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Guide To Writing an Effective Construction RFI

Because in construction every question matters.

One of the most basic concepts of construction project management is the concept of an RFI (Request for Information). Information flow is a critical part of any construction project. The primary means of asking a question and getting information from other parties on a construction project is by issuing an RFI (request for information).

Whether you are a subcontractor, contractor, supplier or other member of a project, writing a clear question can mean the difference of getting information in a timely manner or not. Let’s start by defining what RFI means?

R.F.I. = Request For Information

Now that we understand what the term RFI means, let’s continue with defining what an RFI actually is. So what is an RFI?

What is a Construction RFI?

An RFI (request for information) is a formal way of documenting a request for additional information required in order to complete a project or specific task on a construction project. A request for information is a question or statement that typically asks the another party for information that cannot be found elsewhere on the project contract documents.

It can be issued via a document control system, email, fax, letter or on site by anyone involved with the project.

To state it simply – an RFI is the formal and industry standard way to ask a question on any construction project.

With the definition of an RFI behind us you may be asking yourself what exactly you can use an RFI for?

An RFI Has Multiple Uses On a Project

The way an RFI is used on your project will depend entirely on the situation you find yourself in. An RFI can be used for the following:

  • To ask a question
  • To verify a statement or verify a missing part of the contract documents
  • To identify an issue
  • To initiate a change
  • To document information previously provided

Let’s walk through each of the above with a few examples:

To Ask A Question

What colour should the washroom walls be?

Does the carpet continue into the reception room?

Where does the mechanical unit go?

What height should the ceiling be installed at?

To Verify Information In The Contract Documents

Confirm the ceiling is supposed to be installed at 10’6″.

Please provide spec section 7400 – missing in spec but called for in table of contents

Verify that the attached demolition procedure is acceptable.

Confirm there are only two washroom partitions on the ground floor.

Identify An Issue

Ductwork and lighting will prevent the ceiling from being installed at 10’6″.

Spec section 7400 and room finish schedule call for different finishes on the concrete finishing

The dimensions of the existing stair do not match those noted in the drawings.

The dimensions in the drawing X+Y do not add up to the total noted on the drawings.

To Initiate A Change

Please provide section 07400 – A CCN will be required in order to accept it as part of the contract documents.

No floor finish is called for in the bedroom, is it required and if so please provide a change notice.

Installing the ceiling at 9’0 will not achieve the design intent. Please confirm if the ceiling was supposed to be installed at 10′ and if so please provide a change.

Owner requested walls to be painted white – they have already been painted black per the drawings. Please provide a change.

To Document Information Already Provided

Per our site walk on X date – ceiling is to be installed at 10’6″ – bulkheads are to be created at light fixtures.

Per our phone conversation on X date all carpeting is to be green.

As discussed during our on site meeting dimension of stairwell to be minimum 1100mm.

As noted on X date during site review section 7400 is not applicable to the project.

As you can see from the above examples there are many ways that an RFI can be useful to you as a contractor or subtrade on a project. So what is the correct way to issue an RFI on your project?

How Do I Issue An RFI?

There are a number of steps when it comes to issuing an RFI. The steps to issuing an RFI include:

  1. Understand your problem
  2. Create a clear and legible title
  3. Assign a person responsible and distribution list
  4. Write A Clear and Concise Question
  5. Include attachments
  6. Include a due date

The first step in issuing an RFI needs to be understanding your problem. RFI’s are often used by sh**y contractors as a way of avoiding effort. Asking a question that is already answered in the documents is one of the fastest ways to make a consultant hate you.

RFI’s should never be issued because you are too lazy to look up information in the drawings or specifications. Do your homework first!

Start by reviewing the contract documents thoroughly, including the plans, details, schedules and specifications. Once you’re confident that the answer doesn’t exist elsewhere begin the process of preparing an RFI and move on to step TWO.

STEP TWO – Create a Clear and Legible Title

Too often do I see generic titles which provide no context of what the actual RFI is about. Below are some examples on how I would change specific details in order to make them more descriptive. Not only does this provide more information assigned to respond to the question but also provides you with more description if you need to go back to it in the future.

Original – Plumbing Riser

Revised – Plumbing Riser Size Confirmation at Grids A/5

Original – Beam Repair

Revised – Confirmation on extent of beam repair on floor 3

Original – Paint Colour

Revised – Paint type PT-7 – Confirmation of paint colour

As you can see in each of the above cases the RFI title was changed slightly in order to make it more clear and help the reader to understand the intent of the question. Practicing this will help to improve on the turnaround time of your RFIs.

STEP THREE – Assign a Person Responsible But Don’t Just Forward the RFI to One Person

Assigning the RFI correctly can be just as important as asking the correct question. It doesn’t make any sense to be issuing a mechanical RFI to the structural engineer.

