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Construction Projects in Distress

The Power of Project Specifications

June 11, 2024

There is a budding crisis dawning in the construction industry. It would take such a crisis for someone to write about construction Specifications. Afterall, who considers a two- inch-thick book about windows, door hardware, kitchen sinks, roof shingles and all else installed in a building as an exciting source of writing inspiration? But the time for renewed respect and appreciation for this tome is now.  

Since 1948 when the nonprofit Construction Specification Institute (CSI) was established until today when the CSI Masterformat specification template is the industry standard used by architects and engineers, the built environment has benefited from the clear and organized integration of project Specification books into all building construction document packages. The Specifications (spec) book for a project is the verbal counterpart to the graphic Drawings and provides detailed written information such as requirements for products, installations, testing standards and warranty criteria. Think piano/keyboard, thread/needle, paint/brush or museum/art. That’s just how Drawings and Specifications relate inseparably to each other.  Recently, some real estate developers have chosen to forego project Specification books to save some coin on design fees. This “value engineering” of construction documents has serious negative consequences that begin to surface as early as the design phase and continue long into project turnover and building maintenance tasks. 

Construction Drawings and the Specifications book are the two components that comprise the design foundation of every project. If these components are woven together skillfully by the design team in concert with the Owner throughout project development, the resulting entwined structure bolsters every phase of work in a positive manner for the project team. 

Design Phase:  

The Owner and design team discuss and establish scope and quality parameters for the proposed building. The Owner’s vision of a successful project is revealed during this phase and Drawings alone are not enough to make the vision tangible. This is when the Specification book is started in an outline format and continues to grow alongside development of the Drawings. 

Design Development Phase: 

As more design decisions are reached with the Owner, the design team begins to select Basis of Design (BoD) products and materials for the Specifications. These selections are based on level of quality desired by the Owner, ability to meet performance requirements, environmental impact, budget conformance, lead times and maintenance factors.  

Construction Document Phase: 

During this phase the Architect is typically responsible for coordinating Drawings and Specifications among design team members to complete a comprehensive construction package that conveys all information needed to create the building envisioned by the Owner. The Specifications provide essential technical commentary for the drawings without which the construction team must work with only a partially equipped toolbox. This leads quickly to inaccurate pricing, more RFI’s, field misunderstandings and the dreaded prize an Owner never wishes to accept: Change Orders. 

Bidding Phase: 

With coordinated Drawings and Specifications comprising the bid package, all bidders are equitably equipped to determine project pricing. Few questions arise regarding quality of materials, system standards that must be met, or quality of workmanship since the information is consistently articulated within every division of the Specification by way of sections (1) General Information/Scope, (2) Products and (3) Execution

Construction Phase: 

The General Contractor and all subcontractors selected for the project share common Drawings and Specifications that graphically and verbally describe the measurable objectives that will drive all work performed on site. There will always be questions that come up during construction due to the complexity of the process but reducing ambiguity and incorrect interpretations of the construction documents in the field is key to keep a project moving forward on budget and schedule. The Specifications book serves to do this and more every day on the job site. 

Project Closeout Phase: 

The Specifications book clearly and concisely describes all project closeout requirements that the general contractor must meet before final payment will be issued by the Owner. This is when critical warranty information, maintenance training and final punch list items must be completed and delivered. Thanks to the Specifications, the general contractor is legally obligated to complete these pesky but critical tasks.  

Building Maintenance: 

After project turnover, Specifications along with as-built Drawings provide the building maintenance team with invaluable information that includes a wealth of technical and performance details to reference when equipment and/or materials need repair or replacement. The Basis of Design specifications in particular serve as a baseline when requesting equipment replacement since so many models are available on the market. 

Construction Drawings have been used for constructing buildings since the Egyptians built temples in the desert. Buildings of today are more complicated than Drawings alone can adequately describe for construction. Including Specifications with Drawings provides complete construction instructions and,  makes submittal review less time consuming, change order analysis more efficient, and support for any possible legal disputes readily available. Eliminating Specifications from the construction document package may save cost on initial design fees but the frequent problems resulting from the loss of this critical information incur more costs in dollars, frustration and project delays. The magic of transforming an abstract concept into a building is imparted by conveying untold amounts of information between parties. Drawings alone cannot accomplish this feat successfully. 

To learn more about VERTEX’s Project Advisory services or to speak with one of our Experts, call 888.298.5162 or submit an inquiry.

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