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A punch list

What is a punch list - and best practices for contractors

By Yves Frinault, Co-Founder and CEO of Fieldwire


What is a punch list? A punch list, according to the online Business Dictionary, is “a document listing work that does not conform to contract specifications, usually attached to a certificate of substantial completion.” Put simply, it is a list of to-do’s that need to be completed before a project can be considered finished.

Now that we’ve covered the punch list definition, it’s perhaps more important to understand how they’re used. Punch lists are commonly tackled towards the end of a project when deadlines and tight and workers are exhausted. Which, in turn, increases error and prolongs project turnover. Answering the question, “what is a punch list?” isn’t quite so simple, as there are multiple types of punch lists, and debate over which is the most effective.

One punch list best practice is the ‘rolling punch list;’ a real-time log of punch list items that develops as deficiencies arise. According to Michael Clippinger, the National Director of Quality at JE Dunn, an ENR Contractor of the Year, “a rolling punch list is the most common approach toward achieving the ultimate zero-punch list goal.” A zero punch list indicates that there is no outstanding punch list work at the time of project completion. For this to occur, effective planning, project management, and transparent communication is required.

No matter whether you’re working from a rolling punch list or working towards a zero punch list goal, everyone — from the general contractor to various subcontractors — must understand their role in the punch list process. While there are some typical punch list items, there is no ‘general punch list guidebook,’ but rather a set of punch list best practices for each unique contractor to follow…


When the general contractor starts a project, they should also start a punch list. It can become like a punch list checklist. Anytime they walk through a site and notice a defect, it should be documented immediately for future discussion with the owner and/or specialty contractors. Instead of waiting until the end of a project to communicate punch list items, the general contractor should produce punch list reports that are automatically sent to each specialty contractor on a given day, week, or month. Construction punch list software makes this process easy. From any device in the field, a general contractor can annotate site issues on the fly to create a project punch list and tag specific trades. They can instantly generate a trade-specific punch list report or construction daily report and send it to each specialty contractor in just a few clicks. Repeating this process regularly will help general contractors reach project close out faster because the more punch list items they tackle now, the less there is to do later.

For the punch list process to be effective, there must be clear and consistent communication between the general contractor and specialty contractors. General contractors should implement construction punch list software that allows them to generate punch lists on the fly for specialty contractors to see in real-time. This process is far more efficient than having to manually take notes during site walk-throughs, type them up, and attach them to an email for subcontractors back in the office.


The specialty contractor must resolve punch list items on a construction punch list. It is their job to get in and do the actual work in an efficient manner to streamline project close out. Specialty contractors must ensure that the work they do complies with drawing specifications set by the architect or design team to avoid unnecessary rework or conflict. For this reason, subcontractors must clearly understand what to do — when, where, and why — to stay within contract scope and budget. In one study, Bent Flyvbjerg, an expert in project management at Oxford’s business school, said: “It is estimated that nine out of ten construction mega-projects run over budget.”

Additionally, a study by the Navigant Construction Forum states “average rework on projects can cost between 7.3 percent and 10.9 percent of total construction cost s.” One of the major causes of rework in construction, according to Jim Rogers, is workers in the field not having the information they need to resolve a contractor punch list correctly the first time. He said: “Plan changes, updates, clarifications, and submittals that occur throughout the building phase of a project create a constant challenge in terms of ensuring that the latest information gets in the hands of the people that need it in a timely manner.” For subcontractors to have access to the information they need at all times, construction punch list software should be used to bring jobsite data and teams together, in one place.

Luckily, technology has advanced in a way that makes the punch process a breeze for specialty contractors. For example, when a punch list item is assigned to a specialty contractor in the field, they can now be notified in real-time via an app. From the smartphone or tablet in their pocket, they can open the punch list item, see the exact location of it on a plan, the man-hours required, and a due date. As they work to resolve the punch list item, the subcontractor can send messages, photos, and videos to the general contractor (using the same app). This way, punch list items are resolved efficiently, everyone remains on the same page, and there is no need for back-and-forth emails between the various parties to communicate change.


Besides what has been explained above, there are several other use cases for punch lists on a jobsite. These include daily box meetings where the entire project team reviews what work they need to do that day, and universal quality control to maintain a common standard across the entire project. No one should be asking “what is a punch list?” Instead, the entire team should be on the same page, and clear as to their responsibilities and expectations.

Now that we know exactly what a punch list is, we can understand its importance, and how it might become a hassle on big projects. Luckily, Fieldwire’s punch list app brings both speed, structure, and confidence to your closeout process so that you can focus on the next big thing. Try the app for free today!


Yves Frinault is a French entrepreneur and the Co-Founder & CEO of Fieldwire, a field management platform powering more than 450,000 construction projects worldwide. Yves is a graduate from the Ecole Polytechnique as well Stanford University where he holds an M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Prior to Fieldwire, where he oversees strategy, product development, and engineering, Yves held leadership roles in the consumer software industry at Ubisoft, where he led development teams.

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