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Shop Drawings and Submittals: Definition, Purpose, and Necessity

By Kevin O'Beirne, PE, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CDT posted 12-01-2020 03:05 PM


Editor's Note: CSI is pleased to publish this blog from Kevin O’Beirne, PE, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CDT. If you have an idea or opinion you would like to share with your colleagues in the AECO industry, please contact CSI Content Strategist Peter Kray at He would love to help publish your thoughts.


This is the first in a six-part series of blog posts on shop drawings and submittals.  Forthcoming essays in the series will address: the various types of submittals, liability associated with submittal reviews; submittal review stamps; submittals with deviations from contract requirements; and delegated design submittals.


Preparing, processing, and reviewing shop drawings and other contractor-furnished submittals is a labor-intensive construction stage activity for contractors and design professionals. While it is widely accepted that submittals are an often-tiresome part of construction, what are and are not submittals, and their purpose and necessity, are often not well understood.


What are and are not Submittals


Terminology concerning submittals is not universal, and the terms “shop drawing” and “submittal” are not synonyms, Standard general conditions in widespread use in the United States establish several defines terms pertinent to this topic. AIA A201--2017, Standard General Conditions of the Contract for Construction, includes:

§ 3.12.1 Shop Drawings are drawings, diagrams, schedules, and other data specially prepared for the Work by the Contractor or a Subcontractor, Sub-subcontractor, manufacturer, supplier, or distributor to illustrate some portion of the Work.

§ 3.12.2 Product Data are illustrations, standard schedules, performance charts, instructions, brochures, diagrams, and other information furnished by the Contractor to illustrate materials or equipment for some portion of the Work.

§ 3.12.3 Samples are physical examples that illustrate materials, equipment, or workmanship, and establish standards by which the Work will be judged.

§ 3.12.4 Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples, and similar submittals are not Contract Documents…”


EJCDC C-700--2018, Standard General Conditions of the Contraction Contract, defines “Shop Drawings” and “Samples” using language nearly identical to AIA A201 Sections 3.12.1 and 3.12.3, Also, Paragraph 1.01.A.41 of EJCDC C-700--2018 defines:

“41. Submittal—A written or graphic document, prepared by or for Contractor, which the Contract Documents require Contractor to submit to Engineer, or that is indicated as a Submittal in the Schedule of Submittals accepted by Engineer.Submittals may include Shop Drawings and Samples; schedules; product data; Owner-delegated designs; sustainable design information; information on special procedures; testing plans; results of tests and evaluations, source quality-control testing and inspections, and field or Site quality-control testing and inspections; warranties and certifications; Suppliers’ instructions and reports; records of delivery of spare parts and tools; operations and maintenance data; Project photographic documentation; record documents; and other such documents required by the Contract Documents. Submittals, whether or not approved or accepted by Engineer, are not Contract Documents. Change Proposals, Change Orders, Claims, notices, Applications for Payment, and requests for interpretation or clarification are not Submittals.”


From the foregoing excerpts, the following conclusions may be drawn concerning what are and are not construction submittals:

