I was reminded recently about a quote from our client that I first heard years ago.
"I don't care what the drawings show. Give me a good spec and I will get what I want!"
Paul Lyons, WATG, Director of Construction Administration
The words had a profound impact and made a lasting impression. Paul used the spec as an effective tool for construction meetings to ensure that what the contractor built or intended to build met the intent of the documents. Often these discussions are about the drawings, and especially the details, rather than the spec.
The demand for a good spec means more than the words in the project manual. It is about the process as much as it is the result. For without knowledge of what is required to construct a building correctly, even the most skilled spec writer cannot improve the chances of a project's success. Specifiers transcend spec writing by accepting the challenge to produce what is needed, not just what may be obvious or implied by basis of design product selections.
It seems ironic that the specs take on such importance during construction especially since design is the predominant consideration when developing construction documents. The reasons for the role reversal may be many aside from the fact that attorneys and judges understand words better than drawings.
Specifications are global. The written requirements apply to the entire project, whereas the drawing details apply to a specific instance. The drawings cannot possibly show every unique condition. So the specifications must describe construction that results in completed assemblies with appropriate transitions, terminations, and relationships among the many materials and manufactured products.
Specifications contain embodied knowledge. Specifications are constantly developing and improving by capturing the experience of each completed project, for the benefit of all future projects. Well developed office master specs will include comments about what works and what does not. Though never published with the spec, these comments are an invaluable instructional resource and help ensure project specs meet project needs.
Specifications are normally prepared by well experienced individuals with the capacity to interject technical reason and building science into the design. Most importantly, specifiers will "see" what is not shown on drawings and will document what is required to complete the construction.
So specifications that help document the process and complete the design team's product selections become a valuable tool for construction document enforcement. And, at times, the specs will be the only means to get what you want to make the project right.