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Construction Product Substitutions, by Corinne Maddox, CCM, CFM

Cost, schedule and constructability issues often require substitutions of products, materials and equipment for those specified by the architect and engineer. Reducing costs is the primary motivation by the contractor in proposing substitutions, since it generally increases his profit margin. Substitutions can result in an inferior product and may affect multiple elements of the project, so they must be carefully controlled. The architect, engineer and/or owner should carefully review each request to make sure the product quality is adhered to, and to evaluate related project elements. Language should be included in the construction contract requiring the owner's approval for all substitutions and defining contract procedures. Usually, in a competitive bidding situation, it is a good idea to require bidders to include all substitution requests with their bids so that they can be reviewed and approved before awarding the contract. In addition, all submittals (proposed product literature and shop drawings submitted by the contractor) must be reviewed to assure compliance with the design and construction documents. Most manufacturers have multiple options and more than one quality line, so although the specified manufacturer is being used, the product still may not meet the project requirements. Occasionally, an alternate is requested because the specified items are not available in the required time frame. Usually this can be avoided by identifying long lead items early and monitoring the contractor's procurement and submittal process. Finally, proper inspections throughout the construction period are necessary to assure authorized items are being installed.

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