Anyone who regularly submits building consent applications will tell you about their frustration with the dreaded ‘RFI’ process. With its link to the mystical 20-day consent processing clock, the RFI process has tested the patience of many designers, agents, and building owners alike.
This article looks at the purpose of the RFI process, how clear communication is critical for all parties, what makes good RFIs, and good responses.
Under the Building Act, Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) have the authority to request ‘reasonable’ information on a building consent application when they believe further explanation is required. However, what is considered ‘reasonable’ can differ significantly between individuals in the building industry.
Consistency in RFIs is also a major concern and those sending and receiving RFIs often have widely differing experience, knowledge, perceived risks, and potential bias towards issues.
Common Reasons RFIs are Raised
- Missing information.
- Contradictory or incorrect information originally provided (for example, design coordination between architectural and structural plans).
- Complex or unique designs requiring additional evidence to demonstrate compliance.
- New requirements arising from recent building code changes, (such as recent NZBC H1 Energy Efficiency changes).
- Limited or no construction detailing (for example, the absence of suitable fixings type or location on construction plans or specifications).
- Or some RFIs may be raised due to a lack of processing experience where;
- Individuals encountering a detail or design they are unfamiliar with, or misinterpreting plans and specifications which differ from the applicant’s intentions.
- Some RFIs may be raised by less experienced personnel – where it has not been possible for an experienced colleague to review the questions before they’re sent.
At Farsight, we believe RFI questions should add value to the building consent process instead of hindering it. We know that it can be very frustrating for designers and applicants to have to revise application documents without understanding why. So, a good RFI question should clearly specify what the question is applicable to, why it is being raised, and what is expected as a suitable response.
A designer may specify a fixing (the what) that does not comply with a nominated compliance document (the why). E.g., Fixing cedar weatherboard with galvanised nails. This does not conventionally meet the NZBC B2 Durability requirements.
A fire designer may specify a 60-minute fire rating to a wall (the what), but no information is provided on how that 60-minute fire rating is to be achieved (the why). E.g., The fire design report indicates a 60-minute fire rating to a safe path wall, but the architectural plans do not identify the walls fire rating performance, or a suitable fire rated wall system to achieve the performance.
Good RFI Responses
A good RFI response should directly address the specifics of the RFI question. It should identify what actions have been taken, confirm where the required information is located and what information has been added or revised.
Challenging RFI Interpretation
There may be differences of opinion throughout the building consent approval process. Many clients tell us that they find many RFI questions to be trivial. Just because a designer hasn’t been asked a particular RFI question before, it doesn’t mean the question isn’t valid.
Applicants and designers are well within their rights to question RFIs and seek clarification on why something is being raised. However, a successful challenge is only likely to succeed if it is supported by measured evidence for compliance. Ultimately, ignoring or dismissing RFI questions will lead to unnecessary correspondence, wasting time and money.
If the same type of question is being raised repeatedly, it is recommended that consultant’s review and update their documentation as necessary. In all cases, an applicant should not submit an application knowing it is incomplete and use the Council RFI process as their quality control. Doing so will inevitably contribute to delays and increased Council fees.
Effective communication between Councils, applicants, and designers is crucial, especially if there are multiple rounds of RFIs. Often, a quick phone call or meeting can resolve an issue that has been raised. Addressing concerns during the approval process can save significant time and money.
The designer, similar to the individual asking the question, may have made a simple error, or lack the experience in documenting the design.
If you have any concerns regarding you RFI process, get in touch and we may be able to assist you.
Disclaimer: This publication is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Please seek specific professional advice before acting in relation to any statement contained in this publication.