  • Required shop drawings and other submittals are to be clearly indicated (listed) in the contract documents, although EJCDC C-700 also allows that submittals indicated in a schedule of submittals “accepted by the Engineer” but not expressly listed in the contract are also submittals. Conversely, if the contract documents do not expressly require a certain submittal, the contractor probably does not need to furnish it and, furthermore, the design professional should not accept, review, or comment on submittals furnished by the contractor that are not required by the contract. This will be addressed further in forthcoming posts in this blog series.
  • Submittals, whether shop drawings or others, regardless of whether or not approved by the design professional, are not contract documents. Thus, submittals cannot change contractual requirements (i.e., submittals are not change orders) and are generally not enforceable under the contract. This is because shop drawings, product data, and samples indicate only how the contractor proposes to comply with the contract documents. Other submittals document how the contractor has complied with the contract. Shop drawings, product data, and samples that do not indicate compliance with the contract should not be approved by the design professional. Where an approved shop drawing or product data submittal or sample indicates something that exceeds the contract’s requirements and the design professional desires to hold the contractor to the higher standard indicated by the approved submittal, an associated contract modification should be issued concurrent with the design professional’s approval of the submittal. In addition to change orders, appropriate instruments for this are EJCDC C-942--2018, Field Order, and AIA G710--2018, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions, each of which is issued directly by the design professional and cannot change the contract price or contract times.
  • All shop drawings are submittals, but not all submittals are shop drawings. This writer tends to consider as “shop drawings”: (1) fabrication and assembly drawings, usually having a title block, or (2) schedules, prepared specifically for the project. Here, “schedules” means a project-specific summary of systems and components, such as a schedule of HVAC equipment, schedules of doors and door hardware, or windows, or a schedule of paint systems by room and surface, or other, similar project information in a tabular format. In contrast, construction progress schedules, submittal schedules, and schedules of values are not “shop drawings”.
  • Both AIA A201 and EJCDC C-700 recognize that “product data” differs from “shop drawings.” In general, product data are manufacturers’ pre-published information on the items proposed to be incorporated into the completed work. This writer generally considers “product data” to be copies of product manufacturer catalog pages and similar documents with contractor-made cross-outs and indications of proposed products and proposed options.
  • “Samples” include field mock-ups--such as a section of masonry wall approved by the design professional and used as a standard of quality against which other masonry wall work is judged--samples delivered to the design professional’s office, paint color charts, and other types of physical examples of the color, quality and texture of the proposed work.
  • Additionally, as indicated by EJCDC C-700--2018 Paragraph 1.01.A.41 and CSI SectionFormat, there are many types of submittals other than shop drawings, product data, and samples. The forthcoming second blog post in this series will address the various types of submittals.
  • Not every document furnished by the contractor is a “submittal”, as expressly stated in EJCDC C-700--2018 Paragraph 1.01.A.41. Many documents transmitted by the contractor, such as requests for interpretation or clarification, change proposals, claims, applications for payment, contract closeout documents, contractually-requited notices, and others, are not “submittals” and, obviously, do not receive the contractor’s or design professional’s submittal approval stamps.


Purpose of Contractor’s Submittals


Submittals are required because project participants might interpret contractual requirements for the construction work differently and, before the products are purchased and fabricated, and the work performed at the site, it is essential that the contractor and design professional mutually understand how the contractor will fulfill its contractual obligations. Although submittals represent substantial administrative and professional effort by the project’s participants, they are critical to avoiding more-expensive misunderstandings, rework, claims, and disputes after project funds are expended.


Section 3.12.4 of AIA A201--2017 clearly states of submittals: “…Their purpose is to demonstrate how the Contractor proposes to conform to the information given and the design concept expressed in the Contract Documents for those portions of the Work for which the Contract Documents require submittals.” 


Similarly, Paragraph 7.16.C of EJCDC C-700--2018 states in part, “Engineer’s review and approval [of Shop Drawings and Samples] will be only to determine if the items covered by the Submittals will, after installation or incorporation in the Work, comply with the requirements of the Contract Documents, and be compatible with the design concept of the completed Project as a functioning whole as indicated by the Contract Documents.”


Thus, submittals are a quality assurance “dialogue” between the contractor, its subcontractors, and suppliers, and the design professional, regarding how the contractor’s team proposes to comply with their contractual requirements. Source quality control submittals, field quality control submittals, operation and maintenance manuals, and certain other submittals document whether the contractor did, in fact, comply with the contract. 


This interpretation of the purpose of submittals is consistent with the model language setting forth the design professional’s responsibilities in AIA B101--2017, Standard Form of Agreement between Owner and Architect, and EJCDC E-500--2020, Agreement between Owner and Engineer for Professional Services.  The design professional’s responsibilities in reviewing submittals will be addressed in forthcoming posts on this blog.


Because the design professional’s review of contractor-furnished submittals is, in essence, an extension of the engineer’s or architect’s design services, not only is appropriate skill, expertise, and professional judgment required of personnel performing submittal reviews, such services also pose significant professional liability for the design professional. In contrast, in accordance with the Spearin Doctrine, the contractor need only comply with the construction contract, regardless of whether the contract is sufficient to achieve the owner’s project goals and the architect’s or engineer’s design intent.


Are Submittals Necessary?


Construction specifications require a lot of submittals, often an almost dizzying number of certifications by everyone associated with furnishing products or installing them into the work; qualifications statements for installers, applicators, contractors’ consultants, testing entities, and manufacturers (even though the latter are indicated by name elsewhere in the same section of the specifications); product data for every conceivable nut and bolt; and many, many others.  Are they all truly necessary? Only the design professional who sealed and signed the associated specifications can truly say with certainty.  Presumably, during preparation of the construction contract documents, with full knowledge of the project’s design intent and a reasonable notion of probable construction methods and challenges, the design professional gave careful consideration to the need for each submittal required by the contract and, if questioned on it, could clearly articulate their reason for requiring the submittal. That’s how it’s supposed to work.


