Construction Punch Lists -
The Ultimate Guide
A good punch list and closeout can make the difference between a successful project and a failure.
A detailed and well-structured punch list is a powerful instrument for everyone part of the project, as it includes all the remaining defects, who is responsible, and the timing for when everything should be completed.
A punch list helps multiple parties get on the same page, creates accountability, and keeps a project on schedule.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about the construction punch list, including what a construction punch list is, tips for all parties in the process, best practices, and punch list examples and templates. With this information, you can refine your process and streamline your project closeout.
What Is a Punch List in Construction?
In short, a punch list (or snag list, if you're in the U.K., Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand) is a list of items that must be completed before a project can be considered finished and in compliance with the terms of a contract.
The term "punch list" takes its name from the old process of punching holes in the margin next to the items on the list, indicating that the task is complete.
Typically, the process involves these three steps:
- Substantial Completion: The contractor informs the project owner when the project has reached the stage of substantial completion, meaning that the project is complete and usable, except for a few minor deficiencies. There is unfinished work on the contractor's part at substantial completion, but the building functions.
- Walk-through: At this stage, the contractor furnishes a list of items that are pending completion or that need to be revised and fixed (the punch list) and sets up a walk-through with key stakeholders like the project owner, architect or designer, and subcontractors. During the walk-through, they update the list of all deficiencies that still need to be resolved, keeping in mind the terms of the contract.
- The Punch List: The general contractor will then send the resulting punch list to the subcontractors to fix these defects before their work can be considered complete. It's a best practice to illustrate the defects with photos, annotations, and location indications on the floor plan. Having an accurate punch list can save you from disputes and costly reworks.
Punch List Tips for Parties Involved
Each stakeholder in a construction project has responsibilities that can help to create successful punch lists.
- Owner: Owners should inspect the building throughout the project and especially toward the end of the project. The goal is to detect items that are incomplete or not completed correctly or according to the contract.
It's the owner's role to ask contractors as many questions as possible and to point out anything that doesn't meet expectations. The earlier they can detect possible deficiencies, the better for everyone. When a project is completed, it is the owner will sign off on a construction punch list.
- General Contractor: The general contractor speaks on behalf of the owner. They'll consult with the owner and prepare the final punch list. Architects then review the punch list and contribute their input but do not generate it. During the final walk-through, the contractor must determine whether any issues are reasonable (minor, insignificant flaws that still meet contract specifications) or unreasonable (errors that must be fixed).
The general contractor shouldn't wait to inspect and document defects until the project's end. And equally important, they should share the items with subcontractors as they appear and with sufficient details so the subcontractors get a real-time and accurate view of what they have to work on during the project and the closeout phase.
- Subcontractors: These are the people who ensure that everything in the punch list is done. One of the significant causes of rework in construction is when workers in the field don't have the information they need to resolve punch list items correctly the first time. That's why general contractors need to provide ample details on the items, like exact location, pictures with sketches, descriptions of what exactly needs to be done, due date, and so on.
- Architect: Architects should inspect the site regularly and participate in the punch list walk-throughs to ensure that everything is as designed and specified in the drawings. Additionally, follow up with regular field reports that you communicate with all parties. Regular reports and communication will make the final punch list less painful and prevent unwelcome surprises at the project's end.
Construction Punch List Best Practices
Here are eight punch list best practices to help you deliver successful projects for your clients.
1. Regular Punching: Don't Wait Until the End
Waiting until the end of the project before doing thorough inspections and generating a long punch list with items that need to be completed is bad for the morale of contractors. It also creates tension and causes projects to run over time and budget. That's why regular punching, or a rolling punch list, is a best practice. By doing regular inspections and intermediate "mini punch lists," we keep the expectations aligned throughout the project and avoid ugly surprises at the end of the project.
The earlier in the project you detect defects, the easier (and cheaper) it will be to fix them. An example would be viewing the project before the enclosure of wall studs on both sides with gypsum board to ensure that any in-wall piping or wiring is present and conforms to the documents provided for the project.
What are good intervals for a punch list?
Hogan Architects + Development gives some inspiration on good intervals for regular punch list inspections:
Pre-Slab Pour Punch
- Electrical rough (with electrician and building inspector)
- Plumbing rough (with the plumber and building inspector)
- Rebar/anchor bolt (with the structural engineer)
Framing Inspection Punch
- Electrical rough (with electrician and building inspector)
- Plumbing rough (with the plumber and building inspector)
- Framing rough (with the structural engineer and building inspector)
- Window installation
- Sheathing review (with the structural engineer)
- Flashing installation
- Waterproofing review
- Roofing review
- Window and door caulking and sealant
- Drywall finish and quality
- Fixture install
- Appliance installation
- Does everything work? Test everything!
