Ensuring Successful Construction with RFIs: Best Practices for Architects

When architects receive Requests for Information (RFIs), they’re looking at addressing issues falling anywhere between re-ordering supply materials to reworking entire floor plans.

Image by Borko Manigoda from Pixabay 

It is standard practice for construction professionals to post a request for information, often issued by a contractor to an architect, with the noble cause of running jobsites without cost and schedule overruns.

So what part do architects play once an RFI has been filed? 

A decidedly endless and pivotal one—they’re expected to clarify vague, incomplete, and inaccurate details on construction plans, contracts, building standards, and design and drawings specifications.

Typically, RFIs have been a bone of contention between contractors and architects. This is because they should ideally be dealt with during the bidding process or early on in the construction process to lock out conflicts as the project progresses. More significantly, the burden of blame is tossed from one side to another, if clear contractual terms haven’t been laid out.

To be fair, every construction project is riddled with informational hurdles. Architects must prepare to head them off as they occur, but they shouldn’t succumb to a mindset that normalizes RFIs as steady communication tools—since their use must only be to the extent of resolving issues to keep schedules and budgets intact.

A detailed study on RFIs surfaced some alarming numbers.

A construction RFI is responded to in 10 days on average—if you were building contractor building a commercial tower on weather-sensitive soil, and if you had about 10 RFIs lined up before you can permit work on its interior, you’re looking at weeks of waiting until you’re verging on adverse weather likely to destroy your site’s soil quality. Add to that an average cost of $1080 per RFI. You’re looking at an already bumped project cost as you wait for answers that might not address your needs if the RFIs aren’t written specifically enough.

With that said, architects possess the power to set the record straight right from the beginning—let’s understand some broad best practices for architects and contractors so that such adversities get dodged across the project lifecycle.

Heed These Best Practices Repeatedly, You’ll Be Worshipped

Image by Malachi Witt from Pixabay 

Create near-impeccable Issued for Construction (IFC) sets: IFCs are the set of documented revisions to drawings/specifications that architects hand over to contractors after they’ve been discussed and noted in the architect-client agreement. Old habits die hard, architects find it difficult to resist making changes whether to dimensions or references. A great deal of self-organization is required to archive files without tampering with them at will. This can lead contractors to fire off RFIs as they would need a systematically presented drawings sheet that exactly reflects what was discussed.

To help contractors confidently carry out design changes, architects should collate them into a contract by offering comprehensive constructability reviews with design quality checks. 

Choose a mobile tool to manage RFIs: More awareness about digital tools has led architects to reconsider their work practices. Digitizing information is a no-brainer as traditionally maintaining documents has caused one too many unintended errors. It offers great ease to both parties to log, edit, issue, and mark-up changes. Where needed, they can attach high-resolution images of sites and planned design modifications since most professionals don’t have a photographic memory to precisely explain what’s going on jobsites and brainstorming sessions. They can add, substitute, and compare drawing versions and even chat on such a cloud smartphone app to communicate quickly.

Procore’s in-depth take on RFIs in construction will realign your mindset to effectively tackle them.

Ditch frequent revisions and befriend specificity in RFIs: Anticipating and making design changes can result in inaccurate work when contractors have too many PDFs to refer while initiating or co-ordinating work with field workers. This also reflects bias on the part of the architect and can go against them when contractors claim no responsibility for such changes going awry, much worse is when they don’t come with official approval. This severely harms the trust necessary between all parties to lead the project to fruition. With that in mind, it’s recommended that terms be negotiated and sealed in adequate length after proper consultations between the project owner and concerned legal teams. Doing this would curb chances of expensive construction reworks and lesser frustration among teams.

Taking together broad professional considerations to managing RFIs, it’s worth zooming in to see how architects and contractors can both play fair.

Best Practices for Contractors

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  • Send an RFI immediately after need is identified 
  • Restrict one RFI to one issue for higher clarity
  • Provide exact deadlines by when you need a response
  • Prioritize RFIs and critically think through on-site workflows accordingly
  • Specifically refer to sections and mark-up details
  • Allow at least 10 days for a response
  • Explain context and situation with an empathetic tone
  • Be transparent about RFI’s use, baseline impacts, and outcomes 
  • Ensure high-resolution photos and videos support your request
  • Shadow your expected response by suggesting solutions

Here’s a good reference of a construction RFI template.

Best Practices for Architects

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  • Adhere to RFI deadlines
  • Prepare adequate responses backed by contract terms
  • Double-check if you’ve understood issues raised to avoid future lags
  • Lay out resolution keeping in mind the lowest cost route without quality compromises
  • Explicitly state if RFI should be considered as formal approval or not

Closing Comments

There’s considerable risk in getting information, especially if it’s time sensitive, unless written with absolute care and precision. Although RFIs can be time consuming, they’re vital to channelling construction efforts on the right track to hit proposed profit targets and timelines.

Disputes between architects and contractors will only settle if both parties hold themselves to appropriate ethical and moral standards. Proactively tackling deficiencies through RFIs will mitigate apprehensions and often-encountered setbacks in the process, and a solid approach would be to onboard a smartphone RFI tool as soon as possible.


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