RFI’s – Five elements of style

pen paperLooking at the construction drawings by some favorite historic architects like CFA Voysey, or Edwin Lutyens, it is hard to believe how a builder back then would be able to price and construct a building using only a plan, partial section, elevation and a detail or two. Did they use RFI’s?

An RFI (request for information) by a builder from that era probably took the form of a formal letter containing fundamental information such as: sender’s address, recipient’s address, date, subject, salutation, body, closing, enclosures, carbon copy (CC) and typist’s initials. (Do they still teach  proper letter format in school with the advent of email?)

Fast forward to the 21st century  where contractors face increased risks, huge liabilities and reduced profit margins. We all hear stories of contractor’s using RFI’s to inundate an architect with questions, in attempts to find changes, discredit the architect’s skills, charge more money on a project and/ or sue for schedule delays. Is this why some architects produce a set of construction drawings for a cottage that resembles, in size and weight, an 8” cast iron pipe?

RFI’s are an important means of communication on a project, and provide a process to keep requests for information organized and to ensure that answers are provided to the contractor in a timely manner.

Unlike many forms used in contract administration, the RFI is the contractor’s, and not the architect’s. Nevertheless, it is wise for the architect to establish the process, minimum information requirements and ultimately provide the RFI format for use in a project. This also benefits the architect in that the RFI template that is developed can become a consistent standard for all projects within a firm, saving time and contributing to best practices.

The format of an RFI can be compared to a formal letter and should contain the following minimum information:

  1. As RFI’s are generated they should be in numerical sequence, critical for orderly filing and organization of the RFI Log and tracking it’s status
  2. Addresses/ contact information for the architect, contractor, owner, and any other consultant or team member being cc’d
  3. Project name and or project number, with a title for the RFI that reflects the issue
  4. The body of the RFI is the question for which clarification and/or interpretation is being requested ad should make reference to a drawing or specification, and finally
  5. Dates are critical with an RFI and any form should allow for the following dates:
        • when the RFI first initiated,
        • when a response is required by, and
        • when the RFI is answered or a reply provided.

Most often the standard RFI form is created using a simple template in a word processor or spreadsheet, however the process can be further simplified and automated with the use of contract administration software (we like to use RForm).

We would welcome any comments on RFI contents, examples of forms, or any experiences of what to do (or not do) to improve the process for us all.

Some references we used in writing this post and would recommend for those wanting a more in depth look at RFI’s include:

Administering Requests for Interpretation (RFI’s) By James E. Porter, Assoc. AIA

Shootout at the RFI Corral by Grant A. Simpson, FAIA and Jim Atkins FAIA

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