Request For Information (RFI) procedures: an integral part of the construction process

Post written by David Stewart.

Perfect sets of plans and specifications detailing every miniscule facet of a project unambiguously and with crystal clarity are about as easy to find as unicorn leather upholstery for your chaise longue.  Invariably, (before or during construction) contractors will need more information, clarification, or to point out if something’s amiss.  

That’s why Request for Information (RFI) procedures are firmly built into the construction process.  If the contractor has a doubt, they submit an RFI (to be responded to by the appropriate party, usually the architect or engineer), and the sooner the better.
RFIs are made for a number of reasons, but here are the big three: 
  • Substitution/Construction Modification:
Sometimes a contractor may not be able to procure the specified item or material.  Other times, it may be much cheaper to substitute a specified material with an alternate (without sacrificing quality, of course).  The contractor cannot make this call without the permission of the Owner through the Owner’s agent, the architect.  The RFI prepared and submitted by the (sub)contractor both requests permission and, once answered, documents the go ahead. 
  • Clarification or Additional Information: 
Plans are prepared in the architect’s office and, depending on the calibre of the architect, the contractor gets more or fewer guidelines to help him or her properly execute the design.  However detailed, though, when it comes time to build, (sub)contractors usually need more information.  Additional dimensions may be necessary to fabricate flashings, for example.  The (sub)contractor submits an RFI and the missing information is supplied and documented by the architect.  
  • Construction Deficiency (During Construction Phase):
A construction deficiency is defined as any departure from the plans and specifications.  Deficiencies happen but you don’t necessarily need to spend much money to rectify the situation. An example might be when the contract documents specify the use of plywood sheathing but the contractor inadvertently procures and uses OSB (Oriented Strand Board).  The engineering properties and dimensional stability of the products may be similar and so, rather than removing and disposing of the OSB, the (sub)contractor could prepare an RFI to identify the departure and perhaps offer the Owner a credit of all or part of the cost difference between plywood and OSB.
It’s also fairly common practice for a (sub)contractor or supplier to query a perceived omission or misapplication of a product, and seek clarification of the building owner's intended use or the building official’s acceptance of a product. (Sub)contractors may also use RFIs to call attention to an inferior product that may not meet the building owner's needs, and use their expertise to recommend something better

The Request For Information (RFI) is a tool to resolve and document these gaps, conflicts, or subtle ambiguities, preferably early on in the construction process, to eliminate the need for costly corrections. 

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives / Foter / CC BY

Posted: Fri, 15 Feb 2013
Read more articles about: