What is a construction punch list? [Questions & Tips]

construction workers

Civil construction is an essential and valuable industry. It is responsible for connecting communities and making life easier for people and businesses across the world. 

Like other industries that rely on people to get work done, human error is inevitable in construction. The use of a punch list helps to minimize mistakes and ensures projects are completed in a way that fulfills contractual obligations and satisfies project owners and city requirements. Punch lists are beneficial to all stakeholders involved in any civil or industrial construction project.

In this blog, we’ll review the role of a punch list in the construction industry, who is responsible for each stage of the process, and share tips on how to improve construction punch list best practices.

What is a construction punch list?

A construction punch list is a list of items that must be completed before a construction project is declared complete and subcontractors can receive final payment.

A punch list—also referred to as a snag list, a deficiency list, or a punch-out list—is created near the end of a project. It outlines work that has not yet been done or that has been done incorrectly, down to the smallest detail, that will need to be rectified before the project can be considered complete. This can include anything from minor tweaks to major fixes.

Punch lists create clear project expectations across all parties involved. Project contracts are often written to include punch list conditions. This allows general contractors to withhold final payment as a retainer so subcontractors are bound to complete the punch list in order to receive final payment.

Who is responsible for a punch list?

The responsibility of a punch list varies depending on the project. Oftentimes, the responsibility will fall on the general contractor or the project owner. The construction punch list may also be a combined effort between the general contractor and project owner. More on punch list responsibility below:

The punch list process

When a project is nearing completion, the general contractor’s project manager will perform what is called a pre-inspection. This is when they look over all of the work done by the subcontractors. Depending on the project, this may happen multiple times over the course of a project.

A project manager working on a civil project will be checking for things like damaged components or incorrect installations. This can include items such as cracked or uneven pavement, road slope, materials, lighting, signage, rumble strips, paint, drainage, and more.

Should they find any work that is incomplete or done incorrectly, they will note this in a document that acts as an internal punch list.

Next, the project owner will perform a walkthrough. They will do the same as the project manager in their pre-inspection; noting items that are incomplete or done incorrectly on their own punch list. Engineers may join the walkthrough to look for any changes to the project or differences from the original design and make note of anything that needs to be altered.

Depending on the project, the general contractor may take the project owner’s list and combine it with their list to create the final construction punch list. In some cases, the responsibility of the punch list may fall solely on the general contractor or the project owner.

Punch list disputes and project closeout

Punch list items may be disputed between the project owner and general contractor or between the general contractor and subcontractors. When this happens, the general contractor will look back into subcontractor agreements to determine the definition of finished and, if needed, they will create a change order to ensure proper project closeout.

Once the punch list is agreed upon and finalized, subcontractors may provide an estimated time period for the remaining tasks to be complete. Punch lists provide subcontractors with an organized document to follow in order to finish their contractual work. 

The general contractor will then be able to “punch” the items on the list once they are completed and subcontractors can submit a request to the engineer or general contractor for their certificate of substantial completion to then receive their final payment. Once the work is approved, the general contractor is able to release the subcontractor’s final payment.

What is substantial completion?

Substantial completion is a near-completed state of a project when the subcontractor’s contractual conditions for completion have been met. Substantial completion can be applied to just one part of a project or the whole project.

It is only at this point in the project that the specialty contractor can apply for their certificate of substantial completion and receive final payment. A certificate of substantial completion is what allows a subcontractor to collect the last payment and any retained funds. Once the certificate is awarded, general contractors must pay the subcontractor within a specific timeframe that complies with the standards of their governing body; For federally-funded projects in America the timeframe is 30 days. 

What is a zero punch list?

A zero punch list is when the punch list has no remaining items. A zero punch list signifies the final completion of a construction project. Final completion is declared once all punch list work has been completed by the subcontractors. 

Why is a punch list called a punch list? 

The term punch list comes from the traditional process of actually punching holes in the margins of the document next to each item that needed fixing. These punch holes indicated the work had been done for that task.

Historically, there would be two copies of the punch list that would be punctured at the same time. One for the general contractor and one for the project owner. This would ensure that both parties had identical records to avoid any discrepancies.

Why is a punch list important?

