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"Boilerplate", "fine print", and Transparency at PermitZip

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

old rusted oil storage tank

Plans, blueprints, layouts, designs. There are many ways to describe what PermitZIP produces for our clients. Still, an often overlooked part of what we do is creating Contract Documents. Quite literally, we are generating the contract that your contractor agrees to follow. You have hired us to draft up a scope of work that includes the interpretation of legal documents(ICC and local codes) and prescriptive methods for the appropriately professional execution of the work.

We take this responsibility seriously and are constantly working on updating and crafting our language to protect our clients, the contractors, and ourselves. Everyone uses CYA(cover your ass) notes. At PermitZIP, we prefer to use CEA(cover everyone's ass) notes.

As with any contract or legal document, PermitZIP uses some classic 'boilerplate' language. Boilerplate has developed a bad reputation, I know. Most people associate the term with technical, confusing, and justifiably ignored language. I am here today to attempt to rehabilitate the word. Let the uphill battle begin.

The public created the term boilerplate to describe news stories and advertisements distributed for wide use on steel plates that literally just resembled the sides of boilers. The plates were stamped into the various newspapers and magazines so that you had the same stories across myriad publications.

I can't speak to the quality of the writing or the journalistic rigor that went into these stories. The term boilerplate began to describe anything repetitive, trite, void of meaning, etc. It wasn't a favorable term. To this day, the word 'boilerplate' as a description implies that the writing in question is not valuable or worth scrutiny.

However, the term 'boilerplate clause' takes on a different meaning in contract law. Rather than being generalized and able to be ignored, a boilerplate clause represents something so foundational and essential that it is in every contract and totally non-negotiable. If you asked a lawyer to remove a force majeure clause from a contract, for example, it is likely they would think it's a bad joke.

A common sentiment in our industry is that contractors can ignore 'boilerplate' language in contract drawings. Does that make sense in the context of any other contractual agreement? Would it be an acceptable answer in a legal proceeding?

That leads us to the PermitZIP 'boilerplate' language. We don't include anything on our contract document that can or should be ignored, altered, or removed without explicit approval from the engineer of record. Everything you see is there for a reason. It should be read in its entirety by the contractor, architect, tenant, and owner. The most reasonable response to contract language that is confusing or does not align with one's understanding of the scope is to issue RFIs(Requests for Information). We prefer to help people understand our contract documents before using them to build, rather than pointing to them later when the contractor didn't follow them.

PermitZIP projects rarely exceed more than 6 or 7 sheets per discipline. The items that are most likely to be missed or ignored are on the document's first page! See below a snapshot of the basic template of the cover sheet for plumbing:

How long would you say it takes any professional involved in a project to read and understand this sheet? You will probably need to reread some of these sections multiple times if you're like me because you keep getting distracted. I'll give some flexibility here. It will take a plumbing contractor, architect, owner, or tenant roughly 10-45 minutes to review the contents of this sheet if they're reading it for the first time. The cover sheets for electrical and mechanical designs are similar.

Within this short read are absolutely vital requirements that contractors must follow. Ignore them at your peril because some of them represent tens of thousands of dollars of rework and unknown delays to a project schedule if missed.

We have large text directing you to the "Schedule of Required Submittals" section. We are not trying to hide any of this information. As I mentioned above: these are not CYA notes. They are CEA notes. Everything will go much more smoothly for everyone if the requirements listed on this page are understood and followed.

None of the submittals listed are arbitrary in any way. I can point to a specific painful story as the origin of each and every one. They are based on learned experiences that we don't want to go through again, nor do we want you to.

I want to clarify that when specifications and submittal requirements are missed or ignored, it is often not due to willful negligence or hostility. Most of the time, it is justified by scheduling and budget constraints. Most of the contractors we work with want to do a good job, whether from pride in their work, care for the client, or just self-preservation. Let's be honest: once the paycheck hits the bank account, you tend not to want to hear about the job ever again. No news is good news.

To meet the various demands of a project budget and timeline, Items start to get removed from the scope.

Flow test? Do we need that?

My answer is that flow tests cost about $750 and take some coordination and time efforts from the contractor, depending on the locality. What if you ignore the flow test, open your space, and can't flush your toilets? Now you have a problem that $750 could never solve. That small amount of money and time commitment is a drop in the bucket in the context of any construction project's overall budget and timeline. The same is true for the majority of our specifications and submittal requirements.

Boilerplate requirements are absolutely essential. That is why they are the only items on our plans that stay the same project to project. They should be included in bid pricing and timeline planning, no matter what.

Boilerplate? Absolutely. We have those. And for good reason.

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