This article covers everything you need to know about Punch Lists and why they play such important roles within home renovation projects.

As your renovation project begins to resemble the inspirational images that you used as a blueprint, it is a positive sign that your project is coming to a close. Now is the time to begin earnest preparation of your punch list. This is a list of tasks or issues that still need attention or are pending completion, created by either the homeowner or the contractor, near the end of a construction project. We recommend that the homeowner take ownership of the master punch list, while continually sharing updated versions with the general contractor. The main reason is that the homeowner has strongest incentive to get all remaining issues resolved in a timely manner, with adequate levels of quality.

The name “Punch List” is believed to be derived from the historical method by which construction tasks were considered completed. Items listed on paper were “punched” with a hole next to them to denote completion of that task. The goal of course was to make sure that all items had a “punch” hole next to them before the homeowner made the final payment. (Note: A punch list can also be referred to as a “snag list”).

Punch Lists Provide Leverage to the Homeowner

Persisting today, most contract agreements allow the homeowner to withhold the final payment to the general contractor, pending corrections and sign off on the punch list. This pre-completion list of outstanding work should be compiled by both the homeowner and the contractor during a joint walkthrough of the area. Withholding final payment provides crucial leverage to the homeowner in order to get all remaining issues satisfactorily resolved in a timely manner. Completing your punch list is a key requisite for signing the Project Completion Form. This important document, once signed, officially declares that all work for a given project has been adequately completed. To learn more about this form, read When to Sign Your Project Completion Form.

Practice Punch Lists During Projects, Too

A good rule of thumb for any homeowner would be to not just wait for the end-of-project Punch List, but to continuously perform your own walkthroughs of the property, as often as you can, once the crew has left for the day. In this manner, you have plenty of time to: review craftsmanship and quality; check for conditions on items you have previously raised to the foreman; and assess the general working conditions of the site. The earlier you find defects of any kind, the easier it is to properly correct. Take photos and document any deviation from your expectations that do not meet with the general obligations of the contractor. (Photos of opened areas can also serve as invaluable visual references, if issues arise in the future). Make sure to retain communication records, via email or text messaging, with both the general contractor and foreman that these issues were cited.

Punch List Item Types 

Here are the most common types of issues that make their way onto a Punch List:

  1. Incomplete Items: e.g. molding; caulking
  2. Missing Items: e.g. cabinet hardware; bathtub fixture parts
  3. Incorrect Items/Materials: e.g. wrong paint color; incorrect wall texture; incorrect light switches
  4. Defects/Faulty Workmanship: Faulty workmanship such as proper painting or missing tile grout in the shower or on the vanity. These issues are usually the result of rushing the end of the “finishing” process and must be given extra scrutiny. These items also include items that do not functioned as specified, so be sure to test features during your walkthroughs.
  5. Damaged Items: This is the most frustrating type of issue, as these are issues that often arise when previously done work is damaged by follow-up contractors. Think of a “touch up artist” dragging a large heavy door on the surface of beautiful, newly installed hardwood floors. Yes, this happens.

Steps to Create and Complete a Punch List:

  1. Take a thorough inventory of completed and remaining work:
    • While inspecting the work, reference your contract and statement of work and take detailed notes
    • The walkthrough should be more than just a visual inspection, as all fixtures, appliances, and mechanical devices should be used, tested and verified
    • Use colored painter’s tape to mark any areas representing issues or questions
    • Take your time and take more than one walkthrough
    • If possible, have another person inspect with you for additional perspective and to prevent any oversights
  2. Create a spreadsheet of identified issues (AKA Punch List), with the following columns:
    • Task/Issue: Description of the issue or question
    • Priority: High/Medium/Low
    • Status: Not-Started/In-Progress/Completed/On-Hold/Out-of-Scope
    • Estimated Completion Date
    • Actual Completion Date
    • Assigned Resource/Trade Area: e.g. Plumbing/Electrical/Carpentry/Flooring
    • Notes
  3. With a hardcopy of the preliminary Punch List, schedule a walkthrough inspection with the General Contractor to clarify and confirm the items on the list:
    • This walkthrough is the final opportunity for the homeowner to enforce a high standard of workmanship, so aim to get as many flaws corrected as possible
    • If the items are clearly in-scope of the contract, mutual agreement should not be difficult to achieve
    • However, there may be some difference of opinion in terms of which items are “reasonable flaws” and those that are “unreasonable flaws”
      • Unreasonable flaws are defects that must be corrected
  4. The remainder of the project should consist on managing and updating the items on the Punch List on a daily basis:
    • Be sure to document this process thoroughly with text messages, photos, and emails
    • This is not only to communicate issues effectively, but to have supporting evidence to help resolve any disputes
  5. Once the list has been satisfactorily completed, the homeowner can make the final payment and sign the Project Completion form.

What If You Detect or Experience Defects After the Project is Completed?

This is where your Construction Warranty term comes into effect. Whenever you discover any latent defects, it is imperative to contact the contractor promptly to ensure that you are still within the term of the respective warranty. Additionally, many states have a statute of limitation of the contractor’s liability due to latent defects. After time has passed, you may also discover missing or imperfect contract items that become obvious only with regular use of the renovated space. An example here would be tiling a missing electrical outlet that was noted in the plans that somehow was overlooked during the electrical rough and drywall process. To learn more about warranties, read 6 Key Concepts of Construction Warranties.

Final Thoughts on Punch Lists

Though we cannot over stress the importance of an end-of-project Punch List, your best defense against having a large list is to continually and consistently monitor the work throughout the course of the project. The more proactive monitoring you conduct, the easier it will be to close out your project with a Punch List.