2. Communicate the Contracts and Specs
A crucial step to any punch list process — and any successful construction project in general — is to have clear contract documents with the exact specifications of what needs to get built. This can save you from lots of rework down the line.
Clearly document the specs with little room for interpretation. Make sure to also communicate them clearly with all parties involved. Informing all parties about the exact and updated specifications can keep things running smoothly.
3. Accurate Details and Assignments of Defects
To close out a project efficiently, each stakeholder needs to know precisely what they need to know.
A good punch list is precise and detailed. It should provide the following details on the defects:
- Defect name and number
- Photos with annotations
- Location pointers
- Room number
- Assignee (the party accountable for fixing it)
4. Take lots of Pictures
Contractors: Take many progress and completion pictures every day.
Pictures with annotations are not only great for communicating defects to other parties involved.
They can also be important for settling arguments. Sometimes, other contractors will begin the next phase of construction and potentially damage your completed work. If any issue arises, you'll have visual proof that you correctly completed your work.
5. Optimize the Punch List Walk-Through
One of the best practices for a punch list walk-through is to put a piece of tape on all the defects you encounter. When the specialty contractors come by to fix the defects, they will immediately see where the defects are located.
Next, remember to test everything: the HVAC, water faucets, windows opening and closing correctly, and so on.
Finally, invite the client to join the punch list walk-through. They will more likely accept that certain items don't make the list if they were there, attending the discussion and understanding the pros and cons of a particular decision. In general, the client's satisfaction is the primary goal, so it's good to have the customer involved and be part of the process, as this will reduce the likelihood of discussions later on.
6. Use Software to Manage and Communicate Punch Lists
Your punch list is a list of items to tell different contractors what exactly they need to fix, where, how, and by when. As the project (or the closeout phase) moves forward, new defects are added to the list, and other defects are solved and can be removed from the list. Your punch list is an ever-evolving list of items showing people what they need to work on.
Some might still use spreadsheets to manage this. However, this could be better.
Firstly, it can take you hours and hours to create and update the list in Excel — typing out notes, inserting pictures, annotating floorplans, managing the layout of the list, and so on.
Using a punch list app on your smartphone or tablet lets you document items efficiently during site inspections. Write a few words, take a picture and annotate it, add a location pointer, assign the defect to the party responsible for fixing it, and you're done!
Secondly, managing a punch list with Word or Excel instead of a cloud-based punch list software does not enhance collaboration. Parties involved cannot access the latest version of the list and assigned items until you share your list with them, so they don't have a real-time view of their pending items.
Punch list management software gives all parties involved a real-time overview of the pending items. When someone adds or resolves an item, everyone will see this immediately, so they get an accurate view of the items to work on — with details like location information, photos, deadlines, and more.
Moreover, punch list software allows assignees to give progress feedback on assigned items. No more emailing, calling, or texting to discuss the progress of pending items. All information related to punch list items is centralized in one cloud-based software — available from anywhere with any device. This helps ensure faster and more efficient punch list management.
7. A Positive and Friendly Attitude Can Work Wonders
A friendly attitude is an often-overlooked tip, but it can be very powerful. Try to be positive, helpful, and agreeable from Day 1 of the project — not just during the punch list meeting.
- When you meet people on-site, be friendly and smile — even if you're having a difficult day.
- If people ask you for information related to the project, answer them positively and helpfully — even if they already have all the necessary documentation and shouldn't be asking you this question.
- Whenever people tell you something, take a genuine interest — even if other things occupy your mind.
You get the point.
Being friendly, positive, helpful, and smiling will trigger the same behavior in other people and help you build relationships and make collaborations much more agreeable. And when punching day comes, it will help bridge disagreements.
8. Use a Punch List Checklist
A punch list checklist lists all the items that need to be reviewed during the punch list meeting.
Punch list walk-throughs involve inspecting many possible issues in many different areas and rooms. And as the number of areas and potential issues increases, so does the chance that we miss certain defects. This is where checklists come in.
Checklists are a powerful way to ensure you pay attention to important details. They reduce the risk of mistakes and increase the likelihood that everything will get done as specified.
