Requests for information (RFIs) are commonly used in construction to clarify plans, specifications or other contract documents. Concrete contractors can use RFIs to cite plan or specification requirements that are unclear.
But sometimes the contractor believes that following the plans or specifications may not satisfy the owner’s performance expectations. Reasons for failure to satisfy the owner’s performance expectations may include out-of-joint cracking in slabs-on-ground, excessive deflection of elevated slabs or problems related to aesthetics of the completed structure.
A successful outcome of an RFI that identifies problematic construction documents depends on:
- Knowing administrative procedures for RFIs, which should be established in a preconstruction meeting.
- Citing specific portions of plans, specifications or both that are the subject of the request.
- Quoting excerpts from concrete industry standards or guides needed to clarify unclear portions or better define the owner’s expectations.
In some cases, the owner defines and details the Request for Information process. In addition to clarifying plans and specifications, the owner may allow RFIs to request approval for minor deviations from contract requirements that do not involve any time or cost adjustment, and to obtain directions on how to proceed when there are conflicting contract requirements. Some owners have a standard RFI form to be used by the contractor. The form includes references to drawings or specifications, a description of the information needed and a section for the response.
Concrete subcontractors needing additional information from the design professional are usually instructed to submit RFIs to the general contractor (GC) or the construction manager (CM). The GC or CM is responsible for reviewing and responding, or obtaining the required RFI response from the appropriate staff member for the design professional. It’s important to follow this RFI hierarchy rather than submitting the requests directly to an engineer or architect.
The need for specificity
The reference to drawings, specifications or both should be as specific as possible. Referencing specification sections and drawing numbers (as well as details on the drawing and column lines, or other identifiers) helps to pinpoint the parts of the contract documents that may lead to owner’s performance expectations not being met. Vague or nonexistent references to the plans or specifications are likely to result in the concrete subcontractor being asked to clarify the request or resubmit a revised RFI. This wastes time and may also impact the project schedule. Do it once and do it right is the plan.
Using industry documents
When the problem is related to clarity of requirements, citing industry documents such as those from ASTM International (ASTM) and the American Concrete Institute (ACI) can help to resolve ambiguity. For instance, one specification for a floor to be covered with sheet vinyl stated that troweled finish floors shall not be below FF35/FL30.
In the RFI, the concrete contractor stated that ACI 117, ACI 301 and ACI 302 use the description of Specified Overall Values (SOV) and Minimum Local Values (MLV) for the specification of F-numbers. ACI 302 indicates that FF35/FL30 as a SOV is appropriate for floors to receive vinyl flooring. ACI 117, ACI 301 and ACI 302 indicate that the MLV should be 3/5 of the SOV. In addition, the contractor pointed out that ASTM E 1155, which was referenced in the project specifications, states that the report will list the calculated overall F-number results for the entire test surface (Section 10.4). Based on these ACI documents and the ASTM standard, the contractor’s RFI stated the belief that the intent of the specification for the concrete to receive vinyl flooring was to have specified overall values (SOV) of FF35/FL30. The RFI resulted in the design professional concurring with the contractor’s interpretation.