How to Handle Material Substitutions
Posted by HJT Design
Much like change orders, systems and material changes (aka substitutions) are not always avoidable, and can be the result of several reasons, some of which may include:
● Long lead times.
● Discontinued materials.
● Lack or shortage of skilled labor.
● Availability of product specified and/or significant material cost increases.
● Owner and Architect’s upgrades, and/or Value-Engineering.
Systems and material substitutions, if desired by the contractor, should be submitted for review, approval, and acceptance during the bidding process. Once the construction contracts are awarded, substitutions would then become part of the change order process.
Substitutions should be done and submitted in writing with all pertinent technical data and any applicable cost impacts (plus or minus), to the architect or engineer, allowing the architect and engineer to make an adequate comparison and then review it with the owner prior to rendering his or her rejects or approval of the substitution submittal.
All things are not created equal and product data sheets along with warranty info can help in determining whether the proposed substitution would be an apples-to-apples switch when comparing against the system or material specified for the project. If deemed to be of lesser value, the architect can request credits. However, if the system or material being proposed for substitution by the contractors is determined to be of higher value, the project owner is not obligated to pay additional money for the substituted systems or materials.
At no time shall the contractor substitute systems or materials prior to going through the review and approval process. In the event that substitution of materials took place without prior approval, the architect can advise the project owner to reject the installed system or materials and demand for the removal of the rejected installed unapproved systems or materials and to adhere to the project’s specified systems or materials, at no added cost to the owners.
To help track and gauge the overall cost of the project, contractor’s cost estimate for the project should be broken down into unit costs versus a lump sum cost, where it leaves room for cost overages, favoring the contractor and making it difficult for the architect to quantify the cost differences between the original specified systems and materials versus the proposed substitution.
Another safeguard against unapproved substitutions, unwarranted changes, and change orders is to include the architect’s Construction Administration Service as part of your project’s check-and-balance process, protecting the project’s design integrity, quality, team members adherence to the process and protocols and ensuring accountability from all project stakeholders.
Experienced and ethical contractors know and understand the common and proven industry practices and protocols involving systems and material substitutions and how important it is for the project architect to be informed and involved with any potential changes/substitutions; bypassing the architect and going directly to the project owner will short circuit the process and exposes the project owner with little to no proper guidance or protection, from potential financial harm. If allowed and not corrected during the early stages of the project it will break down the project team structure and set the precedence for how communication and information flow may be diverted to the owner and ignore the rest of the project team, leaving you the owner to fend and defend on your own. This sort of contractor’s sidestepping is strongly discouraged and to be avoided.
The ideal lineup scenario as who the contractor goes to first for discussion or information relating to changes/substitutions is the Architect and the ideal lineup scenario as to who the owner goes to first for discussion or information relating to changes/substitutions is the Architect; this is done so that the architect can assess the change proposals and how it could affect the building, building system, and overall functionality of the office/space, provide technical feedbacks, and consult with the owner on the pros and cons related to proposed changes; more importantly, insulate the owner from being interrupted and be the go to team member to make decisions on issues he/she may not be sufficiently informed to make without adequate representation. If approached by a contractor for changes and or substitutions, the project owner’s default response should be “Have the architect review it”.
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