Manufacturer Guide Specifications - Opportunities or Pitfalls?

The majority of this month's more than 50 CSI Specifying Practice Group members was specifiers that have used manufacturer's specifications to create construction specifications. The discussion was lively and caused the meeting to run overtime before reaching the mid point of the planned presentation. And debate continued by email after the group meeting ended and may continue here by leaving a comment to this posting.

So next month's meeting will continue the discussion, and conclude, perhaps. Be sure to join us April 7 for Part the Second. Join the group, now, to share your thoughts.

Louis Medcalf and I invited Phil Kabza, SpecGuy, to help present this month's topic. Phil is a specifier who routinely writes manufacturer's specifications. This is a perspective that many specifiers do not have. So we gladly welcomed this alternative viewpoint.

The group polls confirmed what we believed to be true. The majority use manufacturer's guide specs:

  • Frequently
  • As information for writing spec sections from scratch
  • Never as written without major editing
  • And are compelled to add competing products

Since the group majority was specifiers, this may not represent the industry as a whole. It is believed that architects and engineers that are not dedicated specifiers are more likely to use manufacturer's specifications as written or with some modifications to suit a project's conditions.

Manufacturers have mixed purposes for their specifications. Other than getting their product specified, they tend to establish limitations for liability, competition, and responsibility. Retaining these limits in a project spec can have adverse effects on the project. The most troubling may be inadvertent exclusion of work from the contract when the spec requires work to be "by others" or defines work that is not included.

Formatting can give an instant clue to the age of manufacturer's specifications. Most manufacturers have not adopted the latest SectionFormat, published in 2008. Some still exist using MasterFormat 1995, 5-digit, 16-division numbers and titles. This format was replaced in 2004. Of course nothing has changed since 2004, like codes and standards, so just changing the number and title may only give the illusion the information is current.

Manufacturer's specs will rarely be well coordinated with the other specifications, especially Division 01 - General Requirements. Before using manufacturer's specs for a project, they should be coordinated with Division 01 and drawing terminology. Editing decisions must be made and product options must be selected to suit the project conditions.

Phil reviewed what manufacturers include in Part 2 - Products of the specifications. The most contentious: the competition. Most manufacturers do not want to name their competition in their own spec. The perception seems to be that naming competitors may keep them from getting the work. The poll showed most specifiers will add competitors if they are not named. For a manufacturer's spec, it seems logical that the manufacturer should want to control the competition, naming only products that create fair competition. If the competition is not named, the manufacturers give up control to the specifier, and the result may not be fair.

The group asked about "gotcha" clauses. Of course, the classic gotcha is the single requirement that makes the spec proprietary. It is often difficult to recognize gotcha clauses because they are subtle and innocuous. Test standards with specific results, minimum dimensions, and minimum performance can make specs proprietary if not compared with the competition. Avoid gotcha clauses by asking the named competitors to review the spec. Every good product rep has seen the manufacturer's spec before and knows the pitfalls.

What questions do you have that should be discussed in Part the Second? Post your questions here to to share with the Group.

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