Do Architects work long hours? Of course they do – but just about anybody in a professional role works long hours so there isn’t anything specifically interesting or useful in that statement so I thought I would take one of my days last week and break it down for you. I chose this particular day because I was chatting with a colleague who told me that after 5 years of experience, they still had never had the responsibility to “punch out” a building. For those who might not know, punching out a building, or creating a “punch list” is something that happens on all of my projects just before the owner (or client) takes possession of the building from the contractor. Our objective is to identify all the things that are incomplete or in an unacceptable condition and assemble that information in a format that allows the contractor to know what our expectations are for the finished project. Completing this punch list is also the thing that typically signifies the moment when any retainage on the project is released to the contractor – which is no small incentive.
Today’s post is a walk-through of one of my days last week which will hopefully make the delivery of this information slightly more entertaining.
The process and time needed to create a punch list can vary wildly and since the vast majority of my projects include ongoing involvement during the construction process, so we have essentially been creating a new punch list every time we are on-site with the contractor. This particular project is roughly 12,000 square feet and for today’s purposes, we are only focused on the interiors. For this reason, we estimated that it would take us somewhere in the 6-hour range to walk the project and record any deficiencies we could find. Adding to the overall length of this day is that this project is not in my town and is approximately a 4-hour drive away. Since we wanted to get everything done in a single trip, we had to start early and I was up at the office by 5:15 am to take care of a few items before I spent the entire day out of the office.
This is a project from my previous place of employment and I still have Landon Williams working in the role of Project Architect, and in this capacity, it was the two of us making this trip to San Marcos, Texas. I told Landon that I was going to attempt to keep track of our activities during this day which required a “group” shot in Landon’s car on the drive … we clearly both are fans of taking selfies.
After a 6:00 am departure time, we rolled up to the site around 9:45 am. We had to make a quick stop at a paint supply store to pick up several rolls of blue painters tape – a critical element to my process of punching out a space. We write everything down but in addition, we will put a piece of tape on the item we identify so there isn’t any confusion as to the locations we record. I also take photos of the spaces as we move through them. I generally do this (take photos) every time I walk a project as a record of the progress but when it specifically comes to punch lists, it’s a good idea to take some sweeping shots just to record where all the pieces of tape are located.
In the image above, you can see an example of what I mean. This is in a bullpen workspace and I have put a red circle around all the pieces of blue tape that are in this image. There are a myriad of issues in this particular view, but most have to do with the millwork and the countertops. I have a certain internal rule I try to use consistently when documenting punch lists – and since I have used this rule for almost 25 years now, I think I am pretty fair in its application. When examining the quality of the delivered product or its installation, and since we are not paying for perfection, we shouldn’t expect that quality level. What I look for are indications that someone was sloppy or careless in the execution – if it looks like a mistake I’m going to put it on my list.
As we walk the project, we record in each space, based on its identifying marker in the construction drawings, all of the items that we feel need additional attention and when the punch list becomes codified, you will see a listing of the space being discussed, a list of standard comments (typically designated with a number to avoid writing down the same comment on every single space) and a handful of special issues with this particular room. Take a look at this example:
The punch list for this particular project ended up around 9 pages long and only included the interior space. This particular contractor did a nice job and for the most part, most of the items on our list were in the process of being taken care of as we were actually creating the list. One of the things that happen when you punch out a building that has a certain amount of repetition to the space (for example, this is an eye clinic and there are three corridors of examination rooms) is that you will start to see that one batch of rooms was built out better than another – which suggests that there were more than 1 crew doing the work. We would find that one wing had very few comments regarding the rubber base installation and then once we moved onto a new run of examination rooms, every space had the same issues. For this reason, I am a fan of using legends to identify items because they tend to come in bunches.
It is not uncommon that our clients participate in the punch list process. While I don’t believe that this is typical, something that I’ve found over the years is that having them participate provides all sorts of added benefits. First and foremost it allows us to explain what will make the list and what will not – a conversation that is much easier to have when you are standing in the hallway pointing at a gap in the door frame and explaining acceptable construction tolerances. Another benefit is that the client has an opportunity to have their voice included in the process. When we stopped for rolls of blue painters tape, we bought three … one for me, one for Landon, and one for the client. Anything they see that they don’t like we encourage them to put some tape on it.
So now we’ve been at this for about 4 hours and I have a conference call to join so I bail out of the process and jump on the phone for about 30 minutes. It is rare these days that I can actually be out of the office for an entire day without some other project or responsibility popping up on my to-do list.
Since we were on site, we took this opportunity to have our weekly OAC (Owner, Architect, Contractor) meeting in the break room of our project rather than in the conference room of the contractor’s office.
While this project has gone pretty well, that does not mean that there have not been issues along the way. There were a handful of items on the “unresolved” list, most of which had to do with the contractor asking for more money for what they considered additional services. I didn’t agree with their position and so we had to have a conversation about these items and as we finished our chat, my watch was buzzing so I looked down and saw the above message … pretty funny, right?!?
So after the OAC meeting, Landon and I had to do a walk around the project (I took photos and Landon checked on the progress of the punch list from the shell building walk-through) and we kept at this until we felt that it was time to wrap things up. The project superintendent had to wait around on us to wrap up our business so he could lock the building up and while he was pleasant and told us to take all the time we needed, we started to feel like it was time to hit the road – approximately 8 hours after we had arrived on site.
After dinner, Landon and I jumped in the car to begin the drive back to Dallas. It was almost 8:00 pm and we have a 4-hour drive in front of us. A quick check of the road and traffic conditions and we are off! Back when I still worked in this office, I would typically drive but since I’ve left, I don’t actually bill any of my time back to the client (consider it my way of making up for the fact that I left in the first place) and so now I make Landon do the driving.
We arrive back to where my day started – the parking garage at my office – just before midnight. On this particular day, I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Landon drops me off and we both head off to our respective homes.
I walk into my house at exactly 12:20:41 am – exactly nineteen hours, 50 minutes and 41 seconds (give or take) from when I woke up the previous morning.
This was about as long a day as I ever have, a day that would be considerably shorter if it did not include 8 hours of driving time. These sorts of day, or their lengths, do not phase me in the slightest. While I’m sure my family would prefer to have me at home (hopefully) I did not feel particularly burdened or taxed on this particular day. This is a great project, we had a good contractor, the clients have been amazing, and the team I’ve worked with have treated this project as their own. I’m not sure what more you could (reasonably) hope for and I know that my attitude towards this project makes a difference on these days when one member of that list of people are being particularly frustrating.
The act of creating a punch list can be intrinsically fraught with combative interpretations – but hopefully, the relationship you’ve been building since construction started will help bridge these moments when people disagree. I tend to believe that I have not been a disagreeable person along the way so that now when I point out an issue, I don’t have a reputation for being unreasonable and hopefully this translates into a more collaborative exchange when the time comes to resolve issues. Just something to keep in mind.
Happy building punch out.