Not all projects need every single submittal originally listed in the source documents used in developing the project’s construction specifications. Conversely, sometimes, additional submittals may be necessary.  The specifier, working closely with the design professional-in-responsible-charge, should carefully consider the need for and criticality of each required submittal. Where a submittal is not truly necessary to demonstrate how the contractor will or has complied with the contract, consider deleting the required submittal before the contract is finalized. Shop drawings and product data are not the same as, say, operation and maintenance manuals and, therefore, shop drawings and product data often need not contain the same volume of information to achieve the purpose for which shop drawings and product data are required.


As clearly indicated in both EJCDC C-700 and AIA A201, the contractor has sole responsibility for its means, methods, procedures, techniques, and sequences of construction. Therefore, it is typically inadvisable for the contract to require submittals that address such matters. For example, contractors’ coordination drawings are relevant to means and methods of construction, not the project’s final outcome, and therefore typically should not be required by the contract or reviewed by the design professional.


This writer has observed some design professionals appearing to go somewhat overboard in the types of information demanded via submittals. Because shop drawings, product data, and samples are needed only to confirm the contractor understands and will comply with the contract’s requirements, as a rule of thumb, the information required via shop drawings, product data, and samples, may not need to be more voluminous than the requirements of the contract documents. Submittals that include voluminous information beyond what is required by the contract are probably superfluous when there is no corresponding contract requirement against which to enforce them. 


The extent of required submittals should be commensurate with the project’s complexity, criticality, and the design professional’s construction stage budget for reviewing submittals. Where the project is not overly complex, and where failure of the work is less likely to affect health, safety, and welfare, a careful evaluation of the necessity of required submittals should be performed before finalizing the associated specifications.


This writer has encountered some design professionals who, perhaps believing themselves forward-thinking and innovative, have advocated that contractor-furnished submittals are entirely unnecessary because—so they contend—the contractor is obligated to comply with the drawings, specifications, and other contract documents.  These people ask, “Cannot all those voluminous, time-consuming, tiresome, and liability-filled submittals be entirely eliminated?”


The answer is probably “no.” First, many expert witnesses who are registered architects or professional engineers would likely opine that design professionals’ typical standard of care (see: AIA standard of care essay; ACEC-CASE standard of care white paper) includes quality assurance and quality control responsibilities fulfilled through design professionals’ reviews of submittals and other, typical construction stage services, such as the design professionals’ periodic visits to the construction in progress. Second, while the types and volume of submittals required depend on the project, it is unlikely that owners or society in general--acting through legislative bodies, professional licensing boards, journalists, courts, and arbitrators--would countenance either placing themselves at increased risk of failures or letting the design professional off part of the hook of professional liability by embracing the abandonment of shop drawings and other contractor-furnished submittals. 




This brief analysis has defined what are, and are not, contractor-furnished construction submittals and has articulated their purpose and necessity. Proper understanding to these key concepts is essential for design professionals to fulfill their contractual and ethical obligations while properly managing risk.


Forthcoming blog posts in this series will address: the various types of submittals, liability associated with design professionals’ submittal reviews, submittal review stamps; submittals with deviations from contract requirements, and delegated design submittals.


Copyright 2020 by Kevin O’Beirne

The content of this blog post is by the author alone and should not be attributed to any other individual or entity.


Kevin O’Beirne, PE, FCSI, CCS, CCCA is a professional engineer licensed in NY and PA with over 30 years of experience designing and constructing water and wastewater infrastructure for public and private clients.  He is the engineering specifications manager for a global engineering and architecture design firm.  He is a member of various CSI national committees and is the certification chair of CSI’s Buffalo-Western New York Chapter.  He is an ACEC voting delegate in the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC) and lives and works in the Buffalo NY area.  Kevin O’Beirne’s LinkedIn page



12-09-2020 01:21 PM

Kevin-  Very helpful; I'll be looking for the next installments. 

Certification by an independent quality assurance organizations is required in many specifications; as an inspector with one of those organizations (Woodwork Institute) I find that this is often overlooked in the design professionals shop drawing review. The specification will call for a label on the drawings from the QA organization but the shop drawings will be reviewed and approved without it. This short circuits the QA process, as our review is explicitly to verify that the materials and components match the specifications and that the assembly methods meet the referenced standards.

