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’ll be able to refine your process and streamline your project closeout.
What Is a Punch List?
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 need to be completed before a project can be considered finished and in compliance with the terms of a contract.
Fun fact: 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 goes as follows.
1 – 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.
Substantial completion thus marks the point at which the owner rather than the contractor is responsible for the project.
The American Institute of Architects defines “substantial completion” as the moment that the owner could occupy the building, or the building can be used for its intended use.
At substantial completion, there is unfinished work on the contractor’s part, but the building functions.
2 – Walk-through
It is at this stage that 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, and subcontractors.
During this walk-through, they update the list of all deficiencies that still need to be resolved, keeping in mind the terms of the contract.
During the walk-through, all stakeholders, especially the owner, point out any issues they notice and want to address before closing out the project.
Some common defects addressed on a punch list include leaky pipes, cracked concrete, faulty flooring, and incorrect paint. It’s common for these and other flaws to show up during construction projects. Punch lists normally include only minor tweaks, because — hopefully — the majority of large defects were already addressed earlier in the project.
The general contractor is present to document new items that should go on the list.
The architects will attend also, just to make sure that everything is as designed and specified in the drawings. The client forms a contractual relationship with a contractor, and the architect serves as an “overseer” of the project to ensure that it is built according to the design documents.
This walk-through is often the right moment for contractors to explain any deviations from the original specifications.
3 – The Punch List
The general contractor will then send the resulting punch list to the subcontractors in order for them to fix these defects before their work can be considered complete.
As we will see below, the list should be accurate and detailed and should include accountability.
In other words, the punch lists should show to all parties which defects need fixing, by whom, and by when in order to comply with the contract.
It’s a best practice to illustrate the defects with photos, annotations, and location indications on the floor plan.
Typically, the customer’s final payment to the contractor requires the completion of items on the list. The money owed to the contractor that’s paid out upon doing so is often referred to as the retainage. It varies between 2% and 10% of the total contract value. This ensures that the contractor doesn’t turn in the keys before the project’s completion — that is, before it complies with the contract.
It’s clear that an accurate punch list can save you from disputes and costly reworks.
For more info on the basics of terms like punch list, substantial completion, and more, check out this article.
Tips for Parties Involved
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 properly or according to the contract.
It’s the owner’s role to ask contractors as many questions as possible — check out this list of questions for inspiration — and to point out anything that doesn’t meet expectations or that looks strange. The earlier they can detect possible deficiencies, the better for everyone.
As an owner, you don’t want to use the final punch list meeting with the contractor as your discovery walk-through. So prepare well.
It goes without saying that you might want to take the contract with you during site inspections, or at least read it once more so you know what’s been agreed on contractually.
At the completion of a project, it is the owner who will sign off on a construction punch list.
The general contractor speaks on behalf of the owner. They’ll consult with the owner, and prepare the final punch list. Architects then review and contribute their input, but they do not generate them.
During the final walk-through, it’s their role to determine if any issues are reasonable (minor, insignificant flaws that still meet contract specifications) or unreasonable (errors that must be fixed).
Every project will have some small issues. This can include minor flaws that meet the specifications and should not go on the punch list, like a small ding in the floor or paint splatter on a pipe.
A punch list identifies unreasonable flaws for correction. Unreasonable flaws are defects that must be fixed, where there are clear indications that someone was sloppy or careless in the execution. This could be the walls being the wrong color, or even bigger issues.
As we’ll mention below, the general contractor shouldn’t wait until the end of the project to start inspecting and documenting defects.
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 on what they have to work on, during the project and during the closeout phase.
Clear communication on pending tasks and their deadlines is crucial. This will prevent misunderstandings and rework, and it will prevent your subcontractors from leaving while you still have contractual obligations to fulfill for your customer.
With a field report and punch list app, you can do daily or weekly inspections, document items with pictures, text, location info, annotations, assignees, and more. Assignees will then get a correct and real-time view on their pending items. This is crucial for planning, working toward deadlines, and accurate budget monitoring.
If a customer binds you to a retainage, it makes sense to also hold a certain amount of retainage on your subcontractors.
These are the people who make sure that everything in the punch list is done.
If you’re a specialty contractor in charge of completing the work, make sure you know its scope as specified in the contract.
It’s important that the specialty contractors get accurate information on the punch list items they need to solve.