Here's what one of our clients, Carl Seville from SK Collaborative, says about zero punch lists and using checklists:
"In order to reach a zero punch list, it's necessary that frequent checklist-based inspections take place. These checklists should contain the items that each trade needs to complete. Using checklists throughout the project helps to standardize work procedures and reduce the number of punch-list items."
Examples of Construction Punch List Templates and Checklists
The punch list will be primarily cosmetic items, but some may be substantive.
Examples of Punch List Items
- AC systems, heating, and ventilation work properly
- Appliances function fully
- Baseboards are correctly installed and free of scratches or scrapes
- Cabinet doors and drawers open and close with no hitches or gaps
- Ceilings are free of cracks
- Countertop corners are free of gaps
- Cover plates for electrical are installed
- Door frames are free of any scratches, dents, or buckling
- Ductwork is properly sealed and insulated
- Faucets all work as they should, with cold and hot water in the right place
- Floor grout is sealed correctly
- Flooring is free of any cracks and/or any damage from construction work
- Furnace filters are clean
- Garage door is installed correctly, and the remote works
- Hardware is installed and works smoothly
- Lights, light switches, and outlets are fully functional
- Locks on all doors lock and unlock properly
- No exposed screw ends, including in the back of cabinets
- Paint is free of problems, such as bare spots, nicks, wrong textures, etc.
- Plumbing fixtures are properly sealed (no leaks)
- Smoke detectors are installed and working correctly
- Wallcoverings are secure at corners and wall ends
- Water valves work correctly wherever there is a water connection
- Windows and doors open and lock without any problems
Example of a Punch List Checklist
Here is a sample list of items owners or architects can review or ask contractors about during a site inspection meeting.
A punch list checklist can include items such as:
- Do you notice any cracks in the ceiling?
- Are smoke detectors installed and operational?
- Are any visible tape joints not correctly sanded, or is there any missing paint?
- Is wallcovering secure at wall ends and corners?
- Do door hinges have all their screws?
- Are all your door stops installed?
- Do windows open and close easily without sticking?
- Are there any gaps at countertop corners?
- Are there any frayed ends on your carpet?
- Has your floor grout been sealed?
- Is your dryer vent connected to the outside?
- Do any of your faucets drip?
- Are your thermostats installed?
- Do you have a humidifier on your furnace, and is it installed?
- Is there a wall switch for ceiling fans?
Punch List Reports
After the walk-through, the general contractor or architect will draft and share the punch list report with all parties involved.
Building Blocks of a Punch List Report
- Project details
- Date and time
- People present
- Incomplete items to fix, together with details and assignee
Example of a Punch List Report
A good punch list will outline the defects that need fixing and include sufficient details about them — like a picture of the current status, location, assignee, and description of things to do to fix it.
If you're the general contractor or architect issuing the punch list, these detailed punch list items and descriptions will help avoid potential issues or disputes later on. You will also radiate professionalism, showing the client that the quality of your construction project is important to you — and that you're worth the money.
How You Can Better Manage Construction Punch Lists
The traditional way of managing punch lists is very, very time-consuming. It goes like this:
- Document items on-site with pen and paper or with a note-taking app.
- Take lots of pictures with your smartphone or tablet.
- Back at the office, with your laptop or PC, start writing out the observations (that is if you can read the notes on your paper and remember what they were about).
- Transfer the pictures from your mobile device to your PC and insert them in the punch list report.
- Take print screens of the floor plans, annotate them, and insert these in the punch list report.
- Manage the layout of the report every time you insert a photo.
- Share the punch list report with the parties involved.
- Receive status updates from subcontractors via WhatsApp, email, phone, SMS, and other channels.
- Process these status updates into the list.
- And so on.
This results in many hours lost and the risk of miscommunication and mistakes.
Punch list software helps you streamline the punch list process from inspection to completion. Instead of jumping back and forth between different communication channels, you can create one document of truth that stays the same from start to finish.
- Create a punch checklist that you can use during the punch list meeting.
- Using the punch list app on your mobile device on-site, review the checklist and add photos, assignees, location pointers, and more.
- With the app on-site, there is little to no work at the office to complete the punch list report since most of the information has already been entered.
- Share the punch list (with your company logo and branding) with all parties involved.
- Subcontractors can give feedback on pending items. Upon solving a defect, they can take a picture, add it to the item, and send it for approval.
Streamlining your punch list process will save you many hours, reduce errors due to miscommunication, and give you peace of mind when one of your projects goes into closeout.