As-Built Drawings in Construction: A Comprehensive Guide

Historically, as-builts have been a chore to create.

Their creation entailed juggling various sets of paper drawings and hand-copying revisions – a time-consuming and tedious task prone to errors.

The time and effort required meant they weren’t really a priority until the end of a project. But trying to track down documentation of all the changes made to a project months after the fact meant the drawings were not always accurate enough to be useful to asset owners.

Fortunately, the landscape for as-built drawings has been changing.

Cloud-based data management and field data capture capabilities make it easier to create as-builts – ones that are accurate and benefit stakeholders through construction and beyond.

At the same time, passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act means billions of dollars directed toward large infrastructure projects. These investments will benefit from high-quality digital as-builts that provide value over the lifetime of an asset.

What Is an As-Built?

As-builts are revised drawings that show the additions, deletions, and other changes made to a project during the construction process.

They illustrate the “as-built” condition of the completed construction. Though often referred to as “as-built drawings,” as-builts also include revised specifications.

an office team assembling an as-built

What should as-builts include?

  • changes in location, materials, dimensions, installations, and fabrications
  • obstacles encountered and the solutions implemented
  • changes made in response to inspections
  • work outside of the original project scope
  • dates when any changes were made
  • exact final dimensions

Photos, drone imagery, and notes are often included in as-builts as well.

As-built surveys

In some cases, an as-built survey may need to be included in the as-built documentation. As-built surveys document the state of a project at a specific point in the construction process.

They can be conducted throughout a project to show progress, and are common at project close to verify completed work and compliance with regulations. This is especially true for public works or government projects.

Conducting an as-built survey before work begins can help fill in gaps in cases where an owner is embarking on a construction project involving an existing asset that has little to no as-built information.

a construction worker performing an as-built survey

Who Produces As-Built Drawings?

General contractors are generally tasked with creation of as-built drawings and are responsible for their accuracy.

However, subcontractors and their crews document much of the project change data that will be included in the as-builts. They mark up their drawings with any changes and notes in the field and any posted RFIs. This is a practice known as redlining (which gets its name from the red ink or pencil that was traditionally used). 

The contractor will create the as-built by transferring all the changes from these redline drawings onto a single set of working drawings. (Here you can see why some people use the terms “redline drawings” and “as-built drawings” interchangeably.)

Depending on contractual obligations, the contractor’s as-built drawings may be submitted to the project architect or engineer, who will create their record drawings, or their final set of project drawings. The record drawings incorporate the changes marked on the as-builts.

a construction team collaborating on an as-built

Why Do As-Builts Matter?

As-built drawings provide a detailed plan of a project as it actually exists. This makes as-builts a  valuable deliverable for a few reasons.

For owners: essential for operations, maintenance, and modifications

For owners, an accurate as-built has a direct effect on how efficiently they can operate and maintain their asset over its lifetime.

Any future renovations or modifications can also proceed smoothly when the owner can be sure of the location of various systems and installations.

a utility crew performing maintenance on a road

For general contractors: a smoother project and a reputation boost

If a contractor manages to stay on top of change documentation throughout the construction process, then he or she will always have an up-to-date picture of project progress. This can lessen the likelihood of rework or mistakes made from working off of outdated plans. 

Up-to-date as-builts can make for a more streamlined permitting process, and are also necessary for obtaining a certificate of occupancy for the completed construction project.

Last but not least, delivering accurate, well-organized as-built drawings reflects very well on the contractor, and can enhance their reputation – which helps with getting new business.

a contractor communicating with an owner's representative

For subcontractors: getting up to speed during construction – and beyond

For new subcontractors on a jobsite, a precise, up-to-date as-built can help them get situated – and working – more quickly.

Contributing to an accurate as-built during construction can also potentially benefit the subcontractor who may be hired for future work on the asset – and might need to reference that as-built information.

a subcontractor performing work in the field

Creating an As-Built

Creating an as-built entails documenting all the changes made to the project as they occur - so they can be compiled and marked on original design plans to show what was actually built. 

Digital design drawings from architects and engineers are standard, and final as-builts are commonly delivered in digital format. But in the field, recording the changes that will eventually be included on the final as-builts still often happens on paper.

Unfortunately, the paper-based as-builting process leaves much to be desired.

