When starting a new design project, what is actually known? Very little. The relevant design decisions must be made as the project progresses. So how can projects be effectively documented before all decisions are made? UniFormat™!

Design teams are conditioned to think of project documentation organized by MasterFormat®—generally arranged by product and trade—to describe construction work results. Outline specs and construction specs are both arranged by MasterFormat. Using MasterFormat requires detailed decisions before the correct specification can be selected to begin the documentation. Early in the project the team may decide to use a rain screen exterior wall system. When starting the outline spec, which of the many Division 07 spec sections for the wall cladding will be selected? Without knowing the cladding material, it is virtually impossible to begin the documentation.

UniFormat to the rescue. Using UniFormat allows the design team to describe the exterior wall without regard to the actual material selections. UniFormat is systems based by functional element, not material or product based as is the case for MasterFormat. So right from the start, UniFormat allows designers to describe the solution so the owner, contractor, and estimator can understand the design intent. For example:



Description:        Rain screen wall with drainage mat, continuous insulation, air barrier, and structural backup

None of the actual materials are described. Yet this records a decision and gives the entire team good information about the exterior wall design intent without creating a drawing detail. The assembly is familiar and understandable from the description. The estimator can begin to determine the cost for the complete exterior wall assembly based on historic information about similar assemblies priced before.

The assembly cost can be analyzed in relation to the overall project to ensure the cost will be affordable within the owner’s budget before progressing the design drawings to document the system. This value analysis removes risk from the project. It helps prevent rework caused by progressing the design without affirming the design is affordable. When design decisions are documented to permit proactive cost analysis, value engineering (cost and value cutting) after completing each design phase can be eliminated.

UniFormat is progressive. Say what you know, when you know it.

As the design develops and the team refines the exterior wall description, additional decisions can be documented to describe the progress. The costs can be adjusted to reflect the changes as the changes occur giving the team valuable feedback for tracking the overall project cost against the owner’s budget.



Description:        Fiber cement wall panel, open joint, rain screen with drainage mat, continuous mineral wool insulation, vapor permeable air barrier, wall sheathing and metal framing structural backup

The information detail improves while the design team develops the building elevations to show the pattern, color, and arrangement of the variety of cladding systems. The UniFormat description, in a simple single sentence, is the exterior wall section proxy to convey the design detail. Ultimately, when the systems are confirmed, this UniFormat description serves as the guide to the detailers about what system must be drawn as part of the construction documents.

Can more information be included in UniFormat? Certainly, see Evolving Specifications a more detailed discussion. UniFormat can include basis of design product selections, performance requirements, design requirements, components, and alternatives. The greatest advantage though is that UniFormat can record the owner’s project requirements and serve as the means to verify design decisions comply with those requirements.

See the presentation that started Conspectus’s new approach using UniFormat. This presentation can be given for CEU credits.