What is an RFI in Construction?

By Jim Stephen | BIM

From skyscrapers to single-family homes, construction project management is an evolving process involving dozens of moving parts. While most builders and general contractors would love nothing more than to have every aspect of a project’s design and building process accounted for in the construction contract, in reality, questions often arise during construction, and various project elements need further clarification. Architects, general contractors, subcontractors, and clients use RFIs to effectively communicate questions as they arise.

RFIs are very common in the construction industry. In fact, for every $1 million in construction costs, 10 RFIs are used. Therefore, understanding RFIs and having a solid system in place for handling them is an important facet of project management.

A request for information, commonly referred to as an RFI, is a formal document used to communicate and clarify the details of a construction project. It is typical for several RFIs to be written and responded to throughout the course of a complex project. Doing so helps construction management communicate site conditions, project details, and potential constructability issues while ensuring the project is completed with the right materials according to specs in the correct amount of time.


While the RFI process sounds simple and straightforward, RFIs are often a source of delay, conflict, expense, and sometimes, legal claims. Therefore, it is important for everyone involved in a construction project to understand RFIs, how they work, and the proper way to use them.


Construction RFIs are used at various points throughout a construction project. When bidding, a construction company or contractor might submit an RFI to get a clearer picture of the project’s details in order to provide an accurate quote.


However, RFIs are more commonly submitted during construction as a means of communicating with engineers, architects, and designers to clarify project specifications, drawings, materials, and additional information. An RFI may also be used by a contractor or supplier to document concerns and recommend changes, such as the substitution of materials.


Conversely, providing timely responses to RFIs and answering questions as fully as possible is imperative in ensuring satisfactory project delivery.

What Does an RFI Mean in Construction?

The construction RFI process facilitates and governs communication involving project questions. A general contractor or subcontractor submits the RFI to the architect, engineer, or other qualified parties, who then sends back an RFI response. If the party responsible for originally submitting the RFI finds the answer insufficient, the RFI may be resubmitted for further clarification from the respondent.


On big construction projects, a project manager is often responsible for reviewing RFIs and taking the lead in the construction RFI process. Since large projects involve dozens of team members, including design, engineering, and construction project teams, recording RFI submittals and responses is a must. While RFIs are typically handled electronically, each team should have a process in place for assigning RFI responsibilities.


In certain cases, an RFI response may involve a written request to alter the project and scope of the work. Although this is not an official change order (CO), which is recorded in a digital change order log, it can precipitate a change order and impact both the budget and schedule. If it is unclear whether or not an RFI will involve a change order, the architect may submit an RFI notifying the construction company and contractors of a potential change order (PCO).

What Is an RFI Commonly Used For?

Clients, stakeholders, and contractors frequently encounter situations necessitating the need for additional information throughout a construction project. In such cases, construction management software, like Autodesk Build, can be used to generate RFIs and enhance communication between parties. Most importantly, it enables general contractors and subcontractors to complete work properly according to the original or updated architectural plans.


That said, unlike a request for tender (RFT) or request for proposal (RFP), requests for information serve a variety of functions. Some of the most common include:

  • Construction issues. Discuss and resolve construction issues as they arise.
  •  Design clarification. Ask for design specifics if the original plans are conflicting or unclear.
  • Substitution of materials. Suggest the substitution of materials when original materials are unaffordable, unavailable, or not right for the project.
  • Understanding of contract specifics. Gain a better understanding of the specific terms of the construction contract, including the proposed budget and timeline.

What Are the Different Types of RFIs in Construction?

According to a Journal of Construction Engineering and Management study, there are several primary types of RFIs used in the construction industry. They include:

  • Design and construction coordination. RFIs involve the organization and coordination of design documents, schedules, equipment, and construction-related procedures
  • Design clarification. RFIs seeking additional design information to better understand a project’s design details
  • Site and utility issues. RFIs identifying utility-related issues, like power and sewer lines, and other discrepancies between the actual site conditions and the conditions described in the construction documents
  • Constructability issues. RFIs articulating design details deemed infeasible by the contractor
  • Design and material changes. RFIs requesting design revisions or the use of materials other than those specified in the construction documents
  • Change in process. RFIs requesting a change in the construction process
  • Incomplete plans or specs. RFIs identify omissions and/or errors in the construction plans and specifications
  • Timing and phasing. RFIs provide notice of a change in the sequence of building activities due to labor or resource constraints
  • Deleted scope. RFIs seeking to decrease the scope of a construction project
  • Value engineering. RFIs requesting changes in order to reduce costs or improve quality or efficiency

What Is the Importance of RFIs in Construction?

