Construction Terms: Submittals


This year we are introducing a new series to our weekly articles titled, ‘Construction Terms,’ and we intend to use this series to present and explain common terms within the commercial construction industry. To those not familiar with the construction process, entering it can be daunting, as if you are learning another language and culture. And if it is your project on the line, the learning curve can be staggering as well as expensive.

We will be paying particular attention to the terms for various processes and procedures, as properly managing these can make or break the success of a project and determine how smoothly it is planned and constructed.

For today, we will be exploring the concept of Submittals. What are they, and why do they matter?

What are Submittals?

Submittals are an important part of construction processes and procedures, with submittals occurring on every construction project. Submittals are documents, drawings, product data sheets, samples, or mock-ups of materials and/or systems developed by the contractor and reviewed by the architect prior to ordering materials for a specific project. Contrary to popular belief, submittals are not a contractual document, but rather a demonstration of how the contractor will perform according to the design intent.

Submittals are generally created by the specific trade partners on a given project and submitted to the general contractor for review. The contractor must first review and approve them before sending them to the architect for their review. During the general contractor’s review, they are searching for a variety of components on a given submittal, such as:

  • Conformance of the materials to the design specifications
  • Conformance of dimensions for the existing space and design drawings, with clarifying questions to the architect in the event of a discrepancy
  • Conformance to the design intent
  • Conformance of the proposed material layout as compared to the contractual design documents
  • Constructability issues
  • Conflicts with other building systems

Submittals are reviewed by at least one, if not multiple project management team members, including the superintendent, project manager, project engineer or other parties such as a BIM coordinator, MEPF manager, safety team members, etc.

Depending on the contractual agreement, the submittal may be reviewed only by the architect, and they also may be passed on to a third-party consultant and/or the owner for review and approval. Submittals can be returned to the contractor with directions such as, but not limited to:

  • Rejected
  • Make corrections noted
  • Approved with corrections
  • Approved

It is possible that submittals are generated and submitted more than once if corrections are necessary or material choices and/or designs change. They should be reviewed until approved to the satisfaction of every party involved.

Following the general contractor’s review, the submittal is returned to the trade partner if significant corrections and/or concerns are discovered. If they conform to the design intent, they are sent to the architect for their review.

Once returned to the general contractor, they must review the submittal and return it to the trade partner with directions to review, make any necessary changes, and proceed with next steps, generally either a modification to the submittal, or ordering materials and proceeding with fabrication.

Planning for Submittals

One element of the submittal process is knowing what items and/or trades need submittals for review. Sometimes, the project specifications will list out what submittals are required. During the preconstruction process, the general contractor will create a Submittal Schedule that includes a list of required submittals, the trade partner responsible, and associated deadlines for submission, review, and return to the trade partner. They may also call this a ‘Submittal Log.’ This schedule, or log, includes deadlines for the number of days each reviewer has for their piece of the process. For instance, many typical submittals may be given to the general contractor with a 3-day turnaround to review and send to the architect. The architect may then have 3 days to review and return the submittal, and so on. These timelines are dictated by contractual documents.

The submittal log is updated when submittals are received, sent to the architect, returned to the contractor, and sent back to the trade partner, as well as with due dates for turnaround times from all these parties. This log is reviewed consistently by the project management team as well as at Owner/Architect/Contractor meetings so that all parties understand what is due and by when.

Submittals must be prepared well in advance of ordering products. In today’s climate, this often means they are needed well ahead of materials installation, possibly as much as a year or more ahead of the installation. In any case, the lead times for material orders and/or fabrication must be part of the equation when planning for submittal deadlines.

Types of Submittals

Submittals come in many forms, but the main ones include:

Shop Drawings

These diagrams or drawings, typically completed in a design program such as CAD, which demonstrates elements of the work. Commonly, these are used for items such as:

  • Casework and countertops
  • Structural and decorative steel elements
  • Rebar
  • Doors, frames, and hardware
Product Data

Often provided direct from a manufacturer, these are not typically produced custom for a project but are provided to demonstrate what material will be installed. These are often submitted for items such as:

  • Drywall products
  • Light fixtures
  • Mechanical units
  • Plumbing fixtures

These are physical illustrations of an item to demonstrate things like color, workmanship, how materials fit together, etc. They may be referred to as ‘mock ups’. Common items that might be a sample include:

  • Paint swatches
  • Plastic laminate samples
  • Stone, tile, carpet, or other flooring materials
  • Finished wood samples
  • Wood doors and/or stain samples

The basic idea is that whatever is submitted will provide an adequate depiction of the final product so that all parties can agree to what will be installed. In other words, the contractor is setting the expectation for what the owner will see when construction is complete.

Final Thoughts
Submittals are a critical part of the construction process. They help clarify expectations for products, finish materials and coordination between trade partners, the architect and ownership teams. What needs to be submitted and who reviews them will depend on the contractual arrangement between the owner and project team members.