Punch Lists & Snag Lists — All You Need to Know in Simple Terms
In short, a punch list (or snag list, if you’re in the UK, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand) is a list of items that need to be completed to comply with the terms of a contract.
At the final stage of a construction project, the contractor and customer (or the customer’s representative, like an architect or inspection professional) do a walk-through on the job site to prepare the list. Keeping in mind the terms of the contract, they note down all deficiencies that need to be resolved.
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.
Most contracts also include timing specifications, ensuring efficient completion of the work. As the contract is always the reference, it’s essential that it clearly establish expectations before work begins.
In summary, punch lists make sure a job gets finished quickly, in a way that honors contract terms. To do this, they must clearly state who needs to do what, where, and by when.
The Origins of Punch Lists
For you trivia buffs or word nerds out there, the term punch list derives from the fact that in the old days, people punched holes next to an item when that item was fixed.
But for a more modern take, let’s turn to the AIA General Conditions. It defines “substantial completion” 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.
Then, the next article says:
§ 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 “comprehensive list” is our so-called punch list.
So, to translate all the legalese into simple 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 the final payment.
Crafting Better Punch Lists
So all the history and technicalities aside, how can you create an effective punch list? Let’s break it down by party and assume you play any of the following roles:
Customer (or Customer Rep)
It would be ideal to visit the site before the meeting with the contractor. Take your time inspecting the building to detect items that are incomplete.
Don’t use the actual meeting with the contractor as your discovery walk-through. Be prepared. It goes without saying that you might want to take the contract with you, or at least read it once more so you know what’s been agreed on contractually.
If you’re in charge of completing the work, make sure you know its scope as specified in the contract. Then execute items within that scope in a timely manner.
For items outside of the scope, don’t be afraid to communicate extra costs. Good communication is crucial for project success.
It’s also a good idea to do a separate walk-through before the final walk-through with the customer.
If a customer binds you to a retainage, it makes sense to also hold a certain amount of retainage on your subcontractors.
Propose a punch list with your subcontractors so they know they’ll have to finish their work efficiently. Clearly communicate pending tasks and their deadlines. This will prevent your subcontractors from leaving while you still have contractual obligations to fulfill for your customer.
Architect (or Designer)
Definitely participate in the punch list walk-through to make sure that everything is as designed and specified in the drawings.
During the construction phase, it’s a good idea to inspect the site regularly. Additionally, be sure to follow up with regular field reports that you communicate with all stakeholders. This will make the punch list less painful and prevent unwelcome surprises at the project’s end.
Going Digital for the Best Punch Lists
A big advantage of a digital punch list is that you streamline your workflow. By using punch list software on-site, you can eliminate lots of tedious work. No longer will you have to type out all your notes one by one, insert photos, point out locations on drawings, and so on, when you’re back at the office.
Using a punch list app on-site you can describe the issue in a couple of keywords, take a photo and indicate the location on a floor plan, and maybe even specify other things like room number, due date, and assignee. With an app, 90% or more of the punch list can be ready on-site. And when you’re back at the office, you can finish it off from your desktop.
And that’s not all. Professional punch list software also lets you share punch list items very easily with all parties involved. What’s more, assignees like specialty contractors can share progress updates on punch list items, with photos and text. This way everyone is on the same page, and there is no need for back-and-forth emails or Whatsapp between the various parties to communicate on pending items.
Interested in giving our punch list and field report app a try?
Perfecting Your Punch List Checklists
Before we get to the punch list checklists, let’s focus on the individual punch list items. Typically, a punch list groups items by room number, or by trade (e.g. electricity, HVAC, painting).
By the way, ArchiSnapper allows you to organize your punch lists in any of these two ways. To see how, check here.
Examples of punch list items include:
- repair broken window
- replace stained wallboard
- repair cracked paving
- replace missing roof shingles
- replace missing switch plate cover in the laundry room
- install post caps in rear deck railings
- replace end caps on baseboard heater registers
Now, onto punch list checklists. You can find many templates available online. Lucky for you, we’ve done lots of research already. Here are three punch list checklists we think are pretty valuable!
- Succeed with Contractors (toward the bottom)
- BuildingAdvisor.com (also toward the bottom)
- Total Home Inspection
Note that these are just examples to give you an idea of possible checklist items you could use. Of course, you’ll need to customize your own. Every project is different. Every contract is different. Adapt your checklist accordingly.
Good luck with your punch lists! Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences about this topic with us.
PS: If you’re interested in tips and best practices for a successful punch list experience, I highly recommend this guide on construction punch lists.