In residential construction, the journey to getting a project over the finish line and getting paid often begins and ends with a punch list (also known as a punch out list).
This article will cover everything you need to know from explaining what a construction punch list is, what should be included, how to create them, and how they should be used to make your clients happy and get paid faster. Also, don't forget to download our free construction punch list template which includes all of the components and best practices shared throughout this article.
Let's get started:
A punch list is a collection of open items that need to be finalized or fixed at a key milestone or at the conclusion of a construction project.
The list is used as a way for the contractor to track the progress of what needs to get done, when it’s getting done, and who is responsible for doing it.
You may hear a punch list go by several different names: punch out list, contractor checklist, task list, snag list, deficiency list. The most common term, punch list, is written as two separate words, or hyphenated, punch-list. While phonetically it sounds the same, it would be grammatically incorrect to combine the words "punch" and "list" in reference to the term.
For a contractor to get the most use out of a punch list, it should include the following 8 items:
To save time and confusion for everyone involved, a location for the item that needs to be done should always be included. There will often be items on a punch list that could apply to anywhere within a home, so to prevent any time being wasted tracking down which floorboard needs to be replaced, specify where it’s located.
To be more efficient in moving through the punch list, you’ll want to have the right person assigned for the task, which begins with categorizing each item to know which trade is needed. You don’t want your painter spending half of their day trying to figure out what a plumber could have completed in 10 minutes.
Whether the punch list is being shared with a team or not, writing a good description of what needs to be done is essential for getting through the list on time. With a list a mile long, it’s easy to forget the details of fixing a door without a proper description of what exactly needs to be fixed — even for the person who added it to the list.
Pro tip: Using photos and videos not only saves you the time of writing out each description, but it’s also the clearest way of communicating what needs to be done. Using project management software for punch lists that supports photos and videos, like BuildBook, makes this a breeze.
To keep things on pace, each item should indicate whether it is a priority or whether its completion is dependent upon another item on the list. Not only will this help to prioritize your punch list, but it will ensure that things are getting done in the order in which they need to.
To prevent any confusion on who is doing what, each item should have someone assigned and responsible for getting it done. You don’t want the completion of a project being held up by an item that everyone avoided because they assumed someone else was doing it.
Adding dates to each step and each item on your punch list is something that is often overlooked, but extremely helpful if/when you need to look back to reference when something was done. The key dates you should consider are:
One of the biggest benefits of a punch list is not only knowing what needs to be done but when and how. Without updating the status of each item along the way, it’s easy to forget if something was completed, which means needlessly spending time driving to the job site and/or chasing down whoever it was assigned to.
Whether it's you or someone on your team completing the work, providing a spot to leave notes for each item is a helpful way to keep a record of what and/or why something was done. Making notes immediately after completing the task is the best way to keep the notes fresh and accurate.
Depending on the project and what needs to be completed, a punch list might include everyone involved in a job or just one person.
An initial punch list is most often created and managed by the general contractor, project manager, or whoever is overseeing the project. Additionally, there are often punch lists created by — or alongside — the client at the end of a project as a final step in getting their sign-off on any last-minute things that need to be done before the job is complete.
Beyond the person who is managing the punch list, any subcontractors or team members who have been assigned to, have a stake in, or are performing work on any item on the list should be included. This could include anyone from the interior designer to the plumber.
Even though a client may not play a role in completing any item on the punch list, they most certainly have a stake in everything that’s getting done. Having said that, each client relationship is unique, so it is a judgment call on every project.
Keeping your client informed is the key to driving their happiness, but if you suspect that their involvement could slow down the progress, it will be up to you to weigh out the benefit versus the cost.
There are three basic methods for creating and managing punch lists. The approach you use is based on what works best for you.
For those that prefer pen and paper, creating a punch list on a notepad is a pretty straightforward method. That’s where the benefit of this approach ends however, as the cons tend to far outweigh the pros.
Pros: Simple to create, doesn’t require technology, always convenient.
Cons: Not easy to share, easy to misplace, hard to track progress, not sustainable as a scalable business practice.
Creating your punch list in an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet is relatively easy to do, especially when you start with a pre-existing construction punch list template like the one we’ve created (pictured below).
Pros: Free to create, can be used repeatedly once created, easy to track and share, quick to create list items
Cons: Not always convenient to access, requires knowledge of spreadsheet software, hard to include photos and video
Using construction management software such as BuildBook not only makes managing punch lists easy, but it has the added benefit of centralizing every aspect of your projects in one place.
Pros: Always convenient, everything is in one place, doesn’t require spreadsheet knowledge, the simplest way to track and share
Cons: Costs money to use, should be used for more than a punch list
While every punch list is unique, some common items and categories tend to appear on most residential construction projects include:
These are just a few of the most common items:
To see even more examples punch list items and categories, download our free Construction Punch List Template, which includes a pre-populated list of the most common rooms and trade categories for residential projects to save you time on getting started.
A punch list is a crucial piece of any residential construction project. It's more than just a checklist to finish your projects - it’s also an opportunity to make sure you and your clients are satisfied with the work and if so, to ask for your final payment.
Getting a punch list started from scratch can feel daunting, which is why we created our free Construction Punch List template to get you started. It’s simple to use and has every best practice we covered above from start (preparation) to finish (cleanup) baked in. Check out the video below if you'd like to learn more about this free template.
If you’d like to simplify more than just your punch list across your projects, BuildBook is what you’re looking for. It’s fast, powerful, and simple to use software that includes every feature you need to run better projects. Try it completely free for 10 days to see the difference it makes for yourself.