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A punch list is a list of tasks that need to be completed to satisfy the terms of a construction contract. Such lists may be included in the contract itself, but more commonly, they are generated in the final phases of construction, as people walk around the site and note down any issues and deficiencies that need to be resolved. They are very useful for project management, whether people are dealing with a contractor or doing the work themselves, because it's easy to miss small details which can be problematic later.
The term “punch list” is a reference to the fact that people used to punch a hole in the paper next to tasks which had been completed. Today, these lists may be managed as simple written checklists, or even in electronic form. Electronic ones are very convenient because they can be distributed to many people and may be updated instantly, allowing everyone to see progress. This can be especially important when multiple contractors need to address the same issue.
When a list is created, people think about the terms of the contract, and they walk around the job site taking note of anything that is not perfect. The list can include everything from “clean up scraps on construction site” to “finish trim in bedroom.” Building inspectors can generate them for property owners to alert them to problems that need to be fixed before a property will pass inspection, and property owners can walk around and create their own lists of things that must be done before the contractor can get paid. A contractor may also make one for workers to complete in the final phases of a job.
For big projects, it helps to clearly spell out expectations in the contract before work begins. For example, a homeowner should specify that a remodel should be entirely finished and cleaned up before the contractor will be paid. While this may seem redundant, some contractors can and do leave jobs incomplete, or they leave messes behind, and by stating clear parameters in the contract, property owners can save themselves a lot of grief.
Many construction information websites have sample punch lists that people can print out to include in contracts and in inspections of a project in its final days to identify problems that need to be corrected. While some of the items may feel petty, property owners should remember that the contractor is being paid to complete a job in full, not to leave minor and irritating tasks for someone else to finish, and contractors will respect complaints or concerns that were clearly outlined on a list.