Best Practice – Design Drawings – Why You Should Never Accept Drawings unless they are labelled, “Issued for Construction”.

Last week I shared with you a list of details you should look for on Construction Documents before you release drawings for bid.

In that article I wrote, “‘Issued for Construction’ is the only acceptable release for soliciting a quote.”  Today I want to revisit that comment and share with you why I wrote that.

I was first inspired to write about this topic from a forum discussion that began on the AIA Discussion Forum.

The discussion was started by Dennis J. O’Beirne from IBI Group.  Mr. O’Beirne started the thread in January of 2017 and  it has continued to receive comments until as recently as last month.

Dennis was looking for some language to add to his drawings to help differentiate and clarify the difference between a set of drawings “Issued for Construction” versus a set of drawings “Issued for Permit”.

This triggered over 30 responses and sparked a debate on whether it was good practice to release drawings before they are 100% complete.

You may be asking yourself why any Architect might consider releasing drawings that are not complete to be a “good practice”?  The answer has to do with “Intended Use”.

Intended Use

When most people consider the intended use of an Architect’s drawings, the very first thing they think about is Construction.  What they fail to consider is that besides the contractor there are several other parties who’s review and/or approval is required.

The most obvious “other party” is the Building Official.  In this case the intended use of the drawings could be stated as “Plan Review and Approval”.

Another party (which could be different than the Building Official) is the Zoning Officer.  The intended use here could be stated as “Zoning Review and Approval”.

Depending on site conditions and your jurisdiction, there could be other authorities and reviewers who’s approval may be required and consequently other intended uses.

Scope of Information

The level of documentation and the scope of information that each of these reviewers require is different depending on the scope of their reviewing authority.

For example, the Building Official is primarily focused on ensuring that the design complies with fire and life safety requirements.  This scope includes review of; egress components, accessibility clearances, fire separations, fire suppression, and fire alarm components just to name a few.

The Zoning Officer is primarily focused on; setbacks, building heights, signage, impervious coverage, and parking.

The scope of the information these reviewers require is significantly different than the scope needed for construction.

Details such as the selected finishes and mill-work details are essential for construction but are completely irrelevant for zoning approval or even plan review.


The primary reason why an Architect might release a set of drawings before all the details have been completed is schedule.

Plan review backlogs in many jurisdictions could be 30 days or more.  It’s not that it takes 30 days to review your drawings, rather your drawings are waiting in line for 30 days to be reviewed.

Zoning approvals have similar backlogs and are also subject to hearing dates which can occur monthly or quarterly.  This means zoning approval could take as long as 90 days.

Releasing drawings that address the relevant scope of information needed to secure these approvals is a viable and commonly used strategy to mitigate the impact of these approval backlogs.

As you can see, there are a some very valid reasons why it may make sense to release drawings that are only partially complete.

However, there are circumstances where releasing partially completed drawings elevates an Owner’s risk.

Issued for Bid

One of the practices that was mentioned in the forum discussion is the practice of issuing drawings for bid.  This was mentioned by one individual who referenced the use of allowances to address undefined portions of the project.

I am very much against using allowances this way and even more against issuing drawings for bid that are not considered 100% Complete.  This statement assumes a fixed price or stipulated sum solicitation.  If you are soliciting a cost plus or rate-based contract you can use partially completed drawings without elevating the Owner’s risk.

To round out that statement, we must define what is meant by 100% Complete drawings.

100% Complete drawings are drawings that have been reviewed and approved by all Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and are intended for construction.  Such drawings will have incorporated all AHJ comments and include all details and specifications.


Using partially completed drawings to solicit stipulated sum quotations impart significant financial risks and creates unnecessary tension for all parties.

For an Owner, nothing taints the thrill of construction more than receiving a change requests on day one of the project.  No matter how large or small the change may be, starting the project that way hurts the relationship between the parties and quite frankly defeats the whole point of a Stipulated Sum contract.  It also establishes a precedence that invites more change and creates an immediate sense that the drawings are incomplete.  This practice also exposes the Contractor to risk and creates immediate conflict between the Contractor, the Architect, and the Owner.

While I agree that certain circumstances lend themselves to releasing partially completed drawings, competitive bid solicitations are one circumstance where we must hold fast.

What about you?  Does your practice release partially completed drawings?  What are the circumstances when you use this approach?  Tell me your stories.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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