One of the most valuable deliverables from a design and construction project are the as-built drawings (often referred to interchangeably as record drawings). These will be referenced throughout the life of the building to help operations and maintenance staff, service contractors, renovation design teams, recommissioning professionals, and others understand the systems and discover where to find system components, many of which are typically concealed behind walls and above ceilings.

All of us who regularly work in existing buildings know the following:

  • It is rare to find any drawings labeled “as-built” or “record” in an existing building (either hard copy or electronic); and

  • When “as-built” or “record” drawings are found, they are of widely varying levels of quality, completeness, and reliability.

Based on a nonscientific survey of recent project specifications, the following were reasonably consistent requirements of the contractors with respect to documentation of as-built conditions.

  • Maintain paper copies of drawings at the project site on which the contractors are to document all deviations from the original design drawings in erasable red pencil (and use different colors for different categories of work);

  • The hand markups are to be made by personnel proficient at recording graphic information, and the architect is to review an initial submission of field markups for “acceptable” drafting quality;

  • The marked-up drawings need to be submitted to and reviewed by the architect before the substantial completion inspection;

  • A full set of bound hard copies of the hand marked-up drawings are to be submitted with a durable cover sheet; and

  • Electronic copies of the field marked-up drawings are to be submitted. These are most often required to be in the form of the hand markups transferred to an annotated PDF with the comment function enabled. However, some specifications allow for simply scanning the hand marked-up paper drawings into PDF format. Some specifications mention both scanned and annotated PDF formats.

The field markups need to include actual installation where installation varies from that shown originally and need to note change directive numbers, alternate numbers, change order numbers, etc., as applicable. Amazingly, one specification required the contractor to “mark important information that was either shown schematically or omitted from the original drawings.”

The point of the aforementioned summary is to raise awareness that project specifications can have reasonably clear requirements for record documentation. However, most building owners are not receiving these documents at the end of construction. If they are received at all, it is many weeks or months later, and there is no sense of confidence that the drawings are complete and reliable. However, they are sometimes better than nothing and, at all times, they are the only thing the owner has to work with.

In general, my experience is that drawings marked “record” are reasonably reliable with respect to what is actually marked-up on them. However, most “record” drawings have very few markups and leave the future user wondering if they represent all of the changes made during construction or just the changes the contractor took the time to put on the plans.

As-built document review is sometimes included in the commissioning professional’s scope of services, presumably as a means of filling this gap in the normal project delivery process. The assignment is a significant effort if it is to be done conscientiously, and, I agree, it is best performed by someone who appreciates the long-term benefit of making sure the drawings are complete and accurate before the system components are concealed.

The reviewer should also be someone who understands what’s important and what doesn’t really matter in the long run. As such, the best candidate is someone from the owner’s operations and maintenance team or a commissioning professional with substantial experience in existing buildings (not just new construction commissioning).

Finally, in addition to budgeting the time and expense involved in timely and regular verification of the field markups throughout construction, the project team needs to be sufficiently motivated to comply with the record drawing specification requirements. Interestingly, only one of the five specifications surveyed in preparation for this column allowed for withholding payment for noncompliance with record drawing maintenance requirements.