Ultimate guide to submittals in construction

Ultimate Guide to Submittals


Just as every trade feels they’re the most important and essential part of constructing a building, every phase of the project planning process feels like the most critical. When it comes to submittals, however, they truly are near the top of the importance ladder.

The submittal process is an opportunity for everyone on a project to get on the same page, which rarely happens throughout the life of a project. By establishing an efficient submittal management process, a project can go off with fewer hitches, better communication, and better collaboration.

What is a submittal?

A submittal is a document sent from the subcontractors in the field to the design personnel on a project. Their function is to verify that everyone is on the same page in regard to nearly every material, finish, and fixture on a project.

When an architect, engineer, or designer creates a set of plans, they specify (to the best of their ability) every material on the project. When the subcontractors finally receive and review the plans, they do their best to decipher exactly which materials the plans call for. To ensure that they’re on point, they send a submittal package to the design professional. This package includes all of the materials they believe match the specs the best.

The design professional or firm then reviews all of the submittals, ensuring that every material is consistent with the drawings. They’ll verify everything from steel beams to paint and carpet colors.

A Submittal Example

Let’s say an architect creates a set of plans to build an office building. He’ll specify every aspect of the project, from the steel beams to the carpets.

The subcontractor responsible for ordering the doors, flooring, and other finishing materials for our office building will need to create several submittals to ensure they’re using the right products. In the case of the doors, they’ll contact a supplier for a product information sheet for doors that match the ones specified on the plans. The subcontractor will submit this information sheet to the general contractor, who will then submit it to the designer for approval.

When the subcontractor sends several submittals for approval, they’ll usually bundle them up and submit them at once. This is a submittal package.

Types of Submittals

With the thousands of potential submittals possible on a construction project, it makes sense that there would be at least a handful of different types. It’s essential to understand each and how they work.

Shop Drawings

Obviously, you can’t just order every material on a construction project off of a shelf in a warehouse somewhere. Often, a fabricator needs to create a fixture, structural component, or other items from scratch in their shop.

To ensure that the fabricator’s proposed product will meet the design pro’s specifications, they’ll send a submittal with their shop drawings. These submittals often include details such as dimensions, materials, and qualities.

Material Data

Many times, an engineer or architect will be very specific about the materials they’ve included with their drawing. In public projects, the engineer may specify two or three products in the name of healthy competition. Even in these hyper-specific scenarios, there can still be a bit of gray area.

To help keep the gray area from throwing the project off schedule, over budget, or out of spec, a contractor will send a submittal with the materials they believe they are to use. As you can imagine, a submittal for every material can become overwhelming, but it’s important to ensure a safe and successful project.

Product Samples

When it comes to finishes and aesthetics, sometimes the only way to ensure the finished product meets the designer’s vision is with samples. Contractors can use sample submittals for anything from paint colors, carpets, floor tiles, moldings, hardware, or other details throughout the project.

What to Include in a Submittal

A submittal package can be full of supporting documents, images, specs, drawings, and other important information. Knowing what to include or expect in a submittal can streamline the process.

In general, submittals should include:

  • The subcontractor’s business name and contact info.
  • The contact name and info of the design professional or contractor who needs to review the submittal.
  • Any drawing reference numbers for the engineer to follow.
  • Product information directly from the manufacturer that outlines the specifications, model numbers, dimensions, capacities, and other important information.
  • Extremely detailed shop drawings. They should include the specifications of all the materials used in the construction of prefabricated items, particularly when it comes to structural components.
  • Color, texture, and finish selections available for a product, material, or surface specified in the plans.
  • Samples, pictures of mock-ups, or any other supporting information that will help the designer make a decision.

While submittal packages, spec sheets, and shop drawings can be overwhelming, the actual submittals don’t have to be complicated. They should include all of the information that will help the designer make a decision and respond quickly.

The Submittal Creation and Review Process

In a perfect world, a submittal would go from the subcontractor to the designer, and then from the designer back to the subcontractor with an approval. However, submittals can make many, many more stops along the way.

When a subcontractor creates a submittal, they have to start with the product manufacturer or fabrication shop. With the help of this supplier, they’re able to put their submittal or submittal package together.

The submittal then goes to the general contractor for review and approval. Potentially, the general contractor could deny the submittal if it’s clearly missing the mark from what the drawing specified. If the general contractor approves, they will then send the submittal up the chain to the architect for approval.

The architect will then review and approve or deny the submittal based on their point of view. The next stop for the submittal could be an engineer or design consultant, or potentially the owner. Once everyone on the chain signs off on the submittal, the material, finish, or product is okay for use on the project.

Commons Problems with Submittals

While the overarching goal of a submittal is to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the project can go off smoothly, they aren’t perfect. There are some common issues with the submittal process, and understanding them can help you avoid them or minimize their effect on the project.

