RFI in construction: A guide for small business owners

RFI in construction: A guide for small business owners

Amy Beardsley
By Amy Beardsley
Mar 4, 2024
1 min read

You’ve likely heard the term RFI if you’re in the industry. It stands for request for information, and it’s an essential tool for managing expectations and ensuring clarity on your projects. RFIs in construction can help your company run more smoothly, whether you are writing them or responding to them.

Let’s break down what an RFI is, when it’s used, how it’s different from an RFP, and how to write and respond to one.

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What is RFI in construction?

An RFI, or request for information, is a formal process to manage and track construction details or changes. It’s also a written document that clarifies specifics, resolves knowledge gaps, and addresses uncertainties in a construction project.

For example, suppose you’re a contractor for a new commercial building. The blueprints specify a type of window but don’t mention if it’s fire-rated or not. Rather than guess or make assumptions, you’d submit an RFI to the architect or project manager for clarification. The answer would guide your next steps, ensuring the building is built correctly and to code.

Who uses RFI and when?

RFIs in construction don’t belong to a single group or role. General contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers, and material suppliers, can use them to clarify various types of construction contracts. The most common uses are to:

  • Get more information and clarification on an issue
  • Verify a proposed substitution or alteration
  • Resolve a problem or deficiency that comes up

You can use a request for information in construction at any stage of the project — even before it begins. For instance, an RFI can help you get more details about the construction scope of work to refine a bid before submitting it.

Most often, you’ll use it after a project has begun when sticking to specifications and accuracy is crucial. This is when you might need to clarify a drawing or specification with the designer or engineer, document concerns about materials, or suggest a change or substitution.

RFI vs. RFP vs. RFQ: Understanding the difference

While an RFI helps to gather information and clarify details about a project, an RFP (request for proposal) is a formal invitation for contractors to submit bids. Organizations and governments use RFPs when they’re ready to start a project. 

RFPs allows a company to evaluate the cost, timeline, and specifications proposed by potential contractors before deciding who to hire. Knowing how to respond to an RFP is especially helpful if you’re interested in getting government contracts.

On the other hand, companies use an RFQ (request for quotation) to ask for price quotes for a product or service they plan to purchase. It’s best when a company or government agency needs a consistent supply of standard products. RFQs can be sent to several vendors to get prices for, say, replacing 100 office computers. 

How to write an RFI in construction

When writing an RFI, clear communication is crucial to getting the answer you need as quickly as possible. Using a consistent structure, clearly articulating your question, and providing context for the issue are all helpful. You could also include images (drawings or photographs) to help get your point across.

What to include in a construction RFI

Here are key elements to include in a construction RFI:

  • Name and address of the project: Start your RFI with the official name of the project and its physical location.
  • RFI identification: Each RFI should have a unique identifier for easy tracking and reference. This could be a simple numbering system, or it could include project codes or other identifiers based on your company’s preference.
  • Title and short description: Provide a title and brief overview of the project to give the recipient context around your question.
  • Submission date: Include the date when you officially submit the RFI. It will give you a record of when you made the request.
  • Deadline for response: Always provide a deadline for the answer. Keeping your project on schedule will be easier if you get what you need on time.
  • Your name, title, company, and contact information: Include your contact details so the recipient can reach out if they have questions.
  • Detailed description: This is the heart of your RFI. Clearly state your request, and ask specific and direct questions. To clarify details, you can also include related plans, drawings, or images.
  • Responding party’s name, title, company, and contact information: You can fill this in if you know it. These details can help get the RFI into the right hands.
  • Space to write the response and the date of the response: Leave enough blank space for the recipient to provide their answer. Also add a space for the response date so you can keep track of the timeline and account for any delays.

Legal considerations when writing an RFI

Remember, an RFI becomes part of the project’s official documentation and may create legal obligations or liabilities. Be mindful of this when drafting your RFI, and ensure your questions are appropriate, relevant and well-articulated.

How to respond to an RFI

How to respond to an RFI is as critical as writing one. Double-check that your answer is accurate and prompt to maintain the project’s momentum and avoid delays. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Review the RFI: Make sure you understand the question or issue before responding.
  • Consult with others: If the RFI is outside of your expertise, ask other team members or departments to help provide the necessary insights.
  • Write the response: Answer the question as directly as possible and avoid industry jargon the requesting party may not understand. 
  • Include documentation: Attach necessary plans, drawings or other documents to help explain and clarify your answer.
  • Proofread your response: Check your response for accuracy and verify that you’ve addressed all aspects of the question.
  • Submit: If possible, respond to the RFI before the given deadline. It can show your professionalism and commitment.

Legal liability of responding to an RFI

Just like when writing an RFI, responding to one can create legal risks. Your response should be:

  • Accurate and truthful
  • Avoid proprietary or confidential information
  • Comply with laws, regulations and contractual obligations

Keep in mind that not responding can also lead to legal liability. You should always answer an RFI, even if it simply directs the requester to the original plans or other documents for the answer.

The value of RFI in construction

Miscommunication in a construction project can create a domino effect of issues, leading to unnecessary delays and escalating costs. RFIs can keep the timeline in check by clarifying points of information. They also create a clear process for answering questions and resolving disputes to minimize confusion for those involved in the project.

Business insurance helps you with RFIs

At NEXT, we recognize the unique challenges that construction businesses face, including potential professional liability that comes with writing and responding to RFIs. That’s why our business insurance policies can be customized to meet your needs and help protect you from risk.

Our streamlined application process is all online. You can get the right insurance coverage about 10 minutes, so you can get back to your projects.

Start a free instant quote.

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Amy Beardsley
About the author

Amy Beardsley, insurance expert and contributing writer at NEXT Insurance, is a content marketing writer who specializes in small business coverage. Leveraging her background in the legal field, Amy brings a deep understanding of laws, regulations, and compliance requirements to her work. As a content marketing writer since 2016, she has contributed to publications like Legal & General, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, Insurify, and NerdWallet. Her work has also appeared in CNBC, Kiplinger, and US News. When she’s not writing, Amy enjoys playing cards with her family and experimenting with new recipes.

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