What is a punch list or snag list, explained in simple words?

What is a punch list or snag list, explained in simple words?

A construction punch list (or snag list) is a list of items that need to be completed to comply with the terms of the contract and is prepared when the construction project reaches the final stage. Contractor and customer (or customer’s representative like architect or inspection professional) do a walk-through on the job site, thinking about the terms of the contract, and note down all deficiencies that need to be solved.

Typically the final payment by the customer towards the contractor is tied to completing the items on the list. The money owed to the contractor that is paid out upon completion of the list is often referred to as the ‘retainage’ and varies between 2% and 10% of the total contract value. This ensures the contractors don’t turn in the keys before the project is finished (finished meaning “compliant with the contract”). Most contracts also include timing specifications ensuring that the work will be done in timely matter. As the contract is always the reference, it helps to clearly spell out expectations in the contract before the work begins.

Summary: The punch list is the instrument that is used to make sure the job gets finished successfully (compliant with the contract terms), and in a timely matter. It does so by clearly stating WHO needs to do WHAT (task + location) by WHEN.

Punch List Tips for the different parties involved. How to get more out of the (punch list) process.

The customer (or anyone that represents the customer): visit the site before the meeting with the contractor. Take your time to inspect the building and detect items that are not complete. Don’t use the actual meeting with the contractor as your discovery walk-through. Be prepared. It goes without saying you might want to take the contract with you or at least read it once more so you know what has been agreed on contractually.

The (sub)contractors that will be doing the actual completion of the work: make sure you know the scope of the work (as specified in the contract). Items that are in scope should be executed in timely manner. For items that are not in scope you communicate the extra costs. Don’t be afraid to mention things that are out of scope. Good communication is crucial for project success and a happy customer. Also for the contractors it makes sense to do a separate walk-through before the final walk-through with the customer.

The general contractor: if you are a general contractor and bound to retainage by your customer, it makes sense to also hold a certain amount of retainage on your subcontractors and propose a punch list with your subcontractors so they know they’ll have to finish their work in a timely manner and there is clear communication on what tasks to be done by when. This avoids that your subcontractors are gone while you still have contractual obligations towards your customer.

The architect: architects or designers often participate to the punch list walk to make sure that what was built is in line with the drawings. They are responsible to point out if anything is not built as designed and specified in the drawings. We advise to inspect the site very regular during the construction phase, and follow up with regular field reports which you communicate to all stakeholders. This makes the actual punch list less painful and will avoid bad surprises and discoveries at the very end of the project. 

Where does the name “Punch list” come from

The term punch list refers to the fact that in the old days people used to punch holes next to an item when this item had been fixed.


In the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand the term ‘snag list’ is used rather than punch list.

AIA: “substantial completion”

In the AIA general conditions, the term “substantial completion” is defined as follows:

“ § A.9.8.1 Substantial Completion is the stage in the progress of the Work when the Work or designated portion thereof is sufficiently complete in accordance with the Contract Documents so that the Owner can occupy or use the Work or a portion thereof for its intended use.”

The next article then articulates this:

“§ 9.8.2 When the Contractor considers that the Work, or a portion thereof which the Owner agrees to accept separately, is substantially complete, the Contractor shall prepare and submit to the Architect a comprehensive list of items to be completed or corrected prior to final payment.” => This list is the so-called punch list or snag list.

Translated into human language: Substantial completion means that the project is complete and usable, except for a few minor deficiencies. When the job has reached the point of substantial completion the customer and contractor do a “walk-through” of the project. Together, they compile a punch list, noting any deficiencies that need to be resolved before the customer accepts the work as complete and releases final payment.

Digital tools

Digital tools make it possible to type down the task and immediately take a picture and locate on a floor plan the exact location of the item. An important advantage of digital punch lists is that you eliminate a lot of re-working related to typing out all the notes, inserting all the photos, pointing out locations on drawings, etc. since you’re using your mobile and a punch list software to do this on site. Note, I don’t recommend writing out all the notes and texts on your phone or tablet, since most often you don’t have the time for this when doing a walk-through with other people, and also, mobile devices are not made to write out entire texts. Try to do the following from the App on site: describe the issue in a couple of key words, take a photo and indicate the location on a floor plan, and maybe (if time) complete it with further specifications like room number, due date and assignee. If you work like this 90% of the punch list will be ready when you’re back at the office and you can finish it off from your desktop.

Another advantage of working with professional punch list software is that the punch list items can be shared very easily with all parties involved and it’s easy to track the status of the list in real time.

Interested in giving our Punch list and Field report App a try? Click here to start a free trial on ArchiSnapper.

Examples of punch list items and punch list checklists

Punch lists are typically organised in one of these 2 ways:

  • By room number: items are grouped by room number.
  • By trade: items are grouped by trade (e.g. electricity, HVAC, painting, …).

By the way, here you can see how our punch list tool ArchiSnapper allows you to organise your punch lists in any of these 2 ways.

Examples of punch list items include :

  • repair broken window
  • replace stained wallboard
  • repair cracked paving
  • replace missing roof shingles
  • missing switch plate cover in the laundry room
  • rear deck railings need post caps installed
  • baseboard heater registers missing end caps

There are many punch list checklists and templates available online. We’ve done some research for you and selected 3 punch list checklists that we found valuable. Note that these are just some examples to give you a first idea of possible checklist items and to start working towards your own checklists. Every project (and every contract!) is different and will require specific checklist adaptions.

From ‘Succeed with Contractors’, find here a punch list checklist example (scroll down a bit first).

From ‘BuildingAdvisor.com’, find in this article another example.

From ‘Total Home Inspection’, you can find out an example here.

Good luck with your punch lists and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences on this topic with us!

PS: if you’re interested in tips and best practices for a successful punch list experience I highly recommend this article.