Additional paperwork may be time-consuming, but RFIs play a critical role in the construction process. How you handle RFIs during the course of your project can have a significant impact on whether or not it gets completed within budget and on time.

According to a 2013 study involving 1,300 major construction projects and 1 million RFIs, the average project had 796 RFIs. This alone underscores their importance in the construction process.

RFIs bring added structure to the building process and help facilitate the completion of higher-quality projects with greater customer satisfaction. Failure to submit an RFI or promptly respond to one may lead to delays, costly reconstruction work, and other major expenses.


Inadequate communication can result in faulty construction and cost people’s lives. RFIs ensure builders use the appropriate materials, perform the work according to specs, and maintain a safe work site.


RFIs also serve as documentation that a project was completed correctly throughout each step of the process. If any disputes arise later on, they can be used to support fraud or negligence claims. Construction litigation is costly and time-consuming, but it can often be avoided by properly managing RFIs with diligence and care.

How to Write a Construction RFI

When writing a construction RFI, there are certain things you can do to elicit a clear, concise, and timely response. An RFI template or construction management software can help you fill in the what, where, how, and why, but it is up to you to:

  • Define the Problem. RFIs should only focus on a specific issue and always start with a statement clearly defining the problem needing resolution.
  • Provide Context. Many RFIs never receive a response due to incomplete information, so be sure to include any necessary information to fully and accurately explain the problem.
  • Offer a Solution. Subcontractors are experts in their fields and often have great problem-solving ideas. RFIs are used by subcontractors to present strong solutions for any problems that may arise during a construction project.
  • Add Visuals. Including important visuals, like photographs or building plans, can help provide the evidence needed to clarify a situation and expedite the resolution of an issue.
  • Additional Important Information. In addition to these key inclusions, a successful RFI should also contain:
    • RFI number and title
    • Project name
    • Project address
    • RFI submission date
    • Name of the company submitting the RFI
    • Name and title of the person submitting the RFI
    • Description of the request and attachments, such as invoices, photos, plans, etc.
    • Room for a response

How to Respond to an RFI in Construction

Contractors may receive dozens or even hundreds of RFIs throughout the course of a large construction project. Therefore, it is critical to have the right process in place to respond to them efficiently and sufficiently.

  • Log the RFI. Use project management software or a spreadsheet to log all incoming RFIs. Make sure to assign a unique number and response due date for each one.
  • Carefully Review the RFI. Take the necessary time to carefully look over the RFI and any supporting documentation prior to writing a response.
  • Reach Out to Others. As a general contractor, if some questions are beyond your scope, be sure to consult with architects, engineers, and others when certain specialized issues arise.
  • Formulate a Thorough Response

While you may be tempted to hurry through the RFI process, providing an inaccurate or incomplete response will only result in mistakes, lost time, and potentially lost revenue later on in the project.

Above all else, make sure to provide timely responses to all incoming RFIs. Doing so will help prevent delays and avoid cost overruns, but most importantly, it will generate goodwill with team members, subcontractors, and everyone involved.

Tips to Upgrade the RFI Process in The Construction Industry

RFIs are a common source of frustration for both issuers and responders. However, this frustration can be avoided by following some helpful tips and common-sense guidelines.

  • Use a Construction RFI Template and Other Digital Tools. Construction management software can be used to create, store, track, and manage RFIs to shorten the timeframe between responses and expedite the building process.
  • Include RFI Procedures in Contracts. Stipulate RFI workflow in contracts and define RFI-related circumstances in order for clients, stakeholders, subcontractors, and others to have a common understanding prior to breaking ground.
  • Categorize RFIs. Categorizing RFIs according to their level of importance will help give precedent to more urgent RFIs and shorten response times.
  • Cultivate Relationships. Put in the effort to nurture relationships among project participants. Combined with a firm understanding of RFI processes, doing so will enhance communication throughout the project and help everyone involved reach their project goals.

Now that you’ve learned all about RFIs and their importance in the construction industry, you’re ready to communicate professionally and effectively to help ensure the successful completion of your project.

INDUSTRIES: Construction

Published on January 13, 2023 in , , , .

About the Author

Jim Stephen is the Construction Industry, Account Executive at Microsol Resources. He supports construction professionals across the U.S. He focuses on solutions that improve workflow, enhance margins, and reduce risks through software adoption.