ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 76 - 10/07/2010

What is a Reasonable Time for Review of Submittals?

Submittal, review and approval of shop drawings, descriptive literature, samples and other information is an inherent part of construction. For contractors, the process poses the risk of delay. Sometimes the contractor cannot proceed with the work without a response from the project owner or its representative. How much time should be allowed before it becomes a compensable delay?


Construction contracts seldom stipulate the amount of time allowed for turn-around of submittals. This is understandable because submittals vary greatly in their complexity. Most contracts simply state a standard of reasonableness. The AIA documents refer to “such reasonable promptness as to cause no delay to the Work.” Other contract forms use similar language.



Faced with this vague standard, courts and administrative boards have come down all over the place. In one case, ten to 12 weeks was deemed reasonable. In another, anything more than 14 days was considered unreasonable. Obviously there is no clear standard and no predictability in this matter.


I invite your comments. Should construction contracts specify a number of days for submittal turn-around or is that not feasible given the wide variety of submittals which must be reviewed? If the standard is simply reasonableness, what is the range of time to be allowed? Twelve weeks seems absurd, but 14 days could be very tight for review of many types of submittals.


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I've had contract language that mandated a five day turn around, with additional language that required the architect to notify the the contractor if the review would require more time. It hurt, but we got through it. In the end, all you have is the contract to go by.

Submittal reviews has always been aproblem because they lead to a number of contract disputes. Can the contractor add those "exorbatant" review days due to the lengthy review process? Can the contract add reduce these day from his potential liquidated damage amount?, etc. I say that if RFI's can be made (in many cases) in the field and on the spot, then those submittals that are "off the shelf" type items should get rubber stamped and not hold the job up. Technical reviews naturally require more time and 10 working days fits the bill for me. One of the problems contractors have is identifying what submittals are required. Also, contractors get do much layering (subcontrasctor under subcontractor, etc.) that by the time the submittal arrives at the Engineers desk for review, the timne allotted for the review process is near end or expired.
Set up a submittal matrix at the start of the project, categorize submittals into differing classes of review time required, i.e., calculations, shop drawings, product literature, etc., and have distribution matrix identify review individuals by name. Also allow electronic transmittals and acceptance criteria. Finally, we're all a "TEAM" so Project Managers should status the submittal list submittals by priority and follow-up weekly.


We usually specify 10 business days, which is about 2 weeks. I think for small to medium size projects seems to work. However I like the idea above to include it in our contract: "Architect to notify the contractor if the review would take more time". It gives the design team some flexibility, as most of the times the decisions involved different parties which can take a lot of time.
Thanks for starting a conversation on this topic. It is definitely very important.


We have set our contracts up to include an amendment from the CM which has been agreed to ahead of time by the design team for the time allowed for submittals. Due to the varying nature of submittals review based on complexity, we break them down by CSI and set up a time period for each submittal that is required. It can be somewhat cumbersome but a submittal list is generated anyway at some point during a project so why not do it at contract stage and take away the guesswork?


One form of contracting, water well drilling, reaches a critical point in a contract that requires an engineers or architect's approval of a proposed well construction. In this case the contractor can be sitting over an open borehole to maybe 1,000 ft. waiting for a PE to specify a screen slot size, which still has to be manufactred and brought to the site. Just two days lost in the review and approval process can hurt a water well contractor significantly. This is the 21st. Century. We answer E-mail with Blackberry's. If you know your stuff, you should be able to review a plan and approve it in hours, not days.


This is an important scheduling issue for all parties, and the AIA approach is completely inadequate. Contractor's may transmit many submittals at one time, such that it is literally impossible to respond on a timely basis. The architect may receive submittals that simply get put on a shelf because they are busy with other work. Submittals may be based on substitutes requiring time to research. Like any other part of the building process, submittals should be planned, scheduled and rational standards specified.


As owner's representatives, we typically require set periods of time for all submittals to be presented, and specific time periods in which the architect must respond. Complex or very custom items have custom submission requirements. Substitution review is carefully controlled and time is at the risk of the contractor. Time is to expensive for everybody to leave submittals as a loose end.

I strongly encourage that submittal review times be included in the specifications in Section 01 33 00 "Submittal Procedures." I always include this in the specifications I prepare for clients.


If the standard AIA A201-2007 "General Conditions of the Construction Contract" are used, then the contractor is required to prepare a submittal schedule (Section 3.10.2) and that it be coordinated with the construction schedule. I rarely see this done by the contractor and the architect usually doesn't enforce the requirement. But, this is the architect's tool to determine if the contractor has provided enough time for submittal reviews and that the contractor is not overloading the architect with submittals within a short period of time.

I state in my specifications that the contractor must include the specified time for two reviews of a submittal (initial submittal and one resubmittal). Additionally, the architect must stick to the timeframes that are specified.

If the contractor follows the specified schedule requirements but can't get a submittal approved in two tries, then they have no claim for a delay. The architect, on the other hand, has some responsibility, too. They should not reject submittals for minor corrections that can be "approved as noted."

