What is an RFI in construction?

A request For Information (RFI) in construction is a document that seeks clarification about agreements, specifications, drawings or plans in a project.

A request For Information

The construction RFI is a formal process where two parties, the designer and the contractor, clarify the prevalent information gaps in their current construction project.

Although this process sounds uncomplicated and straightforward, often, an RFI becomes a source of conflict, expense or delay and can even lead to legal claims.

Therefore, it is beneficial for all construction project participants to understand how RFI work and the proper method of utilising them.

RFI can emerge at various points within the construction process. For example, during the bidding process, a contractor may submit an RFI to uncover more details of the project and refine their quote. However, a more common example is when a contractor or a subcontractor submits an RFI to clarify the drawing specifications from the engineer or the designer.

what is RFI

Similarly, the supplier or the contractor may utilise an RFI to document their concern about the specified materials, seeking more information about the intended use or recommend changes, alternatives or substitutions of either whole products or their components.


When RFI are provided with complete, prompt and comprehensive answers, it helps the project stay within budget and on time. An added benefit of providing a timely response is that it helps contractors and builders adhere to various regulations and predetermined specifications.

Generally, construction RFI arises in one of the following circumstances:

•   When someone within the construction project identifies a problem or deficiency.

•   When a substitution or alteration needs to be proposed by a participant in the construction project.

•   When a participant in the construction project requires further clarification or additional information.

Types of construction RFI

According to a study in 2019 in the Journal of Construction Engineering in material management, more than a dozen types of construction RFI exist. The primary types include:

•   Design coordination: The focus of this type of RFI is formation, communication and coordination between the different design elements and their associated documents so that there is no discrepancy between the project participants.

•   Construction coordination: This type of RFI aims to organise and coordinate construction-related construction-related procedures, safety items and schedules.

•   Constructability issues: This type of RFI focuses on addressing or articulating a specific detail or design that the contractor finds infeasible.

•   Timing and phasing: This RFI aims to rearrange the construction activities sequence due to labour or resource constraints.

•   Design change: The purpose of this RFI is to revise specific details in the design to facilitate more straightforward construction or to address and identify construction mistakes.

•   Design clarification: This RFI aims to seek clarification or more information about design specifications to better understand the details and how they are related to the project.

•   Change in method of the process: This RFI aims to highlight a change that the contractor wants to make regarding a specific building or installation technique.

Types of construction RFI

•   Deleted scope: This RFI aims to seek approval to remove a few tasks from the project.

•   Incomplete plans or specs: This RFI aims to highlight any errors or omissions in the plans or specifications.

•   Material change: This RFI is drafted when the seeker requests to use a different material than the one specified in the construction documents.

•   Site conditions: This RFI aims to highlight a discrepancy discovered by the builders between the description of the site’s conditions in the construction documents and the actual site conditions.

•   Utility conflict: This RFI aims to highlight utility lines disrupting the usual proceeding of the construction as per the original plans. Examples of such utility lines could be power wires or water pipes.

•   Value engineering: The focus of this RFI is value enhancement. The seeker wishes to make changes to enhance quality, improve efficiency or reduce cost.

•   Other issues: These RFIs cover other issues that might come up during a construction process, such as penalties, inspections, warranties, certifications or non-design documents.

Why are construction RFI significant?

Even though no one likes excess paperwork, RFI is a crucial document to maintain the construction process, as it influences risk, budget, quality, safety and liability.

The manner in which you handle the construction RFI can significantly impact whether your project is completed on time and within budget.

According to a 2019 worldwide study that observed the median response time of answering RFI by studying 1 million RFI across significant construction projects by The Navigant Construction Forum, it was found that the average response time was 9.7 days.

Additionally, the average cost for reviewing and responding to RFI was approximately $1080, and the average number of RFI for the project was 797.

RFIs are beneficial as they build a systematic structure to appropriately and accurately deliver high-quality projects, enhancing customer satisfaction. If you do not respond to RFIs promptly and comprehensively, it can lead to negligence.

Request for information

Negligence causes delays in construction, costly reconstruction, and significant expenses for the party at fault. This could be the contractor, the owner or the architect. No one is ever happy shouldering the excess cost.

The appropriate response to an RFI can even mean choosing life over death. Not to sound dramatic, but RFI ensures that builders utilise appropriate materials when constructing your installations and perform tasks per the agreed-upon specifications. Hence, correctly writing and responding to RFI keeps the building and work site safe.

A tragic example is the 1981 collapse of the walkway inside the Kansas City Hyatt Regency hotel. This collapse caused the deaths of approximately 114 people. Ultimately, upon investigation, it was found that inadequate communication between the steel fabricator and the architect concerning the review of design change accounted for the faulty construction.

RFI is a bridge between various project participants, mitigating their doubts and helping them perform that tasks correctly.

If any disputes arise, RFI can support claims of fraud or negligence. If you handle RFI with care, you can avoid construction litigations that are unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive.

How to write a construction RFI

An RFI should be written in such a manner that it helps the recipient, either the engineer or architect provide you with helpful answers as soon as possible.

Utilising a standardised format where you state the question clearly and give contextual information helps to increase the speed of the process. Ideally, images and various headings should be utilised.

When you are writing your RFI, ensure that it includes the following elements:

•   Project name and address.

•   RFI number (as per the project, utilise the sequential order).

•   RFI topic that contains a brief description of the issue.

•   Date of submission of the RFI and a deadline for response.

•   Name of the creator, title of designation, company name and contact information of the party requesting the RFI.

How to write a construction RFI

•   Description of the request, beginning with the issue, including a reference about a specific and relevant question, specifications, drawing or plan.

•   The responding party’s title, name, company and contact information.

•   Space for the response.

•   A description of all attached documents, such as invoices, screenshots or photos.

•   If relevant, a separate section should describe construction or cost changes.

Tips for producing effective construction RFI

RFI can be frustrating if they are not written constructively. You can reduce and even avoid this infuriation if you follow some of the guidelines mentioned below:

•   Establish a straightforward RFI process for the project and your team, ensuring that all participants follow it: Dedicate specific time during the pre-construction phase for reviewing and understanding how construction documents should be created and submitted.

This will create structure in your team so that RFI can be submitted months before the ground is broken, and you can minimise any last-minute RFIs that could potentially delay the construction project.

•   Utilise a standardised RFI format and assign sequential numbers to RFIs: The format mentioned above is flexible enough to be adopted by different construction companies.

•   Research contract documents before drafting RFI: The format should begin by researching the request. The party should consult the project’s contract documents to verify if the answer to their query does not already exist.

The same study by Navigant Construction Forum cited that 13% of RFIs were not justifiable, meaning that the answer already existed within the contract documents. The forum estimated that large project parties spend an average of $113400 reviewing and responding to unnecessary RFIs.

•   Distribution title: Choose a name for each RFI different from previous RFI titles.

•   General instructions: Write clearly and concisely. Adopt a neutral tone that does not make any party look bad. Utilise questions and do not use this process to express an opinion or voice disagreement. Stick to one question for RFI and propose a solution.

Ideally, an RFI should submit at least two options so that the architect and engineer can measure their viability to select one. If possible, keep money or time-based estimate of the RFI impact to prompt a quick and detailed response. Specify all the information needed to facilitate the response and further the construction project. Remember to ask for installation techniques, colour names or part numbers.

What is the construction RFI process?

Whenever a party related to the construction project experiences doubt, RFI is a process to seek clarification. If the answer to the RFI is insufficient, it can be escalated to a physical meeting.

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