The Submittal Process for Construction Documents

In construction, submittals are a contractor’s proof of complying with construction documents or a permitted plan set. They include shop drawings, specifications, technical data, and product samples for items such as custom staircases, private elevators, and trusses, and many others.The review and approval process of construction submittals has many aims. First, it ensures the safety of the building and the people in it- the construction staff and the future dwellers. Second, the process verifies the quality of materials and adherence to the design concept. Finally, it helps keep the project on time and on budget.

From a design team’s point of view, shop drawings offer a great level of detail. They also provide an insight into the manufacturer’s interpretation of the item’s role in the overall design. Product samples give both the owner and the design professional a chance to pick the most suitable materials and other specifications.

To a general contractor, construction submittals are a means of verifying their interpretation of the design through another set of eyes. Being responsible for all the moving parts of a project, contractors also view submittals as a tool to keep their subcontractors in check.

Planning the Submittal Process
Construction submittals play a critical role during construction, but their planning starts much earlier.

At various times before the ground breaks, the design team prepares technical specifications for the materials and equipment to be used on the project. Items requiring construction submittals are identified and logged. Before the project gets underway, the architect, engineer, contractor, and the owner, or the owner’s representative, discuss and establish the following:

  • Items requiring a construction submittal
  • Deadlines for submittal delivery
  • Method of submittal delivery
  • Submittal review process
  • Deadlines for review
  • Communications and document control

Setting out a protocol for submittals ensures that all parties involved understand their roles and obligations. Clear expectations for deadlines keep the schedule on track, and well-planned communication channels prevent errors from slipping through the cracks.

Once the submittal procedure is outlined, the contractor takes ownership of the process.

First on the list of tasks is the submittal schedule. It typically includes all items that require shop drawings, product samples, as well as the manufacturer’s technical data and specifications.

When preparing the schedule, the contractor should factor in each item’s lead time to allow enough time for procurement and installation. The time it takes to review submittals and revise those the design team rejects must also be integrated into the submittal and construction schedules.


Submittal Preparation and Contractor Review 

Building materials and equipment do fail, often with disastrous consequences. When they do, human error is usually a factor.

To prevent mistakes, the construction submittal process gives approval authority to the contractor as well as the design team. This holds both parties liable for authorizing noncompliant items that may later fail.

The preparation of submittals starts with the general contractor (GC), who typically delegates the task to relevant subcontractors. After receiving their submittals, the GC must review them and ask for explanations for any deviations from the construction documents. Rejected submittals are sent back for revisions. Once satisfied that all submittals are compliant, the contractor approves them and sends them for architectural and engineering reviews.

Design Team Review 

A project’s design professionals may approve or reject submittals. Their role in the review process consists of verifying an item’s compliance with the contract documents and its compatibility with the design concept, but leaves out construction methods, techniques, and the associated safety concerns, which are typically left to the GC’s discretion.

That said, design team reviews are an unbiased means of ensuring that the owner’s design intent is met and that the building functions the way it was planned to. Depending on the item, a review may involve several disciplines and endure a few revision cycles.

If a shop drawing, product sample, or any other construction submittal shows a deviation from the construction documents or permit set that lacks an explanation, the design team will reject it and send it back for amendments. Having gone through the subcontractor’s revision and the contractor’s review, the submittal ends up on the design team’s desk for yet another review.

Once accepted by the design team, all construction submittals must be implemented into the project, all while the contractor remains responsible for the item’s quality. This system of checks and balances aims to ensure the safety of the building and preserve the owner’s design intent.

Substitution Requests and Change Orders – What Construction Submittals are Not! 

Valid reasons for a noncompliant item may be considered, but should not be approved via submittals.

If a specified item is unavailable but has an alternative that meets the same design criteria, the relevant subcontractor should reroute the variance through a Substitution Request to get an approval. Alternatives that function better than the specified original, produce savings, or speed up construction may also be authorized via Substitution Requests.

Likewise, a design team’s approval will not change the project’s scope, price, or schedule. If the proposed variation is unavoidable and affects either of these factors, the contractor will have to initiate a Change Order.

Construction Administration Services at Design Everest

Our team of engineers offers construction administration services, including submittal reviews. Regardless of the stage that your project is in, we can help you plan a quality submittal process. Our experts will ensure that your design objectives are met and that costly errors are avoided. Call us at (888) 512-3152 or email us at for a FREE consultation and quote. We can also connect you with a professional engineer or designer right away for a virtual consultation or virtual on-site!


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