Did you know that unresolved defects are the third most common cause of late payments to contractors? If a contractor or subcontractor fails to fix all problems on a site, the owner normally has a contractual right to withhold final payment (retainage). A well-designed punch list can prevent this from happening. By producing a list of final fixes to make, everyone has a clear understanding of what needs to be done before getting paid. Punch lists are helpful, but they’re not perfect – and in certain circumstances can lead to disputes or even litigation. There’s also conflicting advice about what to include on a punch list and how much detail you need if you want to make a claim.

Punch list on an iPad

The good news is that traditional punch lists are changing for the better. But before we look at how punch lists are improving, let’s first revisit what they are and how they’re used.

What is a punch list?

A punch list is a document that describes defects on a building site that must be resolved before the building reaches final completion. It describes all incorrect installations, damage, and any faulty finishes. The contractor must ensure all the issues are resolved before they can receive payment.

Punch lists are usually written into the contract itself, so the contractor and subcontractors will be bound to meet the requirements in the list.

The punch list itself is generally created by the architect, owner, or an independent engineer. They will do a site walk with the lead contractor close to the end of the project and complete an inspection together. They then create an agreed punch list of final changes.

In some large projects, a rolling punch list might be used. At different phases of construction, an inspection will be conducted and a punch list created which must be completed before progressing to the next stage. This helps to avoid long and onerous remediation at the end of the project.

Common punch list items

So, what should you include on a punch list? Each site is different – fixes on a multistorey parking lot will be different to those on a residential property, which will be different from those in a sports stadium. That said, the following categories cover some of the most common items that appear on punch lists:

  • Walls, ceilings, and surfaces: Check for cracks, holes, visible marks, and damage.
  • Doors and windows: Check handles, gaps, tight or loose fittings.
  • Pipes: Find leaks, damage, any plumbing issues.
  • Restrooms: Check faucets work, WC’s flush correctly, etc.
  • Electric: Check for loose or exposed wires, ensure correct lighting installations.
  • HVAC: Check all systems work.
  • Equipment installations: Ensure all machinery is installed correctly and works.
  • Painting: Look for scuffs, marks, use of wrong color paint.
  • Things to remove: Clear out trash, equipment, and tools.

Information to include on a punch list

The more information you can provide on a punch list, the more effective it will be. The contractor and subcontractors will be able to precisely locate the issue and clear it up. At a minimum, punch lists should contain the following information:

  • Description of the issue
  • Precise location
  • Category of issue (roofing/plumbing/painting etc.)
  • Owner (person who is responsible for repairs)
  • Priority level
  • Required completion date
  • Approval date
  • Status

In general, if you include these elements in your punch list, you’ll be prepared for any problems that might arise after you submit it to the contractor for rectification.

Problems with punch lists

The name ‘punch lists’ comes from the traditional method of literally punching a hole next to items on the list of issues as you resolve them. Today, the construction industry tends to use a mix of paper lists and spreadsheets to create punch lists and monitor progress.

As anyone who’s had a dispute around retainage knows, punch lists can be a contentious issue. There are several problems that can arise when using punch lists. These include:

  • Disputes about legitimacy of punch list length
  • Failure to address all issues on the punch list
  • Lost lists
  • Poor communication around the punch list
  • Poor description of location or type of fault
  • Misaligned expectations about standards to meet
  • Disagreements around quality control
  • Issues around verifying that work has actually been done

All of these issues can cause hours of arguments, delays, extra costs, damaged relationships, or even lawsuits. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you log your punch list items thoroughly, with plenty of evidence.

Software is changing punch lists for the better

An ever-growing number of construction businesses are turning to software to manage their punch lists. In fact, one survey found that 70% of general contractors use digital punch lists at least some of the time.

Punch list apps like PlanRadar can help overcome many of the challenges that arise when using traditional approaches. PlanRadar is a mobile app that all project participants can download to their cellphones. Everyone then has access to a view of the project model and can view the punch list. This software-based approach has multiple benefits:

  • Everyone sees the same list

Owners, contractors, and subcontractors can all see the entire punch list in one place. They can see how many items are outstanding, who’s working on them and how things are progressing.

  • Communication problems disappear

With PlanRadar, everyone is looking at ‘one version of the truth’. The punch list updates centrally in the cloud each time a user completes a task. The updates also show up simultaneously on everyone’s app. This reduces duplication of work and misunderstandings.

  • Precise instructions

The punch list in PlanRadar links up precisely with your project’s 3D building model. This means that subcontractors can locate exactly where an issue is – be that scuffed paintwork or a loose door handle – and save time looking for it. If they have any doubts, they can always ask questions.

  • Get evidence of completed work

The owner and the lead contractor can also request evidence that each punch list item has in fact been resolved. Subcontractors can use their cellphones to take photos (before and after) and upload these to the app.

By using this digital approach to punch lists, there is much less scope for confusion, disputes, miscommunication, and litigation. That means you can close out punch lists sooner, satisfy the owner, and make sure the contractor gets paid on time.

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Time to modernize your approach to punch lists?

Punch list software can make your projects run smoother, save time and help everyone avoid disputes. Software-based punch lists are increasingly common on construction sites across the US. So, is it time you modernized your punch lists?

Read more about PlanRadar’s punch list features or contact us for a no-obligation demo today.