It is not uncommon to be asked about how many RFI’s (Request For Information forms) we had on our last project.

I never know if the questioner is hoping for a small number or a large one.  My view is that RFI’s are essential and necessary part of the construction process.

There are many types of RFI’s and their level of significance varies by type.

  • Constructability issues both during design and construction
  • Sequence issues involving timing or phasing
  • Design clarifications seeking more information
  • Design changes to facilitate construction or a mistake
  • Changes in installation techniques or processes
  • Deletions or additions to scope
  • Incomplete or conflicting plans and specs
  • Changes in materials
  • Differing site / existing or as-built conditions
  • Site discoveries / utility conflicts


It can seem that some of these topics fall into a means and methods scenario where the contractor has the authority to make a change without asking for clarification.


But that is not always the case. For example, in regards to timing and phasing, it could be that existing conditions forced a material or product change.  During a recent renovation the top floor required spray foam in lieu of batt insulation due to the existing joist bays being narrower than the as-builts indicated. That change meant that no other subs could be on the 3rd floor during the process and that necessitated a schedule and sequence change.


In another example, the TPO roofing installation direction was reversed to accommodate other work on the project and the roof lapping was documented using the RFI process.  RFI’s help tell the story of how a project was built and why some things in the field may be different than what was shown on the original documents.


RFI’s often lead to a higher quality level and a more coordinated construction project.  In some instances, RFI’s can also help identify and explore existing conditions that may become unsafe if left as is.  Used correctly RFI’s are an important tool in construction.


It is very important that the whole project team is onboard with the RFI process.  The back and forth required needs to remain neutral and helpful.  Starting the formal clarification process early during preconstruction can help flush out potential future change orders.  It also helps the team get used to allowing sufficient time for discovery and response.  Every request should be sequentially numbered and tracked using a consistent format.  Each RFI should have a distinctive title that is easy to understand.  Contractors have an obligation to ensure that each RFI is justified by thoroughly researching the topic and by providing recommendations or potential solutions with each request.  Solutions should address both time and money if they are relevant to the issue.


The most important aspect of writing effective RFI’s from my perspective is ensuring that all of the information needed to facilitate a response is included in the initial RFI.


Is there ever a time when RFI’s are bad?  Sure, if they are unnecessary, poorly researched or are really means & methods questions.  If the RFI’s are being used to start or substantiate a frivolous claim or to disparage a team member they are bad.


Some final thoughts if the goal is to reduce the total number of RFI’s.  Review the plans and specifications with the design team in detail prior to starting construction.  The use of peer reviews both internally and externally can be helpful in flushing out major issues prior to starting.  Finally, ensuring there is adequate time allowed in the overall construction duration can reduce the number of RFI’s by allowing for more field discovery time for the whole project team.  It is far better to walk through an issue and provide a quick confirming RFI that to allow the RFI to go back and forth in search of a solution.