve or request additional information. Project plans and specifications attempt to provide as much detail as possible, but it is up to the various trades to provide the design team with information on products they intend to use for approval.

The submittal process is fairly simple and defined in AIA document A201. At the beginning of a construction project it is important that the GC works through the submittal schedule with subcontractors, giving special attention to long lead time items. Article 3.10.2 details the requirement for the contractor to submit their submittal schedule to the architect. This requirement has been included for many years, but a change added in the 2007 version of A201 added a clause that states, “If the contractor fails to submit a submittal schedule, the Contractor shall not be entitled to any increase in Contract Sum or extension of Contract Time based on the time required for review of submittals”. Providing that schedule gives the architect and engineer advance notice of when submittals will be coming in, so they can staff accordingly. It also enables the A/E team to add (or remove) any submittals that are needed.

Article 3.12 deals with the submittals themselves. A few things that need to be remembered:

  • The contractor is responsible to review the submittals for compliance before submitting them to the architect. By submitting them to the architect the contractor is verifying that they have reviewed and approved them, verified materials and measurements and verified they comply with the contract documents. (A201 3.12.6)

  • Just because the architect approves a submittal, it does not mean the GC or subcontractor can deviate from the contract. If a change from the contract documents is proposed, that deviation needs to be noted when the submittal is presented, and the Architect must give written approval either 1) as a minor change or 2) a change order must be issued. (A201 3.12.8)

  • If additional detail or resubmissions are requested by the design team, only the items noted should be changed in the resubmission. If other items that were previously approved are changed they must be noted. (A201 3.12.9)

Following the submittal process is critical for a myriad of reasons. GC’s who do not collect from subs and submit timely submittals risk costly delays on the project. Submittals that are incomplete or entirely neglected can lead to very costly rejections of installed materials. Even working with a client over multiple projects it is important to receive approval on each trade’s submittals as design changes often occur over time and you cannot assume a product is approved just because it was used on a previous project.

One of the most famous cases of submittals and shop drawings gone horribly wrong is the infamous Kansas City Hyatt Hotel. The contractor’s fabricator had a proposed change and submitted that to the engineer. The engineer responded with preliminary sketches based on the fabricator’s proposal without performing the necessary calculations. The fabricator took those sketches as approved shop drawings and fabricated the skywalk around the hotel’s atrium. The result was a catastrophic failure of the walkway, killing 114 people and injuring hundreds more. The aftermath of that event saw multiple engineers lose their license, and the engineering firm was banned from practicing. The contractor and all involved were caught up in a costly lawsuit. This is an extreme example, but a cautionary one of what can happen if the submittal process is not followed diligently.

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