According to a Procore ebook, it might go something like this:

  • Design drawings in digital or print format are sent from the project designer to the contractor, who distributes the plans in sets to subcontractors.
  • If they’re not given out as hard copies, the subcontractors will generally print them. Subcontractors pass out the papers to site workers, and they all proceed to redline their drawing sets while in the field.
  • When revised drawings from the architect or engineer arrive on the jobsite, workers have to “slip sheet” their drawing sets, swapping out any old pages – potentially hundreds of them – for updated ones. They then hand-copy any applicable markups or notes.
  • When it comes time to create the as-built, the markups from these redlined sets are compiled – sometimes by subcontractors copying all their redlines to the as-built drawing set. 

In theory, a paper-based process like this captures all the necessary as-built information.

But in reality, a process dependent on hand-copying information and slip sheeting can easily lead to inaccuracies, loss of data, and situations where teams are working off of outdated paper drawings.

paper construction plans

Why is paper a problem for as-builts?

Making changes on paper is more time-consuming. Confirming you’re working with the correct drawing, handwriting notes, and transferring changes from one set of plans to another by hand  takes time. And like a game of telephone, the quality of information degrades with each transfer. 

Because it takes more effort to revise paper drawings, changes deemed minimal may not be recorded – which means the as-built is missing information.

Even if things are recorded, hastily jotted notes might not mean much months down the road and memory has to try to fill in the gaps. Additionally, handwriting may be hard to decipher and incorrectly interpreted.

Paper isn’t quick and doesn’t have a far reach across a team – so not everyone is up to date.

Thankfully, there is another option for creating as-builts.

Digital As-Builts: An Up-to-the-Moment Project Snapshot

With collaborative software, mobile technology, and field apps that make real-time updates from anywhere possible, as-builts have entered a new era.

A typical definition for “as-built” describes it as a set of drawings created by the contractor and turned over at the close of a project.

A digital as-built, on the other hand, is a digital record of the project that takes shape in your construction project files in sync with the physical construction of your asset.

a construction worker accessing a digital as-built on a tablet

In other words, you can document as-built conditions and create your digital as-built as construction progresses - and as you upload digital forms or documents, photos, or drone surveys from the field to the cloud.

And at project close, your as-built drawings are complete and ready to be handed off to the owner - because your plans have been continuously updated with field data reflecting the as-built condition.

Mobile tech is key to the digital as-builting process as it makes data capture and data transfer in the field a simple undertaking. Snapping photos or marking up a plan with a few taps on a smartphone or tablet screen can easily become part of a site worker’s workflow.

a construction worker reviewing digital project data in the field

Stakeholders connected via a cloud-based platform can eliminate lag time for inputting data or communicating between field and office, as well as errors due to analog or otherwise unwieldy data transfer.

Whether a contractual agreement requires a formal as-built package at regular intervals or not, captured as-built documentation can be referenced by the construction team at any time – an up-to-the-moment snapshot of the project.

Interested in digital as-builts? Take a deep dive: Why a Digital As-Built Is a Superior Deliverable in Construction

5 Ways to Create High-Quality Digital As-Builts

1. Put mobile technology to work

The idea with a digital as-built is to record changes and conditions as they happen and where they happen – and to share that information with project stakeholders in real time. That means capturing data in the field and uploading it to the cloud.

And for that, you need mobile tech.

Smartphones and tablets can be used to take photos and video on the job site. Redlining a plan displayed on a mobile device can take mere moments. And filling out a form – particularly when there are pre-set options workers can select to populate the fields – is fast and ensures the recording of all necessary information. 

a construction worker using a mobile device

Once workers capture this data, they can upload the information directly from the field.

Without mobile technology, stakeholders can’t take advantage of critical real-time sharing of data and communication between the field and the office.

2. Make sharing simple

Ensure that information documented in the field can be easily and quickly shared between stakeholders.

Workers require not just mobile hardware but the intuitive mobile software, apps, and integrations that mean data collected in the field can be uploaded from the field and made available to all team members straight away. 

a construction worker capturing data on a phone

3. Emphasize quality data capture

Impress upon workers the importance of consistent, quality data collection and empower them to successfully do it.

Educating teams on why as-builts matter, what data should be collected for as-builting purposes, and how to capture and share data will go a long way toward making as-built documentation a natural part of your workflow.

Standards and protocols regarding data capture should be set so workers know what is expected of them.

4. Include multiple dimensions to your data

GPS data offers priceless location information about the various components of a project.

This is particularly valuable when parts of the completed project are hidden from view behind walls or underground. Smartphones or tablets will capture GPS data when used to take pictures. Plus, dedicated data collectors can gather even more precise coordinates.