Make certain that it is clear who the RFI is assigned to but, don’t just forward to a single individual. Coordination is part of construction project management. To help coordinate, send your RFI to groups of people that all need to be informed by it’s impact. If the RFI is structural in nature but could impact the routing of conduit or light fixture placement make sure the electrical engineer is on it as are the applicable trades.

There is no shame in making sure people are informed on a construction project.

STEP FOUR – Write a Clear and Concise Question

The foundation of a request for information in construction is the question itself. Your question should be to the point and specific but here’s just a few more tips:

  • Does the question provide the person answering the question with the information they need.
  • Include drawing references
  • Include previous RFI references if applicable
  • Reference submittal or material types
  • Reference grid line location or floors
  • Keep the question simple – don’t get wordy and avoid fancy construction lingo if possible
  • Keep the question professional – don’t let your frustration get in the way of asking the correct question

Following each of the above will help you to ask the right question and will help to make RFI turnaround time faster and easier for consultants.

STEP FIVE – Include Attachments

Include anything that will help to make answering the question easier, there are a variety of different things you could attach but here are just a few examples:

  • Drawing highlighted or clouded
  • Photos of site conditions
  • Existing Building drawings
  • Email communications
  • Cutsheets or shop drawing references
  • Survey results or details

Attachments help to illustrate or make someone’s understanding of the problem more clear. The more information you can provide someone with the easier time they will have in understanding what the problem actually is.

STEP SIX – Include a Due Date

As with anything on a large project each issue has its own individual timing requirements. If the item isn’t urgent and you have time to wait on an answer give the consultants time. If it’s urgent make sure the due date is reflective of that.

Ultimately the timing of your RFI’s on the project is going to be dictated by your master schedule. Don’t have one yet? Maybe consider reading up on our Construction Scheduling article.

Everyone deserves and appreciates extra time – plan ahead and don’t treat everything as urgent in nature.

Distributing Your RFI

After you’ve compiled your RFI it’s time to issue it to the consultants or owner. In days before computers this used to be done using hardcopies (yes really). Faxes and letters were physically issued to the consulting team. This – obviously, was a slow and time consuming process. Fortunately new technology has made the process of issuing an RFI easier.

RFIs can be issued using the following methods:

  • Hardcopy
  • Email
  • On site (in person)
  • Project Management Software

Hardcopy – you can issue hardcopies of RFI’s to consultants. In areas where internet isn’t widely available this may be your only option. Printing RFI’s having them reviewed while consultants on site, sending faxes or mailing them. This is the slowest option.

Email –one of the most common ways of processing RFI’s. You can issue them in the body of the email or issue them as an attached word document or pdf. When issuing RFI’s via email try to standardize the format and the subject line. For example:

  • JOB NAME – RFI # – RFI SUBJECT

By standardizing the subject you can make tracking them easier. To make your life easier we have an RFI template available for your use.

RFI Template

RFI Template

Get the free RFI template for your project.

On Site (In Person) – One of my favourite ways to ask questions is through site visits with the consultants. By walking with an architect or engineer you can more easily explain the issue you’re facing . This allows you to build rapport with the individuals and avoids back and forth emails.

After you get your answer using this method make sure to document the answer via email.

Project Management Platform – there are many different project management platforms available such as Procore, Geniebelt, Plangrid, BIM360 etc. These platforms are intended to make your life easier and manage communications. These platforms allow you to pin RFI’s on drawings and use pre-built forms to standardize information being provided to the project team.

Whichever method you choose to issue your RFI it’s important to standardize the way you do so and stick to one or two methods the entire project.

How Can I Manage Multiple RFI’s?

Now that you’ve issued an RFI – of equal importance is managing them. RFI’s can quickly add up on a project and create a back log for consultants. To avoid track RFI’s and regularly reinforcing their importance of getting answers.

Before you begin to manage your RFI’s it’s important to understand what your consultants are responsible for. What is the standard turnaround time on an RFI?

The time for consultants to answer an RFI is typically 10 working days, though this may be different. Check your contract for project specific turn around times.

Keep in mind 10 working days is the turn around time for all consultants to get the answer to you.

To help manage the process of an RFI consider developing an RFI workflow at the start of the job. An RFI workflow documents the standard steps in issuing an RFI and the next steps to take after each decision is made. We have an RFI workflow template for you to make this process easier.

Creating a log is also a useful exercise to help track RFIs. An RFI tracking log lists all of your RFIs, the date they are issued, and when they are due. The RFI tracking log also provides a way to track whos court each RFI is in, this allows you to more easily follow up with the appropriate individual.

A recommendation would be to set up a weekly meeting with all people responsible for RFI’s. Use this meeting to get answers and follow up with each party on RFI’s in their court.

Templates and Other Resources

I hope you have learned alot about issuing RFI’s on a construction site.

Below you will find some additional resources on this subject for you to use. If there are any additional questions or comments please don’t hesitate to contact us at webmail@cnstrcr.com

9 thoughts on “Guide To Writing an Effective Construction RFI”

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