Since you quote the AIA language as to 'reasonableness' you might also mention the contract requirement for the contractor to submit (and the Architect to review/approve) a Submittal Schedule within days of the start of a project. That Schedule puts all parties on notice as to what submittals are required, when they will be submitted and (together with the project Schedule) when they will be required 'so as not to delay' the Work. It is when this Submittal Schedule is first created and reviewed that the contractor(s) and designer(s) have an opportunity to discuss and agree on how simple or complex any given submittal might be, and how long it will take for the designers to review it. If the parties simply do what the contract requires, up front, most disputes surrounding submittal processing would be avoided.


In my experience there are three distinct problems the raise their heads with regularity. First, the contractor fails to prepare the submittals and submit them timely - putting undue pressure on the designers to review/approve in a shorter time than they planned and agreed on (thus being 'unreasonable' on the day submitted).

Second, the designers don't jump on the submittals as and when planned with either of two predictable results: a) they don't get returned in the 'reasonable' time frame anticipated by the Submittal Schedule, or; b) the designers take short-cuts or perform an incomplete review (the 'rubber stamping' one poster above suggested as acceptable) and something important is missed, leading to later disputes and claims.

Third, the submittals are put into processing timely, but they are (pick one or more) incomplete, inaccurate, don't conform to the plans/specs, are not first checked/coordinated by the GC prior to going to the designers, are 'copies' of submittals from other jobs and so are not suitable, don't include critical dimensions, are catalog pages without markings to show what specific item is to be provided, etc. etc. etc. In some instances the shortcomings are quickly resolved. However, in the more critical and complex submittals the improper package must be returned to the contractor for correction. In some cases the submittal is 're-worked' multiple times. Unless the Submittal Schedule allowed adequate time for such multiple turn-arounds, the eventual approval comes too late.

The best solution to the all-too-common finger pointing about belated submittal approvals is, as usual, communication and frank (honest) exchanges between the players.


The contract should have an exhibit for items needing a specific time allowances for review if more time than a default, of say 10 days, is needed. This could all be negotiated with the contractor before the contract is signed.


The problem is not just how long it takes to turn around a shop drawing, but how long it can take to turn around a series of shop drawings. I have never had any problem with a contract stating the amount of time a professional is expected to turn around a shop drawing.


Where I have run into trouble is when a contractor suddenly sends virtually every shop drawing for the entire project all at once. At that time I have about 3 weeks worth of work in front of me, and often only a few days to turn it around.

In the end, communication is really the key. If the contractor and engineer talk often regarding how long individual shop drawings will take to review and when they are needed in order to keep the project moving most issues should be easily avoided.

I'd agree that "communication is the key."


However, I am also tired of receiving submittals from the Contractor which have been stamped to indicate that getting everything right is solely the subcontractor's or supplier's responsibility. We now include text in our Submittals section stating that submittals received without prior review by the General Contractor will be returned without action. It usually only takes once to remind them that one purpose of shop drawings is to help them figure out what the parts look like, which they will be buying and/or putting together.

The thoughtful comments above indicate range of flexibility one needs as a construction professional, from a few hours or an approval of drilling equipment to weeks needed to substitute a specified major building element.


There comes a time where we all must admit that the competitive construction world occasionally requires collaboration to solve some of the complexities of our industry. We all collaborate, we hesitate to admit it, because we want to succeed in the competitive arena around us.

Trouble arises at both ends of the economic spectrum, overheated and overcooled markets. Now is a particularly dangerous time in an historically cold market. Way too much competition in the production side makes issues like submittal turnarounds wanting of normal collaboration. This is where our industry separates the skilled from the contentious professionals. Good contract language can recognize collaboration as one of the best practices of the parties.

I typically represent Owners, GCs or Subs, so you know what I think about the standard AIA documents. However, I have had some success in getting Architects to return submittals and/or respond to RFIs in 15 days, and at the same time get Owners to recognize delays when Architects take more than 15 days to return submittals or respond to RFIs, by using the language included in AIA A201, § 4.2.11 which states;


"The Architect will interpret and decide matters concerning performance under and requirements of, the Contract Documents on written request of either the Owner or Contractor. The Architect's response to such requests will be made in writing within any time limits agreed upon or otherwise with reasonable promptness. If no agreement is made concerning the time within which interpretations required of the Architect shall be furnished in compliance with this Section 4.2, then delay shall not be recognized on account of failure by the Architect to furnish such interpretations until 15 days after written request is made for them."

Also, I operate mostly in Massachusetts and fortunately we have a statute that allows no more than 30 days for responding to a submittal or RFIs.

In the past when I have done submittal review, the time for review and "when the clock began" were specified in the contract documents.


Normally, we processed the submittal review within 2-3 business days. On one project, our firm took over construction management from another firm which did not have complete records for the project. We notified the contractor of the situation in writing and that our firm would be using the maximum contract time per review until the situation was corrected. The contractor had to adjust their schedule accordingly until things smoothed out. I won't mention the numerous items the contractor had to correct through omissions and errors of both contractor and previous CM firm.

