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What is a Construction Punch List?

Discovering how contractors meet owner requirements.

Near the end of a construction project, team members inspect the work to ensure that it meets the contract and the owner’s requirements. A list of deficient items is created for the contractor to address before the project is considered finished and the contract closed out. This list is called a punch list. These lists are important for contractors because they often hold the key to receiving final payment from the owner and the general contractor. 

What is a punch list in construction?

In construction, a punch list is a list of work that has not been completed, is not up to the quality of the specifications, or that has been damaged during the construction process and needs to be fixed, repaired, or replaced. Usually, the items are minor things that were overlooked when the bulk of the work was being performed. The work listed on the punch list needs to be completed prior to the release of the project’s final payment and/or owner occupancy.

Punch lists are usually created at the end of a project when most of the work has been completed. However, lists may also be created at the end of a project phase or sooner. Often the timing for punch list creation is specified in the contract documents.

A punch list item is a specific task or work item that needs to be completed or corrected. Each item will include the following information:

  • Location in the project (room, area, building)
  • Description of work to be completed or performed
  • Assigned contractor(s) or subcontractor(s)

Here are some examples of punch list items:

  • Living room – Paint touch up – Painting subcontractor
  • Room 200 – Missing light switch cover plate – Electrician
  • Apartment 310, master bedroom – Door not level – Finish carpenter

Final payment to the general contractor and their subcontractors is often dependent on completion of the punch list items, so it is important that this list is communicated and items are followed up on to avoid payment delays.

Retainage, funds held back from each project payment, are often used to fund punch list work and are held with the specific purpose of ensuring that all the work is completed to the owner’s satisfaction before final payment is made. 

When are construction punch lists typically executed?

A contractor punch list is usually created when the project reaches substantial completion, or a majority of the work has been completed. The punch list walk-through is often the last task before the owner takes occupancy. A punch list can also be created for each phase in a large project as construction is completed.

The punch list walk-through often includes the project owner, general contractor, and the architect or engineer. They walk through the project site noting items or work that isn’t complete or doesn’t meet the contract requirements as spelled out in the drawings and specifications.

Most punch list items are minor repairs or missing items. Most of the major changes to the work should have been handled through change orders earlier in the project. However, it is not uncommon for owners to change their minds at the last minute once they see the finished product. So, contractors have to be ready to respond to these requested changes, even at the end of a project.

Ultimately the general contractor is responsible for completing all the items on the punch list, but they generally rely on their subcontractors to complete the necessary trade work. Once in a while, if a subcontractor cannot or will not complete the requested repairs, the general contractor may have to bring in another subcontractor to finish the project. This can be costly and is avoided if at all possible.

Once the items have been completed, the project owner, general contractor, and architect or engineer do a final walk through to ensure and document that all items have been completed. If everything has been corrected as required, the owner signs off on the list as complete, the project is officially complete, and final payment is made.

Who’s responsible for construction punch list items?

Punch list items are assigned to specific contractors or subcontractors based on the work that needs to be completed. Sometimes items may require the work of multiple subcontractors, and the general contractor is responsible for coordinating the work. The general contractor has ultimate responsibility for completion of the list, so they must work with their subcontractors to schedule each item’s completion as promptly as possible.

On rare occasions, there may be outstanding items that cannot be completed at the time the project is ending. This may be due to scheduling or weather conditions. For example, final paving and striping of a parking lot may have to wait until warmer temperatures. This remaining work should be noted on the punch list as outstanding and tracked until it can be scheduled.

Punch list items are not considered complete until they are accepted by the architect or engineer and the project owner.

Using technology to manage your punch lists

As technology is becoming more accepted and accessible in the construction industry, contractors are becoming more adept at using software and mobile hardware to create and manage punch lists. In a recent Autodesk/Dodge survey, 70% of general contractors said they use software to help them manage punch list items. 

Using technology and software can help make task assignments clear, remind subcontractors of outstanding work, and help speed up completion of the work. When everyone has a clear understanding of what they are responsible for and the timeline the work needs to be completed in, they can be more efficient, which saves everyone time and money.

Some of the key tools contractors are using to manage their punch lists are:

  • Cloud-based punch list management software
  • Mobile-friendly technology for tablets and smartphones
  • Photos to document deficiencies and to show that work has been completed
  • Bar codes that correspond to specific punch list items and allow comments, discussion, and photos to be uploaded to each item

Punch list completion is crucial to finishing a project and ensuring that the owner is satisfied with the work performed. Contractors need to be efficient with their management of these lists, as the work can extend on for months, as contractors get busy with new work. Using technology to create and manage a punch list can help ensure everyone gets the work done promptly.


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