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How to Write an Effective Request for Information in Construction

How to Write an Effective Request for Information in Construction

November 6, 2020

Clear and effective communication is very important in construction. If all construction participants are on the same page, a construction project is more likely to go smoothly and issues encountered in the process will be sorted out accordingly.

One of the most important documents in construction that facilitate communication among construction parties is the Request for Information or RFI. This document is often served between a contractor and an owner, and can also be delivered by a subcontractor or a supplier to a prime contractor.

RFIs can be time-consuming to deal with, but every construction participant must know how to write and respond to an RFI to enjoy the benefits of using one. This guide answers frequently asked questions about RFIs in construction and offers tips on writing a professional and effective Request for Information.

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What is an RFI in construction?

A Request for Information in construction is a document that lets one construction project participant obtain relevant pieces of information from another participant. The pieces of information requested are usually related to the job itself.

The parties requesting information may be the property owners, contractors, subcontractors, or material suppliers. For example, an owner may send an RFI to ask potential contractors how they can address a specific issue. A contractor or a subcontractor may also use an RFI to get more details from a higher-tier party regarding design clarifications after the construction has already started.

What are the different types of RFI in construction?

The different types of RFI may be categorized according to the issues that typically call for more details, further clarifications, or specific project solutions.

RFIs concerning design

RFIs related to design are very common in construction. These RFIs are usually served to clarify certain issues regarding the design plans provided to a contractor, or they can be sent to request design modifications to the existing plans.

RFIs in aid of project coordination

Some gaps in information may be related to the actual project plan, including some concerns about schedules, safety items, and other construction procedures. A work plan may be incomplete, for instance, and a contractor may want to know the specific timeline from beginning to completion. Certain details, including the names and addresses of the property owners, may also be requested.

RFIs regarding site condition mismatches

Sometimes the designs provided to contractors and subcontractors may not be exactly applicable to the project site. This problem often comes up as the parties on the ground may find feasibility issues that were not identified during the design process. In this case, an RFI is needed to clarify the concerns and work towards a solution.

Requests for changes

In construction, plans may change even after a project has commenced. Suppliers may find cheaper materials, for example, or engineers can come up with a more cost-effective plan that will not require a complete overhaul. An RFI may be served to request approval before substitutions are made.

How is an RFI different from other types of construction queries?

An RFI is just one of the many types of technical queries in construction. Other types include the Request for Proposal (RFP), the Request for Quotation (RFQ), and the Request for Tender (RFT).

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A Request for Proposal asks for a detailed plan on how to complete a project. An RFP is usually served by a client or a property owner on potential contractors and suppliers, then the contractors and suppliers submit a formal plan that presents their expertise and specific plans as a response.

Meanwhile, a Request for Quotation is a request for prices. Say, when a property owner wants to know how much a specific material or service costs, they will send out an RFP, and you can respond with a detailed costing for the said services.

A Request for Tender is similar to a Request for Proposal, but it is even more detailed and is usually legally binding. A tender call is usually sent out by property owners or public offices when design details have already been sorted out and the contract terms have been set.

An RFI is different from all these other queries as it is usually needed when not a lot of information is available. It is served when issues have been found and solutions are yet to be figured out, or when there are certain details that a participant must have before they can proceed with their work.

Note that compared to the other queries, an RFI is generally informal and the turnaround time for the response is much shorter, typically about 10 days.

Why are RFIs important in construction?

RFIs are important because they facilitate an effective exchange of information during the course of a construction project. Disputes often come up due to failures in communication, so RFIs minimize the risk of potential issues by establishing clear communication lines among parties.

Furthermore, RFIs are one way to put all communication exchanges in writing. No verbal or written communication is perfect, but it is always best practice to formalize an exchange of ideas on paper.

RFIs are also very important in collecting the necessary information that you may need for preparing lien-related documents such as the preliminary notice and the mechanics lien itself. A construction participant can gather details such as the name and address of the property owner or the name and contact information of the construction lender by serving a higher-tier party with an RFI.

How are RFIs relevant to the mechanics lien process?

As mentioned, a potential lien claimant may send an RFI to a higher-tier party to learn more about the project. It is usually sub-tier contractors (e.g., subcontractors and material suppliers) who utilize RFIs to ask their general contractor for specific project details.

The details that you can request through an RFI are ones that can help you complete your preliminary notices or mechanics lien forms. It can also be details that can help you track your deadlines.

For instance, there are states that require a preliminary notice depending on when the Notice of Commencement has been filed. You may send an RFI to request a copy of the Notice of Commencement and plan your deadlines and other lien-related requirements based on the information that you receive.

