"Right" or "Not Wrong" - Choose Your Specs Wisely

"Limiting the scope of the spec writers may save a few thousand dollars during the design phase, but it can result in expensive conflicts after construction contracts are awarded."

- Derek B. McCowan, PE, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc., Waltham, Mass, "Using Spec Writers  Properly," Consulting - Specifying Engineer, June/July 2010.

When will this statement become apparently true? Probably only after a problem is discovered that could have been avoided.

If the specifier (I prefer this to spec writer because it connotes a project contribution greater than writing) is involved during early design and participates throughout the project, the design intent will be better understood. Then the intent that cannot be detailed can be conveyed to the contractor through the specifications.

To achieve the best results, specifications must be, well... specific. They must describe what is required for the specific project for the specific conditions, not generic suitable for any project. Specifications can be written so they are "right" or so they are "not wrong." These two are very different.

Sometimes specifiers are forced to write a "not wrong" spec. This usually occurs when the design schedule is short, when the specifier is asked to start near project completion, when little documentation of product selections exists, or any combination of these. The "not wrong" spec is generic, non-specific. It lists basic products and materials, but does little to address project specific conditions. The detail of terminations and interfaces with adjacent materials - issues that can easily lead to failures - are glossed over or not even mentioned.  This lack of specificity can lead to unnecessary, expensive change orders. Processing these change orders increases construction administration costs, and can result in budgetary disaster on a project.

To produce a spec that is "right," the specifier must understand the project and the design intent. This information cannot be conveyed from progress drawings alone. Project narratives explaining the design thought process are invaluable for an overall understanding. Project meeting notes and design team interviews play an important role, conveying the critical issues the team considered when making product selections and refining drawing details.

Ensure the specifier is involved, early, and continuously. Make sharing available information, routine. Most importantly, respond to questions, thoughtfully and timely. With proper information, your specifier will consistently produce specs "right" for your project.

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