(Glaziers') Roadmap to Successful Substitution Requests

Contributed by ​Joe Schiavone (Editor's note: While addressed to glaziers, this article is ideal for any building product representative or manufacturer)<br />Substitution Requests are prevalent in construction projects of all scales. They offer several benefits to glazing contractors, such as helping them win a job; however, there is a right way and a...
Contributed by ​Joe Schiavone
(Editor's note: While addressed to glaziers, this article is ideal for any building product representative or manufacturer)

Substitution Requests are prevalent in construction projects of all scales. They offer several benefits to glazing contractors, such as helping them win a job; however, there is a right way and a wrong way to submit them.
A firm understanding of the procedures involved in Substitution Requests can increase the likelihood of the product being accepted, and of repeat business as a result of building a favorable reputation. With architects facing increasingly tight schedules, the submitter should be aware that the odds of success often depend on how clear and concise the Substitution Request is.
The Basics
Substitution Requests are simply proposed changes in products, equipment, and/or methods of construction from those that are specified by the architect. Nearly every project—regardless of project delivery method—encounters product substitutions so opportunities are abundant.
The most opportune time in the project lifecycle to submit a Substitution Request is during the bid phase when the general contractor is seeking out a glazing contractor. This creates a level playing field amongst bidders. It's possible to submit a Substitution Request during construction, but the process can be more complicated and should only be pursued when certain issues arise such as material unavailability, excessive lead times, or a change in code requirements.
There are several scenarios where substitutions are practical and feasible. CSI's Construction Contract Administration Practice Guide identifies key areas in which a Substitution Request should be reviewed. They include:

