A Guide To RFIs In Construction

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If you’ve been involved in any kind of construction project, then, you probably already know that the construction industry really loves abbreviations and acronyms. So, we will break down RFIs in construction.

They do computer-aided drawings with CAD, use CORs for change order requests, and belong to all sorts of professional organizations that are just strings of letters. It’s no wonder people who don’t “speak construction” fluently struggle to make head or tail of the updates they get from contractors or the project team.

RFI is one of the most common abbreviations you’ll see during any construction project. Let’s take a closer look at what they are, who uses them, what they are used for, and what they usually look like.

What Does RFI Stand For?

In construction, RFI stands for Request for Information.

As you might know from your project team, everything in the construction world needs to be documented somewhere. So even if a question is asked and answered in person or by phone, there still needs to be a paper trail of the question and the answer or answers that are provided.

The RFI is the formal, documented request for information usually from a contractor to an architect or engineer. However, it can be from any project team member to another or to the Owner.

Who Issues RFIs?

Technically, anyone on the project team or any contractor, subcontractor, or trade contractor can issue an RFI, but they usually flow from the bottom up.

Typical situations where an RFI might be required is when a subcontractor or trade discovers something that is different from the original design or scope of work or when they need to query something about the design, drawings, or specification.

RFIs can also be issued when a subcontractor or trade contractor wants to propose a change to the work that they believe would improve the cost, time to complete, or finished product delivered to the client.

Who Responds to RFIs?

The next thing you might be wondering is who responds to an RFI. The answer is it depends.

RFIs are usually sent to the project manager, architect, or project team leader, but the response will come from whoever has the most authority to answer the question being asked.

So, for instance, if the question is about structural design, it would be answered by the structural engineering team. If it’s about general design issues, it would probably be answered by the architect, and if it’s about a suggestion to improve the design, it might be answered by the Owner’s Representative.

Sometimes, additional discussion is required, or the person or team answering an RFI might ask for more information, pricing, drawings, or something else to help them make the best possible decision.

What Does An RFI Look Like?

Most companies have their own RFI templates, although, on some projects, the project team might have a template they prefer to use.

Since these documents are intended to be a record of information flowing between the different companies and people involved in the project, they need to contain certain important information, which usually includes:

  • The name of the company requesting the information.
  • The name of the person who can be contacted about the RFI, as well as their contact information.
  • The date that the request is made – this is important if the RFI is crucial to completing any of the work on time or if the task in question is on the project’s critical path and will affect the completion of other items.
  • The project name and contract number.
  • The RFI number – many large projects can have dozens or even hundreds of RFIs, so including a unique number helps to ensure the correct document is being referred to in meetings and responses.
  • A detailed explanation of the information that is required and when it is required by.
  • RFIs are usually signed by the person submitting them or by an authorized representative of their company.

Sometimes, RFIs will also include other types of information and attachments outlining the question in more detail. These could include photographs of a problem on-site or a sketch of a proposed change to the design.  The construction software for record with the Owner will have these built in that will allow for attachments and photos.

What Happens To RFIs After They Are Answered And Resolved?

RFIs are usually addressed quickly after they are received by the project team because any kind of delay on a construction project can have a knock-on effect.

If there are regular in-person or online meetings about the project, information may be provided during those meetings and followed up with a written response for record keeping.

Once the RFI has been answered and resolved, it will be filed – along with the response that was given – with the project documentation. All these submittals become part of the project documentation, and they make it a little easier to keep track of who asked which questions and what the response was.

What Kind Of Effect Can RFIs Have On Construction Projects?

RFIs on their own often don’t have too much of an effect on a construction project. However, if an RFI is issued because of something that will change the scope and specification of a project, the project team might request a quotation or a COR or change order request.

In that case, there may be a cost or time implication that could affect the project. However, if that is the case, it’s usually because work cannot continue with the design or specification that was agreed to in the quote or bid received from the contractor or trade company.

Are RFIs In Construction A Good Thing?

In a perfect world, every construction project would go exactly as planned, and every design detail would be exactly as the architect or engineer imagined it. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and no construction projects go precisely according to plan.

RFIs are not inherently good or bad. They’re simply a good way to ensure that everyone remembers what was said, who asked which questions, and what the team decided.

The better the record-keeping and communication are on any construction project, the more likely it is to be finished on time and within budget, and that’s always good news for clients and property owners. So when you look at it like that, RFIs are a good thing.

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