As you point out, the shop drawings are not contract documents, but I regularly find substitutions and changes made there with no documentation. When I receive drawings with these deficiencies for certification review that have already been approved it creates problems and delays. My process has been to require the shop to correct these items, balloon them in and put a  delta on. Then they are to be resubmitted to the design professional for approval. I realize this takes up time, but I believe it's an appropriate way to resolve the problem.

There are many fine details in any trade that may not be obvious to someone that is not trained in that field; that's the reason for QA certification by qualified organizations. When a required certification label isn't present I believe the drawings should be returned without review.

Kenneth--Thanks for a useful and thoughtful reply and for reading over the blog post

Regarding all the certifications that design professionals seem to believe are so desirable as submittals, in my experience, I've seen a lot of suppliers and contractors issue the things asserting unequivocal compliance with the contract when, in fact, their associated shop drawing or product data submittal is anything but compliant. Given that the design professional has a cardinal obligation to endeavor to verify that the submittal complies with the contract documents and their own design intent, I've never quite understood why design professionals require all those certifications as submittals.

In another part of your comment, you wrote that design professionals may be requiring submittals for which they (the design professional) will not be compensated during construction. I suppose that's true if the design professional doesn't do a very good job of budgeting their construction phase services. By the time I started to believe I understood construction contract administration, I seemed to do okay with profitability (as a consultant) on such services, which I suppose meant I was budgeting for submittal reviews (and everything else) reasonably well. I figure, if I can do it, how difficult can it be for others?

One thing that I've found in drafting a scope of services for submittal reviews and, indeed, all construction contract administration services, is the need for a scope with quantified limits on the design professional's services. When I started writing scopes of services like that, and budgeting accordingly, my profitability on construction phase services tended to improve. of course, it's incombent on the design professional to predict with reasonable accuracy the limit on the quantiy of submittals for which they are budgeting. To do this, I tended to look at the submittal logs on prior, similar projects. It may surprise some people--especially clients who hire design professional consultants--how many submittals need to be processed on a construction project.

Some clients expressed concern at a quantity limit for submittals in my scope of services. "You say you'll process 250 submittals. Are you going to charge me extra if it's 251?" My answer was, "Of course not. I like putting out my hand for extra money as much as you like having me ask. But I don't control how the contractor divides up or combines submittals, and I sure don't control the submittals' quality. No, I won't ask you for extra money if it's 251 submittals instead of 250. I probably won't ask for extra money if it's 300 submittals instead of 250, but if it's 400, 450, or 500 when I reasonably budgeted for 250 then, yeah, I'll need to ask, and this limit in the scope gives you a basis to go before the board to seek approval of my rqeuest." Also, I tended to explain that, when the quantity of submittals furnished went a certain percentage over the number in the initially accepted schedule of submittals, the EJCDC C-700 General Conditions explicitly allow the owner to be reimbursed by the contractor for the cost to the owner of the engineer's services to review the additional submittals. Public owners tended to like that part.

However, in an early draft of this blog post, I wrote that the quantity of submittals required by the contract should probably be commensurate with the design professional's anticipated budget for submittal reviwes during construction. Two of my longtime mentors who reviewed and commented on the draft--one of them a PE with over 50 years of experience in design and construction, and the other a lawyer with over 35 years' experience, most as general counsel of an engineering firm--rightly advised me to get rid of such a statement. The required submittals should be appropriate for the project and the risk and the type of work, not driven by whether or not the design professional would be happy with what they were paid for their submittals reviews. Consultants need to be business-minded, of course, but, as licensed design professionals, also have a higher ethical obligation to the public's health, safety, and welfare, and submittal reviews are one important way of helping to protect the public. I suppose that idea also circles back to the point I made, above, in this response about design professionals not relying too heavily on contractor- or supplier-furnished certifications of comliance.

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't come up with a better title for this blog post, but it really fits and the post as a whole is an essential foundation for the next five posts in the series. Some of the points in this blog post, about the purpose of design professionals' submittal reviews, will be underscored in the forthcoming third post in the series, "Liability Associated with Submittal Reviews" which, among other things, will include a summary of the 1981 Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel skywalk collapse--the worst failure of shop drawing reviews gone wrong that I can think of. Any design professional who knows the basic elements of what happened in that tragedy and how it came about cannot fail to shudder in horror--especially because the same thing cuold easily happen again today.  The purpose of submittal reviews by architects, engineers, and geologists is indeed important and necessary and not to be taken lightly.
Great article as always Kevin.
Your observations about how much is too much, not enough, or just right is a recurring discussion in many offices. I often remind others that every submittal that requires review adds cost for which we as designers are not compensated. By including them in our spec we are obligating ourselves to perform work.

