Substitution Requests: 5 Easy rules to follow (2021)

Substitution Requests: 5 Easy rules to follow (2021)

Substitution Requests: Easy rules to follow

Substitution Requests: 5 easy rules to follow (2021)


On construction projects, substitution requests are typical.  So we’re sharing more about substitutions requests: 5 easy rules to follow to assist building product manufacturers and contractors performing the process.


What are substitution requests?


In short, substitutions are formal requests to accept a product that has not been specified by the design professional.


Design professionals create a project manual that specifies all of the products to meet the design intent of the project.  Contractors and manufacturers submit estimates to build the project, but with some product exceptions.  When the exceptions include products that have not been specified in the project manual (often called “project specifications”) a formal substitution and written approval is required before the products can be incorporated into the work.


The process can be a push and pull for both sides.  But with some planning and easy rules to follow, substitutions don’t have to be so difficult.


Substitution Request Form


Before submitting a substitution, read Division 01 for substitution requirements and follow them. Utilize the Substitution Request Form, if included. The specifications are part of the contract between the owner and the contractor or construction manager. The Design Professional (or a designated entity) will review the submittals, contract documents and perform a contract administration process for compliance with the contract. When approved, the contractor can then incorporate the substituted material into the work.


If your submittal is per plans and specs – label it that way. If you’re submitting a substitution for a non-specified product, label it that way.


The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) offers a fill-in-the-blank form for construction substitutions you can download here. Download it if the Design Professional has not provided one, and use it!


If your documents are not adequately labeled or submitted, it’s a sure way of receiving a “rejected/resubmit” stamp. So properly marking the submission correctly is essential. The Design Professional will also appreciate it.


Substitution Request Deadline


Substitutions are typically on a deadline for submission. It’s normal to see substitutions during the bidding period and within the first 30 to 90 days after the agreement between the owner and contractor is executed. If you are not sure, read Division 01 for specifics and ask the contractor for more information on substitutions dates.


If you’re bidding on a project with a product exception, in that case, it is your responsibility to drive the substitution submission, as you assume the liability for any cost difference if the substitution is not approved.


When you are the basis of design (or specified) on the project, you may want to become aware of this deadline as it will alert you to contractors looking to submit a substitute material.


Both sides should maintain a radar of the deadline for substitutions. When overlooked, substitutions it’s a sure way of losing a project or receiving a “rejected” stamp on your package.


Specification: Easy rules to follow


Read the specification, take note of the requirements, and compare the substitution vs. the specification.


Ok, some of you may think this is obvious, but it is becoming common to receive submittals without proper labeling. I worked on a handful of projects recently where contractors submitted unlabeled substitutions, 1 product datasheet, and ten pages of a safety data sheet (SDS) as a submittal for a specification Section requiring six products.


Was this a complete substitution? In my opinion, it was like throwing a dart at the Design Professional and saying, figure it out. Design Professionals are within their right to reject the substitution.


Easy to Follow Comparison


A CSI 3-part specification organizes information into, like you may have a guessed, three parts.


Part 1 of the specification will list submittal requirements, Part 2 lists manufacturers and product requirements, and Part 3 is the installation’s execution. Creating a comparison of what is being submitted based on the three parts of the specification will help the Design Professional quickly review the submittal and specifications’ requirements.


One golden rule to remember about substitution comparisons is to forget about the competition and compare your product to specified requirements. I see so many companies trying to say we are just as good as X company, and we compete with them all the time. Substitutions are not the place for this, and you should stick to the specified requirements.


Also, create an easy to follow comparison. Have a 2nd person in the office review the package to see if looks logical. Here are some ideas.


Page 1 – Title page

Project name, spec section, and label as “per plans and specs” or “substitution request.”

          Any costs impacts?

Page 2 – Specification comparison

Specified Requirement                         Proposed Substitution

1.2 Quality Assurance

Meets ASTM XXXX compliance               Meets ASTM XXX compliance

1.6 Warranty

5 – years                                                          Exceeds, 6-years


Pages 3(+) Substituted products vs. specified products 

Submittals – Clearly identify what products are per plans and specs and what are substituted materials.

Product #1 – 2.3 A. – Substituted material attached for review.

Product #2 – 2.4 A. – Substituted material attached for review.

Product #3 – 2.5 A. – Per plans and specs.


Pages 6+

Installation – Will the substitution change the installation process?


Make it look good!


Some believe substitutions are a negative way to do business. Manufacturer A has technical reps that support the design team (Architect) and manufacturer B only supports distributors and contractors. Let’s face the obvious, who’s writing the check?


The reps supporting the contractor and distributor will have a better position to grow sales using substitutions. Again, this is a push and pull process. So experienced representatives learn to work with the design team, contractor, and installers.


Substitution requests are an art form.  So take time to plan out your “process” and make it look good!


How can ZeroDocs help?

To learn more about substitutions, visit our recent blog post on specifying product substitution requirements and our easy-to-use 01 25 19.01 substitution request form for projects.


To learn more about specifications and technical insights, visit our blog for the latest information.