Construction punch lists are beneficial in many ways. They save project owners money by identifying minor issues before they become major ones. Punch lists keep contractors and subcontractors accountable for outstanding work and ensure a high level of quality control during project closeout. They also allow stakeholders to see task progress and help build strong relationships between all parties since everyone is on the same page before the end of the project.

Construction punch list best practices and how to improve the process

If you’re still using the same punch list process from a decade ago, it’s time for an update. Below are some of the essential punch list best practices as well as some suggestions on how to improve the process to save you time and money on your construction projects.

  1. Formalize the process 
  2. Clearly document everything in detail
  3. Use photos or videos
  4. Clear delegation of tasks and deadlines
  5. Prioritize tasks to get the timing correct
  6. Closely monitor progress 
  7. Use the right technology

1. Formalize the process 

If your construction punch list process is not yet formalized and documented, we strongly recommend doing so. Informal punch lists can decrease productivity and lead to discrepancies.

First, formalize the pre-inspection process. This includes any documentation that is required for this procedure. Create standardized checklists for project managers to follow during the pre-inspection.

Next, formalize the construction punch list creation process. If the responsibility of the punch list falls on you, you will need to have a standardized process in place for employees to create it. Whether that means combining inspection lists or creating the entire punch list document yourself.

Lastly, you will need to have a clear procedure for your team to follow when implementing the punch list. This includes execution, delegation, documentation, and record-keeping of tasks as they progress.

2. Clearly document everything in detail

When conducting the pre-inspection and creating the snag list, everything needs to be documented clearly and thoroughly. These documents should be legible, easy to understand, and incredibly detailed.

If issues are noted vaguely and without much additional information, this can cause frustration and pushback from subcontractors, plus delays to the project.

3. Use photos or videos

During the pre-inspection and walkthrough, general contractors and project owners are encouraged to take photos or videos to help reinforce the issues being documented. 

It is critical that markers are used to clearly demonstrate the issue in the image or video. Simply snapping a photo of a large area will not always get the problem across. 

Images and videos are also beneficial because they create a digital record of the issues and can speed up the project closeout process.

4. Clear delegation of tasks and deadlines

As a best practice, there should never be any uncertainty on who is responsible for what punch list item. 

Construction punch lists should include:

  • The issue
  • The tasks that are required to complete the job
  • Who is responsible for the work and who will be involved
  • The estimated time it will take
  • Deadlines 

This type of information keeps subcontractors accountable and keeps the project moving towards completion.

5. Prioritize tasks to get the timing correct

Prioritizing punch list tasks can drastically increase project speed and productivity. Having a clear understanding of what tasks need to be completed before the next punch list item can begin will help all subcontractors involved and minimize delays or discrepancies.

6. Closely monitor progress 

Monitoring punch list item progress is one thing, but closely monitoring it is another. Checking in with subcontractors before punch list items are underway, during punch list item progress, and even after completion is an excellent way to keep your punch list organized and to stay on top of tasks as they progress. Should the project owner request updates, you will be able to provide them with accurate and real-time information on project specifications.

7. Use the right technology

Gone are the days of paper punch lists that require a physical hole punch to mark the final items on the document as they are done. Going digital helps project managers stay organized and on top of the closeout progress without drowning in paper lists. 

A great software allows you to upload images and videos from the walkthroughs to a centralized system where owners, contractors, and subcontractors can access them easily from their desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Subcontractors can then use this software to plan their approach to their punch list items and send real-time updates and progress reports through the program. These real-time updates make it easier for project managers and minimize the need for constant follow-ups and progress report requests.

Innovative construction software for e-ticketing and dispatch 

Improving your punch list process can help optimize project close out. Using a construction software designed to streamline business operations can make your whole job more efficient and profitable. 

Tread is a construction software solution that is digitizing the construction industry. We enable activities that used to be done by hand, like punch lists, to be done through a secure, cloud-based software. 

Tread provides data-based insights into construction projects that allow companies to understand where their projects are making or losing money.

Our paperless software gives you the ability to generate e-tickets and provides a digital record that shows proof-of-work. Every task is documented in the cloud and all stakeholders are able to see these updates in real-time. Those involved are able to sign off on tasks digitally, from anywhere, which speeds up project closeout and final payments.

With Tread, every project is made easier from start to finish. From dispatching and scheduling to reporting and invoicing, Tread’s platform increases productivity, improves budgets, and eliminates disputes. 

Request a demo today to learn how our software can help with your construction process.