One of the major 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 with what exactly needs be done, due date, and so on.
If you’re a subcontractor, it’s very important to take A LOT of pictures (before and after) to protect yourself in case of issues that may arise later on — for example, when other parties damage your completed work.
Specialty contractors should not be afraid to explain why they can’t make certain elements to specifications and to communicate extra costs if appropriate. Good communication is crucial for project success.
Architects should inspect the site regularly and participate in the punch list walk-throughs to make sure that everything is as designed and specified in the drawings.
Additionally, be sure to follow up with regular field reports that you communicate with all parties. This will make the final punch list less painful and prevent unwelcome surprises at the project’s end.
For most contracts and countries, it’s not the responsibility of the architect to generate, manage, or share the punch list. They can inspect the punch list and contribute their input if the owner asks for it, though.
See, for example, how this architect office describes the final walk-through as an optional service:
“Client can have the architect present for final review of the project to look for omissions or if touch-ups are needed prior to owner occupancy. (Optional service)”
For American architects, the AIA Contract Documents says the following about the certificate of substantial completion: “The contractor prepares a list of items to be completed or corrected following substantial completion, and the architect verifies and amends this list.”
1 – Regular Punching: Don’t Wait Until the End
The punch list process usually begins toward the end of the project when deadlines and budgets are tight.
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.
This means that by doing regular inspections and intermediate “mini punch lists,” we keep the expectations aligned throughout the project, and we avoid ugly surprises at the end of the project.
Regular punching is a form of quality management: quality should be built-in — by means of regular site inspections and alignment with the client — not something to be added at the end of a project.
The general contractor, owner, and architect should perform periodic punch-walks together at major points in the job. So you might have a walk prior to the closing in of utilities, or prior to the buttoning up of ceilings.
But an advantage is that the customer can communicate any issues throughout the life of the project to the general contractor and subcontractors to allow early agreement and correction.
This will ensure that by the end of the project, you’ll have little-to-no items in your punch list.
Another important argument in favor of regular punching is that the earlier throughout the project you detect defects, the easier (and cheaper) it will be to fix them.
This is common sense, and I’m sure you can imagine lots of examples that underscore this principle.
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 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 plumber and building inspector)
- Rebar/ anchor bolt (with structural engineer)
Framing Inspection Punch
- Electrical rough (with electrician and building inspector)
- Plumbing rough (with plumber and building inspector)
- Framing rough (with structural engineer and building inspector)
- Window installation
- Sheathing review (with 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 – Clearly Communicate the Contracts and Specs
A very important step to any punch list process — and to 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 clearly communicate them with all parties involved.
If there is no communication on the (sometimes evolving) specifications, there will be misunderstandings, room for interpretation, different thoughts, different meanings — all of which can lead to confusion about whether something is or isn’t a deficiency.
And you especially don’t want to forget to make sure there’s documentation to back up any changes and to communicate these changes with all parties involved.
Informing all parties about the exact and updated specifications can keep things running smoothly from the start.
3 – Accurate Details and Assignments of Defects
To close out a project efficiently, it’s essential for everyone to know exactly what they need to know.
A good punch list is clear 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)
Here’s an example generated with ArchiSnapper:
By assigning items to assignees like this, it becomes a one-click task to generate and share a list to every assignee, with only their pending items.
4 – Take a Million Pictures
Contractors: Take many progress and completions pictures, every day, of everything!
Pictures with annotations are not only great for communicating defects to other parties involved.
They can also be super 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 properly completed your work.
Read more on this topic here.
5 – Three Tips for During the Punch List Walk-Through
One of the best practices I learned and have done over the years 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.
See, for example, this photo, from the article A Day in the Life – Punch list Day. Architect Bob Borson shares how he manages a punch out day.
Next, don’t forget to test everything: the HVAC, water faucets, windows opening and closing properly, and so on.
Finally, make sure to 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 certain decision.
In general, the client’s satisfaction is the main goal, so it’s good to have the customer involved in the process 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 being added to the list and other defects are solved and can be removed from the list.
This means that 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 is far from ideal.
First, it takes you hours and hours of time to create and update the list in Excel — typing out notes, inserting pictures, annotating on floorplans, managing the layout of the list, and so on.
Using a punch list app on your smartphone or tablet lets you document items very 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!
Imagine the time savings compared with that from the traditional process: no more typing out notes with your PC, no more transferring pictures and importing them in your Excel file, no more struggling with the layout, and so on.
