Manufacturer Guide Specifications - Opportunities or Pitfalls? Part the Second

This month 50 CSI Specifying Practice Group members gathered to continue the discussion about using manufacturer's product specifications. Phil Kabza, SpecGuy, helped again, presenting the manufacturer specifier's point of view. At the end of the program Phil announced that he now has a list of ideas for improving manufacturer's specs.

If you missed it, just to refresh, check the summary of the first part of the discussion, including the complete presentation.

After a brief review of last month's discussion, Phil took the lead to review Part 2. Of course Part 2 is first, followed by Part 3 and Part 1, just like writing a spec. We need to understand what we are specifying before we can specify the installation and administrative requirements.

Part 2 - Products, led by Phil Kabza

Product should be specified sufficiently to capture the design intent. Retaining the full detail that manufacturers include in their specs can make the spec proprietary. Manufacturers may describe features or options that only they offer. These can be gotcha clauses. Phil stated that he encourages manufacturers to include editor's notes for the specifiers when including a particular feature may make the spec proprietary.

If you are unsure the spec will allow competition, Phil advises to send the draft spec to product reps for competing products. The other reps will be happy to tell you what changes must be made so the spec allows competition.

Be careful the detail. Some manufacturers list every size, thickness, and configuration describing the product. Dimensional information, especially, is best shown on the drawings and omitted from the spec.

Are test results current and relevant? Pay attention to the cited references. Verify the test and the result applies to the project. Most can be checked easily through on-line searches. ASTM is the most cited standards publisher in all commercial master specifications. ASTM provides an on-line searchable database that shows complete standard titles, the abstract and scope of each document at It also shows historic, discontinued, and replaced standards.

Watch out for product accessories that are listed by manufacturer's product name only. These names will never appear on drawings. The terms used on the drawings and in the spec should match so the intent is understood.

Be sure accessories that are needed to complete the installation are included in the spec. Sometimes manufacturers are reluctant to include products in their specs when they do not manufacturer the product, even though it is essential to the installation. So visualize the complete installation and be sure all the parts are specified.

On to Part 3 - Execution, led by yours truly
Check the substrate. Be sure the spec requires conditions to ensure a successful installation. Manufacturers do not want to assume responsibility for the substrates. Surface testing and preparation may not be included, but may be essential to ensure a bond or avoid moisture problems.

Be careful of NIC and work exclusions. Manufacturers may state accessory work is NIC (not in contract). But what they mean is the work is not part of the scope of their spec section. Flagging work as NIC may cause the contractor to exclude it entirely instead of assigning it to another trade.

The single poll for today's discussion showed the majority agreed that work exclusions must be removed from manufacturer's specs. Close behind the majority, was "it depends," leaving the possibility that some work exclusions may be acceptable for some project conditions.

Installation specs are often brief, often relying on compliance with the manufacturer's installation instructions. Know what those instructions are. And specify what is important to the project. Consider specifying installation by reference to an industry standard. For architects, fit, finish, and aesthetics are real concerns and may need to be specified. Don't ignore equipment utility connections and startup to ensure it is operating correctly.

Remember the testing! If the products are subject to special code required tests and inspections, be sure the responsibility is defined. Check to see if manufacturers will provide field inspection when products are critical to the building performance. Then write the requirements into the spec. Unless the manufacturer has a formal field quality assurance program, this service will not be routine.

And Finally Part 1 - General, led by Louis Medcalf
Coordinate manufacturer's specs with the project manual. Manufacturers cannot possibly know what will be included in a project manual. Check referenced sections to ensure the sections exist and to ensure the section numbers and titles match the citation. Referencing non-existent spec section will simply add to the RFI pile.

Do those lists of references really add substance? Exhaustive lists of reference standards in Part 1 does not require the contractor to do anything. The list serves as a bibliography, a convenience for the reader. References are applicable only to the extent they are cited for a specific purpose. If references are included, be sure reference is a standard and not a publisher.

Coordinate the administrative provisions of Part 1 with Division 01 sections. Manufacturers can only guess what requirements may be included in Division 01. Their specs are written to generally comply with accepted practice, but not project specifics. Louis cited the example of Action and Informational submittals used by MasterSpec. Most manufacturer's specs will not separate submittals by type.

Some, but not all, manufacturers have installer training or certification programs. When training is available, it can be advantageous to specify. Proper training will help ensure satisfactory results.

Be cautious of excessive detail in Part 1 that may add cost without improving the constructed work. Part 1 includes administrative procedures. Overhead. Time and costs. Not constructed work.

Do specified warranties protect the Owner or the Manufacturer? Extended warranties, those for longer than one year can provide additional coverage to the Owner. One year warranties may severely limit the Owner's protection provided by the construction contract. Review the warranty provisions to ensure the entire system or assembly is covered not just constituent parts.

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