Paper Dimensions vs. Actual Dimensions

For all of the effort that architects, engineers, and designers put in trying to put the perfect roadmap together, construction projects often vary at least slightly from the plans. While the industry as a whole does allow for changes and variations with change orders or RFIs, certain phases of a project need the actual dimensions in the field.

Signing off on a submittal for a custom-fabricated material without knowing if it will actually work in the field is a problem. Plans and drawings are great for getting the project rolling, but there are times when a sub needs to be at the site to create an accurate submittal.

Delays in the Chain

One of the biggest issues with the submittal process is delays in the chain. A subcontractor can create and supply a submittal on time and with the best intentions, but a few days here and there on various decision-makers’ desks can throw off a timeline. Because there are so many stops along the way, it can be difficult to tell where the submittal package is at any given time.

Poor Organization and Tracking

Just about every part and component involved in the construction of a building requires a submittal to ensure it meets with the designer’s or architect’s specifications. With so many submittals on any single project, keeping track of them all can be a full-time job.

Delays due to poor organization can rock the timeline even more severely than a submittal sitting on a decision maker’s desk for too long. When submittals fall victim to poor management, contractors and designers have to make snap decisions that might not pan out as planned. Worse yet, the project could be at a standstill over a submittal lost in the shuffle.

Streamlining the Submittal Process

The submittal process isn’t fun for anyone involved. As a subcontractor, putting together a complete submittal takes a lot of time and work, and mistakes along the way can be a real issue. As a project manager or prime contractor, managing all of the submittals from every specialty contractor can be a headache. Misplacing just one of those submittals can throw off the entire project.

Even just ensuring that you have all the submittals from all the subs that need to submit them is tough.

Streamlining the submittal process can make a significant impact on the project’s workflow. The best way to simplify the process is to rely on a software program to help you submit, forward, and track submittals automatically.

Preparing Submittals with Premier Construction Software

Preparing a huge binder full of photocopies and product data sheets is time-consuming. Instead of printing, photocopying, and punching holes in all of your submittal documents, create your submittals with Premier Construction Software.

Premier Construction Software allows you to upload all of the important documents and pictures that your submittal will require. This can save a lot of time, paper, and frustration over the course of developing a submittal package. Once you create all of your submittals, Premier will keep track of them on its cloud-based document management system. Using this will allow anyone with permission to access these documents.

The ease of creating a submittal and the cloud-based access will allow several parties to work on a submittal package together, speeding up the process and promoting teamwork.

Create and track construction submittals with Premier Construction Software

Sending Submittals with Premier Construction Software

Even more archaic than building a physical submittal package is actually mailing or delivering one.

Sending submittals has never been easier than it is with Premier Construction Software. Once prepared, you can send a submittal, or several, to multiple contacts instantly through email. Each contact will have access to the drawings, datasheets, and whatever other documents or images you attached to the submittal.

You’ll now know who has the submittal and when they received it, taking the guesswork out of tracking your submittal package across several desks or offices.

Approvals and Denials

Getting or giving a response for a submittal doesn’t have to drag down the project with construction software like Premier Construction Software. Submittals can receive responses in real-time, allowing the project to move forward quicker than standard paper-based submittal packages.

Decision-makers are able to annotate, approve or deny a submittal electronically, giving feedback or conditions as they apply to the submittal.

Tracking Submittals with Premier Construction Software

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of submittals is tracking and organizing them to ensure that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Traditionally, tracking these documents required administrative staff to manually input each submittal into a long spreadsheet. It’s a long and tedious process. It’s also the perfect breeding ground for human error. Premier Construction Software can help with that, as well.

Instead of creating and maintaining your own submittal log, Premier does it automatically. When you send or receive a submittal with Premier Construction Software, that submittal becomes accessible through the cloud-based document database. You’ll be able to track each submittal and its status easily from anywhere with internet access. Premier provides a complete history of each submittal as well, so you can stay up-to-date with any changes or updates.

By utilizing the document management system in Premier, you’ll be able to search for any submittal (or other important documents) on the project for any information you might need.

Submittal management is key to the success of your project.

Whether you’re a subcontractor, general contractor, or design professional, proper submittal management should be a priority for your project. Submittals with the proper information, timely responses, and open communication allow a more collaborative approach to a project. They also ensure the project goes as smoothly as possible.

For more information on how you can manage your submittals with Premier Construction Software, you can schedule a personalized product demonstration here.

Author Biography:

Tom Scalisi has over 15 years of experience working in the trades. Since moving to full-time freelance writing, he has developed a passion for helping construction companies grow. He enjoys teaching contractors how technology can streamline their businesses and educating them about their rights during payment disputes.