These are just some of the pieces of information that you can request through an RFI and can help you fulfill requirements for the mechanics lien process:

  • the name and address of the property owner, general contractor, surety, or construction lender
  • a copy of the Notice of Commencement
  • a copy of the surety bond for the project
  • the legal property description of the property

Construction RFI and mechanics lien

What details should be written on an RFI?

Every RFI template may be different, but an effective one usually contains the following details:

  • RFI title
    This is a brief description of the nature of the request.
  • Name, address, title and other details of the party asking for information
    These are the basic details that introduce the party looking for information (e.g., name, title, address, business name, etc.)
  • Project details
    These are the details about the project that is related to the request (e.g., standard specifications of the components, design dimensions, etc.)
  • Important dates and deadlines
    The most important dates include the date when the RFI is being served and the date by which the response must be received by the requestor. The usual turnaround time for responding to an RFI is within 10 days of receipt.
  • A description of the information being requested
    This is the problem description, or the description that explains the nature of the request and specifically identifies what type of information is needed. Note that the requestor is advised to also provide suggested solutions, if available.
  • Supporting documents
    These documents may be site photos, design drawings, and other supporting files that can communicate the concern better to whoever is intended to receive the RFI.

How to write and send a construction RFI

1. Define your objective for writing an RFI

When writing an RFI, it is best practice to stick to one query per document. One RFI must, therefore, have a clear concern. Before you begin building your RFI, ask what specific issue you are trying to solve and what kinds of information you need in order to solve those issues.

You can be a property owner looking for potential solutions to a construction issue, or you can be a contractor trying to request more information as you were given an incomplete design plan. You may also be a subcontractor asking the general contractor for details about the contact information of the property owner, which you may subsequently need when filling out your mechanics lien form.

Be clear with your goal and what details you need from the recipient of your RFI.

2. Write as many specific details as you can

The point of an RFI is not only for you to receive the information that you need, but also for the other party to clearly understand your reasons for requesting such information. Be specific with what type of response you seek, and provide as many details as possible.

Details may come in the form of supporting documents, including site photos or design drawings. If you are sending an RFI to recommend some modifications to existing plans, you may also include the potential changes in cost as well as the justification for your recommendation.

You may also include potential solutions to a problem in an RFI. Even if you are sending an RFI to get answers to your queries, it is not a bad idea to also present the preliminary solutions that you have been considering. It can speed up the RFI process as it can guide the recipient in what kind of responses you are looking for.

3. Set a blank space for the response

An RFI could be pointless if the recipient does not know how to respond to your query. When building your RFI template or using freely available templates, choose the one that has a space for your client’s response.

You should also specify the response time, which is usually within 10 days of the day the RFI is received. You do not want your client to sit with the RFI and not act on it simply because you did not set a deadline.

Best practices for writing an RFI in construction

1. Consult all available documents (e.g., contracts) before sending an RFI

Note that serving and answering an RFI can be time-consuming, and it can also potentially cost delays in the project schedule. Before you serve an RFI, make sure that you have gone through your contract thoroughly in case it already has the answers to your queries.

2. Send an RFI early to avoid major delays in the project schedule

As soon as you figure out a deficiency and you know that your contracts do not have the relevant information, you should serve an RFI before the issue gets bigger. If, for instance, the site conditions are different from what is stated in the plan, serve an RFI to seek clarification rather than begin doing work on a project without relaying the issue to your client.

3. Use a standardized template for all your RFIs

It is best practice to simply use one template for all your RFIs, instead of building a new RFI form every time you need to request information. Using one effective template is easier to manage, and you can pre-fill some of the details so you can complete it more quickly.

4. Be as specific as possible when providing details

Being specific means providing as many necessary details so you can communicate the nature of the request to your client. Include photos and calculations if necessary, and also specify the kind of details that you need so the clients do not end up responding to your request with the wrong or irrelevant information.

5. Write one RFI for each technical query or issue

To streamline the process, it is best to use one RFI for each issue or request. Sending one RFI for multiple requests may overwhelm the recipient, and you may end up having answers only to some of your questions. The RFI process will be easier to organize for you and your client if one RFI corresponds to one query.

6. State the specific timeframe for the response

It is very important that you specify the date by which you need the information. Sometimes a construction participant may need details concerning the property owner and the project’s financiers in completing preliminary notice requirements. Construction concerns are usually time-bound, so you should write the timeframe for receiving the response. The typical response timeframe for RFIs is usually within 10 days of receipt.

7. Track the RFIs and responses that you send and receive

You should track and monitor all the RFIs that come your way. You need to document the details that have been relayed to you, and you must also keep records of the requests that you have sent out. Tracking your RFIs is valuable for auditing purposes, especially if payment issues or legal disputes come up.

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