Coordinating Drawing Notes and Specs

The need to coordinate drawings and specifications may seem obvious, but why is it so important? There are two primary reasons:

1. Make Contract Documents more user friendly.
2. Avoid unnecessary RFIs and Change Orders.

When documents are well coordinated information is easy to find. This helps the contractor's estimator immensely. Estimators have only a short time to review and comprehend construction documents before submitting a bid. Making estimator's jobs easier will help ensure an accurate bid.

Direct conflicts between drawings and specs must be resolved and ambiguities must be clarified. "The minimum cost of processing an RFI is $250," said Louis Medcalf. And I added, "the average time to receive, research, and respond to an RFI is 8 hours." Now do the math for the number of RFIs for a typical construction project. Hopefully it is nowhere near the one I mentioned with over 800 RFIs before the project was out of the ground.

What are some of the ways to help ensure the drawing notes and specifications are coordinated? Here are the top four of the 12 suggestions for improving coordination between the drawing notes and the specs:

1. Develop and maintain a table of contents.
2. Repeat the drawing terms in the "Section Includes" and Part 2 article titles.
3. Create an office standard list of notes.
4. Provide notation training.

Tables of contents can be more than just a section number and title. Include a list of the principle items to be specified in each section. Identify the items by the terms that will be used on the drawings and in the specs. Circulate the contents to the entire project team. And keep the contents current with the design. This is not a static document. Update and redistribute when needed.

"Section Includes" and Part 2 article titles are the principle navigation tools to know what will be found in each spec section. Since "Section Includes" appears at the beginning of each specification section, it should name the products, materials, systems, and assemblies that will be specified in Part 2. The terms used in "Section Includes" to identify these items must match the terms used on the drawings and the terms used in Part 2.

Standardization of drawing notes can help, but only with thoughtful application. Every project is not identical, so standard notes may need to be modified to be appropriate for a specific project. Beginning with a standard set of notes rather creating a completely new list for every project will help bring consistency to the construction documents the design team produces. Consistency is good because it improves understanding and ease of use.

Russell Wooten and Bob Johnson both commented that their firms use a keynote database integrated with the CAD drawing platform. This ensures that drafters use only notes that are designated for the particular project. Russell adds, "the PA is in charge of managing the notes database, not the drafter. If a note needs to change during the documentation phase, then the PA can change the note in the database and it changes all the instances throughout the drawings."

Notation training, like any other training, will improve understanding. Training does not mean memorizing a list of standard notes. It does mean teaching the concepts of drawing notation and coordination with the specifications. It also means explaining why coordination is important and showing the results when coordination is ignored. Let's see 800 RFIs at 8 hours - that is 3 man-years to answer RFI and the job is not out of the ground. Can a design team afford this effort during construction administration?

Corinne Golding commented, "I know that my message about consistency of terminology is getting through when the CAD techs come to me and say 'what are you calling this in the spec'." Whether by training or pure persistence, coordination can happen. John Horner added, "Unless a drawing term is EXACTLY the same as used in the specs, it is not the same thing," emphasizing coordination is critical.

And finally, Bob Johnson adds the big wish, "Shouldn't we try to establish a standard for terminology that integrates drawings & specs.  If we got all the master spec providers to participate and agree to use the agreed upon terminology we would make a big step towards a consensus terminology across the industry." Bob, there is always hope that ARCOM and CSI will get together and establish a standard set of terms for MasterSpec, SpecText, and Speclink that the industry can also use for the drawings.

CSI's Specifying Practice Group is gaining recognition and attendance. This month a record 74 members attended the session discussing coordinating drawing notes and specs. Join the fun. It's free. Sign up for the Practice Group so you receive notices of each meeting.

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