Secondly, managing a punch list with Word or Excel — as opposed to a cloud-based punch list software — does not enhance collaboration.
Parties involved cannot access the latest version of the list and their assigned items until you share your list with them, so they don’t have a real-time view on their pending items.
Also, assigned contractors still have to use email, message, phone, or WhatsApp to share progress updates on their work.
With punch list management software, all parties involved have 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 — together with details like location information, photos, deadlines, and more.
Moreover, with punch list software, assignees can 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
This 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, obviously. ;)
When you meet people on-site, be friendly and smile — even if you’re having a difficult day.
If people ask you for info related to the project, answer them in a positive and helpful way — even if they already have all the documentation they need and shouldn’t be asking you this question.
Whenever people tell you something, try to 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.
When you smile, offer praise, or make someone feel important, they will like you.
This will help you build relationships and make collaborations much more agreeable.
And when punching day comes, it will help bridge disagreements.
Think about it: If you’re in a discussion with someone, and you know them to be a helpful, honest, positive, and reasonable person, it will be much easier to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, right?
I recently listened to an audiobook of How to Make Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. It explains how social skills will help you get so much more out of your relationships and your life. I intend to read or listen to Carnegie’s valuable wisdom every year.
I’m 100% sure that applying its principles — on the job and elsewhere in life — will help you, too.
Just remember: A smile doesn’t cost anything. Neither do offering praise, remembering the client’s first name, acknowledging your own mistakes, and making people feel important.
8 – Use a Checklist
A punch list checklist is a list of all the items that need to be reviewed during the punch list meeting.
Punch list walk-throughs involve inspecting lots of possible issues in lots of different areas and rooms.
And as the number of areas and possible issues increases, so does the chance that we miss certain defects.
This is where checklists come in.
Checklists are a powerful way to ensure that you don’t overlook important details. They reduce the risk of mistakes and increase the likelihood that everything will get done as specified.
Checklists also free up your mental RAM, as you release your memory for keeping track of what has already been inspected and what hasn’t.
Most architects and general contractors prefer to group items per room or area, because that makes it easier to work for specialty contractors, going from room to room to fix the pending defects.
Here’s a simple example of a punch list checklist, just to give you an idea:
Another advantage of using a checklist is that there’s never just one cockroach in the kitchen. :)
Sometimes, issues arrive in batches, and if cover plates are missing in one unit, chances are high that they will be missing in, say, 30 of the 100 units.
Instead of having to write down the same issue 30 times, working with a checklist allows you to check it off very quickly. Less writing on-site, more reviewing and selecting — assuming you use a punch list app.
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.”
If you want to learn more about how Carl implemented checklists into his workflows, read this article.
Examples of Punch List Templates and Checklists
The punch list will be mostly 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
- Countertops 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 properly sealed
- Flooring is free of any cracks and/or any damage from construction work
- Furnace filters are clean
- Garage door is properly installed, 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 any 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 checklist, provided by Succeed with Contractors, with a list of items that owners or architects can review or just ask contractors about during a site inspection meeting.
It includes items like the following:
- Do you notice any cracks in the ceiling?
- Are smoke detectors installed and operational?
- Are there any visible tape joints not properly 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?
For another example, check this new home checklist.
Punch List Reports
After the walk-through, the general contractor or architect will draft the punch list report and share it with all parties involved.
Building Blocks of a Punch List Report
This report typically contains the following components:
- Project details
- Date and time
- People present
- Incomplete items to fix, together with details and assignee
Here is an article with more information on the building blocks of a punch list report.
Example of a Punch List Report
A good punch list will outline the defects that need fixing, and will include sufficient details about those defects — like a picture of the current status, together with 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.
Interested in seeing an example of a punch list report, generated with ArchiSnapper?
How You Can Better Manage Punch Lists
- Document items on-site with pen and paper, or with some kind of 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 if you still remember what they were about).
- Transfer the pictures form 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…
=> Lots of hours lost, and lots of risk for miscommunication and mistakes.
Punch list technology 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.
- Little-to-no work at the office, to complete the punch list report since most of the information has already been entered, with the app on-site.
- 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.
ArchiSnapper is a user-friendly software for field reports and punch lists. More than 10,000 thousand architects, foremen, and project managers trust it for their projects, big and small.
Questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org