3 Key Things Every Contractor Should Know About Punch Lists

What's the deal with punch lists? Read on to find out.

Or else.
Stop! Follow these punch list tricks. SeanShot/Getty Images

The origin of the term “punch list” is a subject of much debate. Some hold that it refers back to the practice of telephone installers “punching down” phone line terminals on a block. Another interpretation is that it is a reference to a slang term for fixing something, i.e., “punching it up.”

Historical Uses of Punch Lists

A much more feasible explanation of the term involves a somewhat archaic practice of using hole punches on documents to designate issues that were the contractor's responsibility to fix.

Variations involve punching holes in the margins of the physical list to signify that various items have been completed.

Typically, both the contractor’s and client’s documents would be punched in duplicate to provide each party with a record of completion of each item. The contractor would notify the client that work was either completed or nearly completed, and the client would inspect the premises, compiling a punch list of items that were missing, inadequate, or incomplete.

The Punch List Today

Punch lists serve one of two general purposes. In some cases, the punch list represents a series of unfinished tasks that a contractor and client agree will be completed at a later date. In other cases, the punch list identifies quality issues that the client wants the contractor to address before the work is accepted.

In most cases, the latter is a much smarter implementation and can save a good bit of time and energy that would otherwise be spent chasing after contractors to get work done.

In a worst-case scenario, many clients will simply hire another contractor to clean up those messes, and that almost always costs more.

What You Should Know About Punch Lists

Punch lists are only effective if they are implemented and used properly. This is why it's important to understand how they work and what the roles are of each party involved in the process.

1. Any Quality Contractor Welcomes the Use of a Punch List

If you hire subs to finish specific parts of your project, a good litmus test for the level of quality you can expect is how they react to the notion of a punch list. Are the subs receptive or resistant? Do they want a “Type A” arrangement that gives them wiggle room to leave work unfinished, or are they willing to be held accountable and stay on the job until their part is done adequately?

2. Not All Punch Lists Are Created Equal

Few punch lists are as comprehensive as most clients would like them to be. This is why, as a contractor, it is important to make sure that the items on the list are agreed upon by all parties involved. That includes your company, your client, and any subcontractors hired to help you complete the project. The items will almost always vary based on the type and extent of the project. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

3. “Punch List” Software Is Taking Over

While you absolutely need something in writing, our 21st century world has made the process of developing and implementing punch lists much easier. Punch lists have joined the ranks of other kinds of construction management software that can help you make the entire process of completing your project adequately and on time easier.

In fact, pixels are taking over where paper once ruled to the extent that some clients won't trust a physical piece of paper as much as they will an electronic document.

Punch list software solutions, like FinishLine or Bluebeam, also allow for instant updates and communication between everyone involved in the project. The time saved not having to chase paper alone makes punch list software a worthwhile investment. There are plenty of options available, so be sure to choose the one that has all the features you need and an interface that you will find easy to understand and use.