Submittal approvals, and whether or not you use them, can mean the difference in a happy client or the loss of hundreds, thousands sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars in unusable product. That kind of loss can turn a smooth project into a nightmare in a matter of minutes. Can the submittal process feel tedious and time-consuming? Sometimes. Is it necessary? Absolutely! Submittals are critical to keeping your project running like the well-oiled machine that it should be and I'm going to explain the whats, hows and whys of the submittal process. So before you spec or install another finish or construction material, grab a fresh cup of coffee and read on!
SO WHAT IS A SUBMITTAL ANYWAY?
For all of my architectural and design world readers, this section will be a bit of review. But for my end users and other interested parties who have just stopped by to see what's new this week, let me explain it more thoroughly. When a commercial project is in the construction phase of design, all the designers involved (architects, interior designers, engineers, etc.) have to communicate to the contractor (or team that's responsible for the construction) what materials have been requested by the owner to complete the project. These materials can range anywhere from lighting and bathroom fixtures, to flooring and wall finishes and so much more. Essentially, they are all of the physical pieces to the puzzle and someone has to specify which ones should be used, as well as where and how they should be used. And naturally, there is a system for this process that should NEVER be skipped.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
When the owners and designers reach an agreement on what products need to be used, the designer "specifies", or communicates to the contractor, which products to use. This is generally done on the drawings and in the spec book. Those specifications go out to the contractor at the job site and the contractor reads over all the necessary puzzle pieces and typically orders three of each sample from the manufacturer. Once they have those samples, they forward them back to the design team for review and approval. If the products are correct and match up to the design specifications, then the design team stamps, dates and signs them. One of the three samples is kept with the design team for their records and the other two go back to the contractor for their use. If the product is incorrect or insufficient, the designer has the responsibility of noting the discrepancy and insisting that it be corrected before moving any further. Once the contractor has the signed approval, they place their order for the material. The material is delivered to the site and the contractor uses the approved samples they have on hand to compare to the newly-delivered product. If for any reason THAT product is incorrect or insufficient, the contractor now has the responsibility of returning the product and insisting on the correction. Once the delivered product looks good and matches up perfectly, then the install can finally begin.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
Everyone has to be on board with the submittal process. It isn't something that can be carried out by only one part of the design-build team and without it, you could lose a LOT of money, time and product. It's so easy for something to go wrong if there is no accountability from all parties. The part number could be entered incorrectly, the manufacturers shipping department could have packaged the wrong material, the owner could have changed their mind since the last set of drawings were issued and it never got changed in an addendum. There are many reasons to double check your product. Not utilizing this checks and balances system can be VERY costly in the end!
For example. Let's say the designer specifies a wallcovering for a 35,000-square foot recreation facility. There is a great deal of paper being installed in the front entry and welcome area. But the contractor is on a time crunch with the client and orders the entire amount of wallcovering specified without signed submittals. The part number for the wallcovering was off by one letter and the wallcovering arrived on the job site in the wrong color. Without the approved submittal, the contractor has no idea that the wallcovering should have been green and not blue. The install takes place. The owner stops by to see the progress and realizes the color is wrong. The contractor immediately calls the designer but now it's too late. The correction must be made. The wallcovering has to come down, the area re-prepped and new paper ordered. The lead time will push the project back 4 to 6 weeks past the expected finish date. That's a great deal of cost, time and wasted product that could have been saved by running it through the system.
It does take a little time to work through the submittal process. But if everyone is purposeful in getting it done, then it can save so much unnecessary trouble for the owner, contractor and design team. So if you're an architect or designer, make sure you insist in the notes of your drawings that no product be ordered or installed without signed and approved submittals from you. And if you're the owner, be diligent about signing off on the materials when your design team presents them to you. Look them over thoroughly and make sure you know what you're getting. And if you're the contractor, be sure the submittals are approved before order and installation. You may never realize how important this is unless you experience the effects of a mistake first hand. But hopefully you will follow my advice here and never have to.