Construction Submittals: What They Are and When To Use Them
Updated May 11, 2023
If you plan to work in the construction industry, you may encounter a submittal. A submittal is a document that outlines the materials that a construction team plans to use for a specific project. Learning about this document and the process for creating it can help you have a successful career in construction and ensure you have the necessary resources to complete high-quality work each time.
In this article, we provide a definition of a submittal, the process, types, examples and tips for creating effective submittals.
What is a submittal?
A submittal is a document created by a subcontractor to outline the details of the resources they intend to use in a particular job. They write this document and seek approval for it from other individuals who are part of a construction team, including general contractors, site owners, engineers and architects. Some elements that a subcontractor includes on a submittal are the equipment and materials necessary for project completion. A subcontractor creates a submittal and submits it for review to ensure that the project scope complies with existing contracts and design documents.
How do individuals use submittals?
Individuals responsible for the construction process, such as contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and manufacturers, use submittals to show that the materials and equipment they plan to use meet the project requirements and specifications. For example, if a company hires a contractor to complete the ironwork portion of a construction project, the contractor could send the designers a submittal explaining their choice of raw materials, sourcing and samples for approval. Submittals often go through several levels of approval between the subcontractor and the architect or designer.
What is the process for submittals?
The process for approving submittals can follow several routes depending on the structure of the job and the relevant parties. The path of a submittal can be relatively simple or fairly complex, depending on how many people need to approve materials, products and specifications. Here are some steps that are usually a part of the submittal process:
1. Review the contract documents
Before you submit any submittals for approval, review the contract documents to understand the project requirements and specifications. This step may also involve learning about the necessary submittal types. You can complete this step as part of a pre-construction conference.
2. Prepare the submittals
Gather all the necessary information, including product data, shop drawings, material samples, mock-ups and test reports. Organize the submittals according to the requirements that the contract documents outline.
3. Submit the submittals
Submit the submittals to the appropriate party, whether it be the project's architect, engineer or owner. Follow the submission procedures in the contract documents, including deadlines, delivery methods and the necessary number of copies.
4. Wait for review and approval
Allow time for the appropriate party to review your submittal. They may request additional information or revisions before approving.
5. Resubmit if necessary
If you don't receive approval for your submittal, you can revise it based on guidance from the relevant party. Implement the feedback they provide exactly to improve your chances of receiving approval.
6. Procure the necessary resources
Once you receive approval for your submittals, you can begin the procurement process for the materials and equipment that the project requires. Arrange the procurement and delivery of the necessary resources to the construction site. At this point, the construction team can begin using the materials and equipment to follow the design and installation requirements in the approved submittals.
Overview of the submittal process
Study an overview of the submittal process to understand its key elements.
Some key individuals in the submittal process include:
The owner: The owner outlines the project requirements and specifications, including the types of submittals they want. The owner may have a representative who oversees the project on their behalf.
The architect: The architect develops the design and specifications for the construction projects. They review the submittal to ensure that it meets the design requirements.
The engineer: The engineer designs and specifies a construction project's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
The contractor: The contractor manages the construction process and ensures that the materials and equipment meet the requirements and specifications. They may work under the guidance of a construction manager.
The subcontractors: The subcontractors perform specific tasks to help expedite a construction project's process.
The suppliers: The suppliers provide the materials and equipment for a construction project.
The manufacturers: The manufacturers produce materials and products for construction projects.
The testing agency: A testing agency performs tests of materials and equipment to ensure they meet specific standards.
Depending on the project's scope, the submittal process may involve all these individuals. If a subcontractor is following a tight deadline and doesn't need approval from everyone, they may only request approval from specific individuals.
Timeline for submittal review and approval
The timeline for submittal review and approval depends on several factors, including the project's scope, the number of people approving different elements and the contractors' schedules with other ongoing projects. Small-sized or medium-sized projects may have a two-week submittal review and approval timeline, while larger projects may take one month or longer.
Examples of workflows for the construction submittal process
Consider examples of workflows for the construction submittal process:
The subcontractor submits the submittal to the general contractor, the general contractor reviews it and submits it to the architect, the architect reviews and sends it back to the general contractor, and the general contractor provides the final document to the subcontractor, who then begins work.
The subcontractor submits the submittal to the general contractor, and the general contractor reviews it and submits it to the engineer. The engineer reviews it and sends it to the architect, who reviews it and sends it back to the general contractor. Finally, the general contractor provides it to the subcontractor, who begins work.
The subcontractor submits the submittal to the general contractor, the general contractor reviews it and submits it to the construction manager, the construction manager reviews it and sends it to the engineer, the engineer reviews it and sends it to the architect, the architect sends changes back to the construction manager, the construction manager reviews it again and sends it to the general contractor, and the general contractor provides it to the subcontractor who then begins work.
Types of submittals
Review the types of submittals so you can better understand which one to create:
Materials samples are submittals that outline the requirements for surface materials a contractor or subcontractor intends to use for their portion of a job. The specific type of materials a contractor submits for approval often depends on their specialty. They may submit their document seeking approval for using different materials in fixtures, countertops, carpets and masonry.
For example, you can consider a contractor who wants to use granite slabs for a project. The texture and quality of granite can vary depending on its source so a contractor can send physical samples through the approval process. This way, different individuals can assess the granite's durability and aesthetic appeal and determine if it suits the project's scope.
Submittals can also focus on including data regarding the materials that contractors provide. This data can support the physical samples they provide, or a contractor can present this data by itself if they didn't provide physical samples. A material manufacturer often compiles product data and may include descriptions of component parts, test data, characteristics and warranty information. This information frequently helps architects and designers determine whether a material meets the client's specifications. Within a product data submittal, you may find:
Prescriptive specifications: Prescriptive specifications provide guidelines on how to use and install an item.
Proprietary specifications: Proprietary specifications describe the specific details of a material from a particular manufacturer.
Performance specifications: Performance specifications explain the materials' qualities without accounting for specific manufacturers.
A submittal can be a visual depiction of the work a subcontractor intends to complete. If a subcontractor prepares any of their own blueprints, plans or other drawings, they can submit them for review. These images can help each reviewer better visualize the contractor's intentions. Architects and designers can also use these plans and drawings in their own plans to ensure they account for field dimensions and the inclusion of specific materials.
Mock-ups are full-scale replicas or prototypes of a portion of a construction project. They depict the functionality and appearance of the final product.
Test reports include documentation of testing that a third-party agency performs on materials and equipment for a construction project. They may perform a test to determine a material's fire rating or sound transmission.
Calculations show how the materials and equipment for a construction project may meet the project's requirements. For example, a contractor may prepare calculations for a material's load capacity or a piece of equipment's energy efficiency.
Tips for creating an effective submittal
Follow these tips to create an effective submittal.
Use construction software
Use construction software to create submittals instead of writing them with paper and pen. This way, you can create consistency with the submittal process and store and send them easily.
Confirm and verify
Ensure you're familiar with the exact field conditions when creating a submittal. You can also verify material dimensions to accurately depict the intended project and limit waste when the building process begins.
Experiment with different types of submittals
If you're new to creating submittals, you may experiment with different types. For your first project, you may decide on a shop drawing. If you determine this isn't the best way to depict your vision, you may decide to use a different submittal type for your next project. This experimentation can help you determine the best submittal type for your specific scope of work.
Introduce new people to the process
You may consider introducing new people to the submittal approval process. This way, you can ensure that the entire construction team accounts for various project elements that others may neglect. If you have a short deadline to meet, you may only request the submittal to go through certain people so you can expedite the approval process.
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