What are as-built drawings and how can they be improved?

Chris is the new facility manager at a large serviced office, and he is having a bad day. He has just received an order of fittings for the building’s HVAC system which do not connect as they should – despite this brand being specified on the building’s blueprint. It is at this point that Chris wishes the original contractor had provided accurate as-built drawings explaining they had used a different brand of HVAC fittings in the final construction.

Blueprint on desk with architect and engineer background

An as-built drawing shows how a final construction deviates from the original plan. It includes details on everything from dimensions to materials used to the location of pipes. This information is critical to help future facility managers like Chris run a building.

While as-built drawings are useful, they are often done as an afterthought (if they exist at all) and can be hard to understand. Fortunately, new digital blueprint technology is emerging which makes it possible to record changes to initial drawings in a more consistent manner.

What are as-built drawings?

Even with the best initial drawings, construction projects often encounter issues that couldn’t have been foreseen during the design stage. From supply chain disruption that makes it impossible to source certain materials to structural problems that the architect may have missed, changes and tweaks to the original plan must be made.

An as-built drawing reflects all these changes, showing how the final building differs from the original plan. At its simplest, an as-built drawing is no more than a written annotation on the paper blueprint showing what changes were made and where.

Why are accurate drawings important?

As-built drawings provide several benefits:

  • Better building maintenance

Facility management teams need to have a clear idea of the true layout of a building. Whether they are searching for wiring, trying to replace panelling, or installing new windows, they need accurate information on location and dimensions. Maintenance teams waste time and lose money if there are changes to the original plan that weren’t recorded anywhere.

  • Health and safety

There are several as-built drawing standards which relate to health and safety, including British Standards 5839 and 5266. It is crucial for contractors to accurately describe the location and layout of things like fire alarm systems, smoke detection devices or emergency lighting. If these differ from the original plan but don’t get recorded, lives could be at risk. Indeed, errors around as-built drawings have been reported in the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire.

  • Future work and demolition

If future contractors are asked to make changes to a building or the structure is demolished, it is crucial to have an accurate view of what is inside. A classic case here is the use of asbestos in older buildings. If the initial drawing did not mention asbestos but the contractor included it, later builders or demolition teams would need to know this change had been made.

The problem with as-built drawings today

While as-built drawings have obvious benefits, the way that most are produced today leaves much to be desired. Studies have shown that even when as-built drawings are provided, they are often inaccurate. So, what is wrong with our current approach to recording changes to initial drawings?

  • Produced on completion

Some projects hire a contractor or outside architect to create as-built drawings for their clients. That means that many as-built drawings are only produced on completion. However, on a lengthy project that has taken months or years, it is difficult to remember every single deviation from the initial drawing, and an outsider might not have the information they need.

  • Confusing to understand

The way that changes to initial drawings are recorded often varies from one building to the next. One contractor might make illegible hand-written notes, another might make useful drawings but with no written explanation of what they mean.

  • Lack of consistency

Similarly, as-built drawings are often produced in inconsistent ways. That makes it difficult for future readers to truly understand the decisions made. They might lack clear descriptions of materials used, provide no explanation of why changes were made or keep any record of iterations over time.

Improve your standards with digital

In recent years, new kinds of architecture software have made it easier and more accurate to create as-built drawings to a higher standard than traditional mark-ups on paper. These tools are more convenient for architects, contractors and project managers to record changes to a building plan (especially if it is based on a BIM design). They also make it much more streamlined to record changes and descriptions of them.

For example, PlanRadar can provide contractors and site managers with a simple way of tracking changes to a BIM blueprint and recording any alterations:

  • Versioning

It is possible to easily upload and compare all different versions of a building plan to track changes over time.

  • Time, date and location stamps

Automatically time- and date-stamp all changes to the original plan and record their exact location. That means future contractors or maintenance teams can figure out exactly where a change has happened.

  • Detailed notes (typed not handwritten)

Recorded all notes and changes using text in an app. That means they are easily legible. You can also store voice recordings for additional information from the date of the decision.

  • Photos

During construction and throughout a building’s lifecycle, you can photograph and log all changes. That makes it possible for future workers to understand earlier changes.

  • Permanently recorded in the cloud

With digital as-built drawings, you can securely store all changes in the cloud. There is no chance of them being lost in filing cabinets or being thrown out.

So, how would Chris, our fictional facility manager at a serviced office, benefit from digitised as-built drawings?

Perhaps the biggest change is that it becomes much easier for him to understand what decisions have been made about the building over time, when and who by. Whether he is trying to find wiring, understand why a specific door was bricked up or order in new panelling, he has far more ‘clues’ to know what he needs to do his job. That not only makes Chris’s life easier, but it also makes the building safer and more efficient for all inhabitants.

Learn more: Read our blog on facility management software

The future for as-built drawings

Facility managers, contractors, maintenance teams and health and safety professionals can all benefit from the greatly improved as-built drawing standards that new technologies bring. To learn how PlanRadar can complement and improve your as-built drawings, contact us today.