Due to concerns about what happens if we do not required submittals, in many instances I've found that requiring certification of compliance as an Informational Submittal in lieu of product data as an Action Submittal reduces the amount of time spent replying to the Contractor. We still have to log in and look at the submittal but we don't usually have to mark it up or send a reply. 

Shop drawing review can turn into a rabbit hole when someone who means well gets hold of improperly prepared documents. A/E's need understand that review is for compliance with the CD's. Content that does not comply doesn't require correction, just notes identifying non-compliance and the need to correct. Resubmittal or not is dependent on the opinion of the reviewer and the types and extent of corrections required. No need to take on the Contractor's liability. You won't be compensated and you may be blamed later.

I've heard arguments for and against considering mockups and field samples or sample installations as "Samples." I consider them to be an extended part of the submittal process even though I usually specify them in the Quality Assurance Article. After all, final selection and determination of acceptability of Work is often contingent on review of these "samples."
Dave--Thanks for taking the time to read and commnt on the blog post!

Regarding whether mock-ups are samples, I agree one might debate the point, especially given that a lot of mock-ups become part of the finished work. However, I asserted that mock-ups are samples because, well, they fit the definition of "Sample" in both A201 and C-700. They are, of course, a special type of "sample", in that they are not dropped off at the design professional's office with a tag attached.

Regarding contract modifications to formalize things when a submittal prposes something better than the contract's requirements, whether a field order or ASI or change order is truly needed will depend on the situation. I agree with you that, often, the contract establishes minimum requirements and, well, if the work exceeds those requirements, that's okay too. For example, if a pump is specified with a mimum required efficiency, no one's going to require a contract modification when the pump actually furnished exceeds the minimum required.

However, I've seen more than one situatino where a contractor proposed, via a submittal, a "betterment" which was approved by the design professional (and eagerly accepted by the owner, thinking they were getting a freebie) and then the contractor actually provides something else, where the "something else" does, in fact, comply with the contract. In these cases, the calls I received after the fact from project teams went something like, "Can we require the contractor to tear out the thing he provided, even though it complies with the contract, and instead provide the thing in the approved shop drawing?" The answer to that is, "No, you can't pretend an approved shop drawing is a change order only when it suits the owner."  Admittedly, I've seen that situation only a very limited number of times.

The upcoming fifth post in this series on shop drawings and submittals will explore this more. It's titled, "Shop Drawings and Submittals: Deviations from Contract Requirements". I recently completed the first draft of it.

Good article, Kevin; thoughtful and well-reasoned.  A few comments:

 You note “Where an approved shop drawing or product data submittal or sample indicates something that exceeds the contract’s requirements and the design professional desires to hold the contractor to the higher standard indicated by the approved submittal, an associated contract modification should be issued…”

  • In my experience, more often requirements call for a value “of at least x psi”, for example. A submittal showing a capacity exceeding this value would not require a contract modification, because of “at least”. So a way around needing to issue a modification, would be to specify minimum rather than absolute values, where reasonable.
  • The few times I can recall contractors providing more than what the contract calls for, it has been because it saves them money. For example:
    • providing hot-dipped galvanized joint reinforcement for both interior as well as exterior masonry walls (in lieu of mill-galvanized for interior walls).  While there is a material cost premium involved, there are savings in not having to keep track of reinforcement with two different finishes, as well as eliminating the danger of inadvertently using mill-galvanized reinforcement in an exterior wall.
    • Providing 5/8 inch gypsum board for all partitions, instead of 5/8 inch for fire-rated partitions and 1/2 inch for non-rated.

While I hesitate to dispute your expertise, I do not consider mock-ups to be samples. They are arguably a type of submittal, although we specify them is a separate article from submittals. Actually, my office makes a clear distinction between mock-ups that are built separate from the actual construction and that are to be removed at the completion of construction (we call these “mock-ups”), and those that are built in-place and become part of the completed Work (we call these “sample installations”). And even though we use the word “sample” here, we specify them in their own article, separate from Submittals and also from Mock-Ups.