Satellite and/or drone imagery can provide a bird’s-eye view that can be particularly helpful with larger-scale projects - while photos and even video provide valuable close-in visual context for how something has been built. This multimedia can confirm that the construction or installation in question has been carried out according to plan.

As-built surveys and digital 3D models are finding their way into as-builts as well.

two construction workers operating a drone

5. Keep the owner and O&M top of mind

Recording and managing accurate as-built documentation has its advantages during the construction process – everyone can reference up-to-date project information and lessen the possibility of rework and mistakes.

But those creating the as-built must remember that the documentation will live on past the construction phase and be useful into the asset’s ongoing operations and maintenance (O&M) phase.

Beyond accurate change documentation and location data, try to provide information that will help answer questions that may arise about the asset in the future. Descriptions about how or why things were constructed in a certain way should be clear and thorough.

And it bears repeating: photos – with their GPS metadata – provide detail that can’t always be conveyed in drawings and documents. 

Additionally, a well-organized as-built will be much easier for owners and O&M teams to use. Clearly labeled folders of PDFs, CSV files, and CAD drawings will enable future users to quickly track down the information they seek. 

The Future of As-Built Documentation

Today, owners generally require CAD files of final as-built drawings. But more are asking for submittal and O&M information to be hyperlinked to those drawings. And some are looking for fully digital documentation at project completion.

a digital twin of a city

Case studies: DOTs go digital

The Federal Highway Administration is currently promoting deployment of digital as-built innovation through its Every Day Counts program.

During the EDC-6 round, various state departments of transportation (DOTs) are focusing on how to effectively implement digital as-builts to streamline project delivery and support asset management and maintenance activity.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) are two such agencies.

UDOT

As part of its work to shift to fully digital project delivery, UDOT aims to capture as-built information as it compiles data from each stage of a project’s life cycle. This as-built data will go on to inform future maintenance and asset management in the form of digital twins of the agency’s assets.

The vision is that UDOT staff will be able to use the digital twins to access a full record of an asset’s history and current condition to support decision-making.

PennDOT

PennDOT has set a goal that by 2025, all projects will be bid using 3D models. The digital models will be used on site by contractors and construction inspectors.

Contractors will collect digital as-built records, and “the contractor’s as-built deliverable will be an accurate representation of the constructed project.” 

Digital as-builts and 3D visualization

These examples illustrate that, going forward, digital as-builts will not be ends unto themselves as they might be now. They show that the role of digital as-built documentation in the future will be to contribute to 3D models and digital twins.

The different kinds of data that can be captured in the field to record as-built conditions – photos, drone imagery, and GIS information, for instance – will provide the accuracy, detail, and context that make these asset visualizations so useful.

BIM models and digital twins enable stakeholders to access as-built data captured during the construction phase. And once construction is complete, BIM models and digital twins can be updated to reflect how an asset changes over time.

a construction project engineer reviewing project data on a tablet

When diligently amended with accurate information, owners and stakeholders can trust that their models are a true representation of their asset’s current condition at any given moment. This is invaluable for ongoing O&M and future planning purposes. 

Having a “living” model, or digital twin, of an asset may be an owner’s ultimate goal. But for those in the paper realm of as-builting, it might be tough to imagine how they could ever get there.

Adoption of intuitive, cloud-based software that enables creation of digital as-builts is the logical – and manageable – first step.

Why Contractors Should Focus on Digital As-Built Data Capture 

The days of paper-based as-builts are numbered. Paper just can’t compete with the accuracy, timeliness, efficiency, and data richness that digital as-builts bring to the table. 

Owners – like the state DOTs exploring digital as-built implementation through EDC-6 – recognize the value of digital as-builts that provide a high level of visibility into their assets through depth of data.

For owners of large horizontal construction projects that cover a lot of ground – like those that will see an influx of funding from the IIJA – having accurate, geo-located as-built data and the software platforms that allow them to organize and visualize that data is particularly valuable.

a construction worker editing plans on a tablet

With an accurate look at the status – and the location – of their asset at any time, they can make better informed decisions that improve the safety, quality, and timely delivery of projects. This applies both in the construction phase and especially in the asset management phase.

If contractors want to stay competitive in this increasingly digital construction landscape, they need to be able to reliably turn over the kind of actionable digital as-built data that provides project-specific information as well as real-world context. 

How can contractors achieve this?

They must employ mobile technology, collaborative software, and easy-to-use field apps that enable on-site collection and sharing of data.

And if that software is map-based and provides a more intuitive way of visualizing project data for teams during construction and for owners operating and managing their assets? Even better.

Unearth’s Capital Construction solution can help you deliver.

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