Where Did That Punch List Term Come From Anyway?

by | Mar 6, 2019 | Managing Construction Process, Trending | 2 comments

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Enter the Realms of Conjecture and Opinion

I’ve often wondered just where the term “punch list” came from, and I’ve found a few sources that seem to make sense, while others not so much.

One person claims it came from the telephone installer process of “punching down” terminals on a block. That seems a bit of a stretch though. A blog writer said it had to do with the term ‘punch’ since it means to “punch something up” as in fix it.

Another blog writer thought it had something to do with a long forgotten practice. Apparently subcontractors used to each have their own hole punches that would punch a hole with a shape unique to them. They would use these punches to indicate they had corrected the deficiency that was their responsibility.

Signs of Punch List Consensus

Wikipedia also claims the practice relates to physically punching a hole in a piece of paper. It cites an historical practice of punching a hole in the margin of the punch list to show a completed item. Usually, both the architect and contractor punched their documents together so each of them would have a record of a completed item.

In this case, the contractor tells the architect the work is substantially completed, and then the architect inspects the premises and puts together the punch list of items that are discrepancies, or incomplete.

The Trouble With the Punch List

Punch lists have a sour reputation across construction because “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” People adding items to punch lists often have little regard for the actual specifications. They just don’t happen to like what someone did, even though the finished items meet the specs.

Punch lists have always been paper-based, and that’s made them cumbersome. Somebody had to make the list on paper, send the paper to all the different people who have items to address, wait for the items to get fixed, and then receive and collate the returned papers. Many papers came back unreadable from coffee stains, rips, and damage. This reflects carelessness, but also the low esteem people give the process.

Technology to the Rescue

So, tech companies now offer many options for making the punch list process a digital one. There are stand alone apps. These work well for people who have small punch list requirements with a limited number of people involved. There are also punch list processes built into many of the cloud based project management solutions like Procore. Digital punch lists allow users to include photos and audio so people can quickly and easily understand the discrepancies. Digital punch lists also really speed up the whole punch list process, and make it more manageable — no more paper, no more punching holes in paper.

The Search for Punch List Nirvana

Complete contract documents are the first step in avoiding issues at the punch list point of the project. Anything not specified is open to interpretation. We see these issues a lot in contracts between homeowners and contractors of all stripes. But, even states and municipalities run into issues at the end of the project because of the punch list process.  As you can see from this account of a public building project gone wrong, there can sometimes be some monumental things for correction on the punch list.

The other big reason for punch list difficulties near project’s end is a lack of quality control during construction.  Perhaps this will improve as more projects adopt Integrated Project Delivery and Building Information Modeling. No doubt as more things become transparent, expectations will more closely align with the reality of what’s supposed to get delivered.

There is an example of a punch list here.

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