Origins of “Punch List”

I’ve often wondered just where the term “punch list” came from, and I’ve found a few sources that seem to make sense, while others not so much.

Enter the Realm of Conjecture and Opinion

One person claims it came from the telephone installer process of “punching down” terminals on a block. That seems a bit of a stretch though. A blog writer said it had to do with the term ‘punch’ since it means to “punch something up” as in fix it.

Another blog writer thought it had something to do with a long forgotten practice. Apparently subcontractors used to each have their own hole punches that would punch a hole with a shape unique to them. They would use these punches to indicate they had corrected the deficiency that was their responsibility.

Signs of Punch List Consensus

Wikipedia also claims the practice relates to physically punching a hole in a piece of paper. It cites an historical practice of punching a hole in the margin of the punch list to signify the completion of the item. Usually both the architect’s and contractor’s documents were punched together so each of them would have a record of the completion of the item. In this case the contractor notifies the architect that work is substantially completed, and then the architect inspects the premises and puts together the punch list of items that are discrepancies, or that are incomplete.

The Search for Punch List Nirvana

Needless to say, complete contract documents are the first step in avoiding issues at this point in the project. If something hasn’t been specified then it could be open to interpretation. These kinds of problems are very evident in contracts between homeowners and contractors. Although, even cities and municipalities, and others, run into issues at the end of the project related to specifications derailing the punch list process. As you can see from this account of a public building project gone wrong, there can sometimes be some monumental things for correction on the punch list.

The other big reason for punch list difficulties near project’s end is a lack of quality control during construction.  Perhaps this will improve as more projects adopt Integrated Project Delivery and Building Information Modeling. No doubt as more things become transparent expectations will more closely align with the reality of what’s being delivered.


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