I remember once on a project the contractor would provide submittals that did not meet specifications, but were acceptable by building codes. I rejected submittals that did not meet specifications irregardless of the new codes as they were not part of the contract when it was bid, nor had the municipality updated the specifications used as mandated by the contract. I was berated by the contractor as being "picky and arbitrary,"and delaying their schedule. The fact remained the materials did not meet the contract specifications.

Every one above has very good comments. Contract language of course is the key issue.


We allow 10 working days for standard one-discipline review. The problem arises when multi-discipline reviews are required and when the consultant requires 10 working days.

We, generally, during pre-construction meeting let the contractor know that if any "hot" shop drawings, product data etc. is coming along that require shorter than normal turn around, that they should tag it accordingly so that we could prioritise and schedule it.

We also dictate that shop drawings should reflect the construction schedule, another words...don't send cabinet shop drawings when the building is not even framed.

Maybe it could be a percentage time of the delivery time of the material/equipment. Usually more commonly used material has shorter delivery time than special equipment and materials, custom-made air handlers for example. The effort of reviewing technical information could be somehow related with the fabrication time.


Dear Sir,


I believe 14 days are fair enough to review whatsoever the documents size and complexity. There should be enough resources with the Engineer to keep the Construction machine working otherwise the Project will turn to be studying no construction. In addition, 3 weeks may be more than enough but OK. This should be considered in All contracts if the Employer wants his Project to be fulfilled in its due time

Enforcement of the requirement for a submittal schedule is critical. The submittal schedule is the ONLY schedule an architect actually approves. That is due to the fact that the submittal schedule binds the architect to perform the submittal reviews per the schedule. The schedule should indicate when each submittal will be given to the architect and the duration for it's review. If the GC delivers the submittal late, then the delay is clearly his. Conversely the schedule should show if the GC intends to dump a mountain of submittals on the architect on day one - and if the architect can't dedicate that manpower he has the chance to revise the scheduled delivery of some or extend the review process. A well thought out and carefully negotiated submittal schedule has saved me many times. Without it you have allowed the GC to dictate your work load throughout the CA process.


A one size fits all time period is just silly. I can flip over a VCT submittal in a day but reviewing HVAC coordination shops will take far longer. Get the schedule, show every submittal on it and review and negotiate it carefully and reasonably - then perform in accordance with it.

How about tying the review to something else usually in the contract documents as well. Most contracts stipulate that the notification for a claim needs to be made X number of days from the identification of an event. Why can't the submittal turnaround time, especially as others have stated when they are standard/ off the shelf, be tied to the same number?


Sam and Howard hit on the essence of the solution having a schedule of submittals. To this I add CSU procedures that make everyone aware of the progress of submikttal review. For each Major Capital project at the Pre-Construction meeting we hand the GC a complete submittal log (hard copy and electronic this takes a week of staff time but well worth it). We also remind the GC of the general conditions requirement that all submittals to be in within 100 days. The implication is that coordination issues which arise from submittals after 100 days are the GCs problem. At each weekly owners meeting submittal status is reviewed with GC and A/E. No system is fool proof but being proactive has made a big difference on our projects.


One way to manage this difficult situation is, at the beginning of the Construction Period, to require from the GC that the project schedule includes the submittal review as one activity in the schedule. The schedule has to have the Critical Path defined properly. The limitation here is the understanding of scheduling practices by both the GC and the A/E. Of course, one risk of this approach is that if the A/E signs off on the schedule without understanding it properly, the A/E commits itself to the turn around time set on the schedule. Whta it does, however, is allow the A/E to progrma the activity within its organization so that the priompt turned around is acheived. One key element I have found to be effective is to establishe two ground rule for submittla process: 1) only accept submmitalls from the GC and at the project meetings which I prescribe to be weekly. 2) review degree of completeness of the the submittals at the meeting. These do two things for me. 1) It controls the flow in taht I do not receive anything form suppliers or subs givning entire control to the GC. 2) What is deemed incomplete durng the meeting review is recorded in the meeting record and left in the GC hands to complete and thus I do not waste time in reviewing to mark it "revise and resubnmit".


A great range of thoughful comments everyone. As an Owner's Rep and Architect in the public sector, I subscribe to the matrix showing submittals that are required; these can also be used for tracking submittal and approval dates and status - an excel spreadsheet works well if you don't have CM software. It seems that I must ask the A/E for this schedule every time I set the date for a Pre-Construction meeting, then there's a delay while they put it together. A/E's should prepare this while they are writing the specs! It can be inserted in the bid documents, where peculiar situations such as lenthy review or early submittal requirements can be noted. (Didn't Master Specs used to do this list automatically?) 
One thing not mentioned above - in today's economic environment, materials are taking longer to deliver; equipment is often not in stock; manufacturers are short handed and taking more time to produce engineered shop drawings. If contractors are not prompt about submittals, the above procurement delays can affect the construction schedule.


Finally, if you aren't reviewing shop drawings electronically, you are missing out on a lot of savings! Time and money can be saved by emailing submittals in PDF format or posting them to web sites rather than printing & mailing. Distribution to all concerned parties can be done automatically. And at the end of the job, most of the work involved in preparing O&M manuals is already done.



I couldn't resist commenting. Well written!
Posted by: Baughman - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 5:54 AM


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