COMMUNITIES: PRIVATE PRACTICE
For the Client: The Importance of Record Drawings
BY MARK S. DAVY, P.E., F.NSPE
Record drawings are used to show the finished condition of the work as it was actually constructed, at the point when accepted by the owner and design professional. The purpose of record drawings is to provide a single source of information that shows how the project was constructed. This information can be useful for operation and maintenance of the constructed facilities and can help in development of future projects. For instance, if a water pipeline was moved due to an underground obstruction, record drawings will indicate the actual route to aid in the location of the pipeline if it needs to be excavated in the future.
Record drawings are sometimes referred to as as-built drawings. A distinction needs to be made between as-built and record drawings. As-built drawings are the drawings prepared by the contractor for submittal to the design professional. Record drawings are the edited set of plans that combine all the reported changes made during a project into one document, prepared by the design professional. These clarifications in terminology better reflect the responsibilities—the contractor collects the data during construction and the design professional edits the drawings to reflect the information provided.
How are record drawings developed?
During the design process, the design professional will consult with the owner and incorporate regulatory requirements to create a set of construction documents (drawings and specifications) for the owner. Often, these documents are submitted to a regulatory agency for approval prior to being used for bidding or negotiating a construction contract. It needs to be taken into account that the contract documents are produced with a combination of field data, local experience, and professional judgment. These documents are used by the contractor to bid the project.
During the bidding process, addenda to the contract documents are sometimes required to reflect changes or new information generated by the contractors' review of the construction features, actual site conditions, and the bid documents. These addenda are modifications to the construction documents, including the drawings.
During construction, it is normal for the scope of work to change. Change is a normal and expected part of the construction process. Change can be a result of differing site conditions, unavailability of material, or design modifications. There are many reasons changes need to be made in the field. These changes will also result in modifications to the construction documents.
Who creates the record drawings?
Most construction contracts require the contractor to maintain a copy of the construction documents at the job site, and the documents are updated to indicate addenda, field changes, and selections made during construction. This copy is a living document that changes during the course of construction.
Since the design professional is not on site during all phases of construction, contractors are the ones most familiar with modifications and in the best position to maintain these records. In addition, on many projects, there will be general, mechanical, and electrical contractors all providing input to the as-built conditions, each updating only the information they have personally performed. The design professional collects and assembles the information provided by the variety of contractors working on a project.
At the conclusion of construction, the collected as-built drawings are made available to the design professional. The design professional assembles the information in an updated version of the original drawings for submittal to the owner as record drawings.
A design professional signed and sealed my record drawing. Does that mean that they certify the contents?
No. Often local and state regulatory agencies require the design professional to sign and seal record drawings. By signing and sealing the drawings the engineer is indicating that he or she is aware of the changes indicated on the drawings and approve of the changes.
Sometimes a project starts as a private construction project and is later transferred to a municipality or utility as a public project. Perhaps one engineer provides design services and another provides construction-phase services. If the design engineer is not involved in the construction phase of the project, he or she is even more dependent on the information provided by the contractors. It is not practical for a design professional to personally verify all the construction details after the fact, and their certification needs to reflect the dependence on information provided by others.
Record drawings are a valuable resource for owners. The knowledge contained in them has the potential to save money and time for future projects. However, the information is not infallible. As-built drawings change hands multiple times during projects and the information is sourced from many people working on the project. No set of plans is a true picture of the project, and actual conditions always need to be field verified when planning future additions or extensions.
Mark S. Davy, P.E., F.NSPE, is a member of the Professional Liability Committee of NSPE's Professional Engineers in Private Practice.