  • Shorter Construction Schedule
  • Lower Overall Cost, Including Operation and Maintenance
  • Improved Quality and Performance
  • Superior Sustainable Features
  • Enhanced Aesthetics
  • Better Warranty and Manufacturer Reputation
The substitution should add value and present clear advantages to the architect, and ultimately the owner, if it's to be approved. It must also be equal or superior to the specified product, and cannot adversely impact the project cost or schedule.
When submitting a Substitution Request, glazing contractors and product manufacturers should work directly with the bidding general contractor. Not doing so can be detrimental to the team dynamic and slow the project's progress. Although contacting the architect is possible, you risk immediate rejection. You also risk building a detrimental reputation for not following established protocol, which can cost you future work.
In some cases, a designer without formal Contract Document training writes the specifications. They may also be written in haste because of rushed schedules. This means that an experienced glazing contractor has more opportunities to spot potential conflicts that are overlooked, and suggest substitutions that will improve quality or reduce risk. 
Submitting a Substitution Request
The best way to submit a Substitution Request is by reviewing the Contract Document and following the procedures set forth in Section 01 25 00 of Division 01. This includes filling out a Substitution Request Form, such as CSI Form 1.5C. If the general contractor does not readily provide the Contract Document at bid time, be sure to request it.
Substitution Request procedures vary from project to project, especially during the construction phase. Some don't allow substitutions altogether. It's critical that you read the procedures in Section 01 25 00 carefully to avoid incomplete or inapplicable submissions. These are some of the most common Substitution Request deliverables:
  • The Substitution Request Form found in Division 01 of the Contract Document.
  • Detailed comparison between the substitution and the specified product that clearly outlines advantages in performance, quality, aesthetics, sustainability, installation, lead time, etc.
  • Product data including manufacturer name, test reports, drawings, and fabrication and installation procedures. This information should clearly show that the substitution meets specs. The test reports must verify that the product complies with local codes. In some jurisdictions, it may be beneficial to review substitutions with the Authority Having Jurisdiction.
  • List of Contract Document revisions needed to accommodate the proposed substitution. Note: The less revisions needed the better.
  • List of completed projects where the substitution was used. Projects should be similar to the one in question.
  • Warranty and service information from the manufacturer. Must be equal to current specification.
When submitting a Substitution Request, it's very important to be thorough, concise, accurate, and clear. This is particularly critical because of the tight schedules that architects face. You should clearly point out where the substitution adds value, and where it's superior to the specified product. If the substitution does not meet the specs, do not proceed with the request.
A Substitution Request is an involved process, which is why it becomes necessary to seek the assistance of a product manufacturer representative. An experienced representative will quickly respond to questions, and can supply all the documentation needed for the Substitution Request. This includes test reports, drawings, fabrication and installation details, performance data, LEED Statements, costs, and lead times. They will make sure there's no guesswork involved at any point in the process.
The Architect's Perspective
Architects regularly look for ways to reduce lead times and costs, while improving performance and aesthetics. This is why Substitution Requests are distinctly relevant. The purpose of a Substitution Request is to convince the project architect(s) to accept your product. In order to do so, you must understand what the architect is looking for.
Architects use several methods to specify products. For example, they can list performance criteria, industry standards the product must meet, or they can name a specific product and manufacturer. Understanding these methods can help you and the manufacturer representative identify in what areas the substitution is superior. Interestingly enough, the more control the architect demonstrates in the selection of a product, and the more detailed they are, the more opportunity there is for a substitution.
As previously mentioned, one of the most important things in a Substitution Request is to be thorough, concise, accurate, and clear. Explain exactly how the product meets specs and provide supporting documentation. If the architect does not have enough information to evaluate the substitution, or if the information is poorly organized, the request will be rejected. Make it easy for the architect to find the key information they need to compare the substitution and send a recommendation for approval to the owner.
"Making the comparison of products as easy and straightforward as possible for the architect increases your chances of approval," said Brian McClure, Associate, RA, CSI, CCCA at Stantec. "The information provided should be complete and presented in an orderly fashion. Avoid conflicting test data because it makes it more difficult to determine equivalency between products."
When reviewing a Substitution Request, architects typically ask:
  • Does the product manufacturer have a good reputation?
  • Does the product comply with Contract Documents?
  • Will there be any issues with schedule or installation?
  • Is the warranty and service comparable?
  • Does it meet sustainability objectives and code?
  • Is the product compatible with other trades?
Becoming familiar with, and addressing the questions an architect asks will help a glazing contractor put together an effective Substitution Request. Remember that the less time-consuming it is to review, the more likely it will be approved.
AIA Document A701-1997, Instructions to Bidders, provides basic requirements for submitting Substitution Requests in Section 3.3. The procedures defined therein essentially give architects only six days to review substitutions, which is not a lot of time. That's why it shouldn't be left up to the architect to research the product. The burden of proof lies with the submitter, and they must ensure that their submittal is clear and concise to give architects enough time to make informed decisions.  
"We don't have much time to review Substitution Requests because of demanding schedules," said Cherise Lakeside, Specification Writer, CSI, CDT, SCIP at LSW Architects, and co-founder of Letsfixconstruction.com. "If you submit a side-by-side comparison of the products with your request, it will save us valuable time and significantly increase your chances of getting the approval."
Be aware that Substitution Requests often translate to additional services and billable hours on behalf of the architect. Because of this and strict schedules, it isn't possible for the architect to research every substitution to determine if it can be used in the project.
Product substitutions are commonplace in construction. General contractors and architects are well aware that substitutions can have a positive impact on costs, lead times, and quality. When submitting a Substitution Request, be sure that your product meets specs, and can clearly benefit the project. Architects are facing tighter schedules so make it as organized and concise as possible to save them time.
It's very important that a glazing contractor carefully follow the Substitution Request procedures set forth in Division 01, Section 01 25 00 of the Contract Document. They should also seek the assistance of the product manufacturer when organizing all deliverables. Reducing costs, lead times, or increasing performance can help them win a job. It can also get the product included in the specs of a future project.
With every successful Substitution Request, a glazing contractor builds a stronger reputation because they've shown they can add value to projects. As a result, they have the opportunity to establish favorable relationships and increase the likelihood of repeat business.

(This article originally ran in the April 2018 issue of Glass Magazine, www.GlassMagazine.com)
Source: www.letsfixconstruction.com