Editing Master Specifications - Part 2

Practice Group Co-host Louis Medcalf contributed this description of the last group meeting

This two-part session had discussions on the opportunities and possible pitfalls in using published master specification systems such as MasterSpec and SpecText. Specification masters are not intended to be used without editing for specific project needs.  See https://www.conspectusinc.com/blog/2011/08/the-csi-specifying-practice-group.html for Part 1.

Why are spec masters the way they are?
David Stutzman, who was principal author of SpecText for several years, began by explaining that master specifications have to contain everything conceivable to serve the widest range of projects. It has to have a level of formality and detail appropriate for publicly-bid GSA projects that are not needed for small, privately-funded, negotiated contract projects. The level of detail must be adjusted for the size and complexity of the project.

Similarly, master sections need to have paragraphs suitable for different methods of specifying, such as non-proprietary descriptive specs and delegated design specs, as well as the simple proprietary specifications. Bottom line: it is possible to edit each spec master section in different ways for different methods of specifying, and the resulting specs would look different from each other.

For example, if a manufacturer or fabricator is producing a custom product for which certain performance requirements have been specified, then the specifier may ask for pre-installation testing and reports and for certification by the manufacturer to verify that the products meet the performance requirements. Certification is desirable because the item is not a standard manufactured product for which there is printed technical literature. Examples of products that would be specified this way are architectural woodwork and manufacturer-engineered elements such as custom decorative monumental stairs or glass roof canopies. If rated steel doors of a large size that have not been tested are required, manufacturer's certification is appropriate for those doors that is not needed for standard size, UL-labeled doors. Notarized manufacturer certifications are meaningful for items where consistency in manufacturing is critical, such as strength requirements for loadbearing masonry units.

Certification of standard manufactured products for which there are printed technical data that includes tested performances is unnecessary and those paragraphs should be deleted. After all, if we don't trust the manufacturers specified by name to tell the truth about their products in the Product Data, why specify them?

What are common pitfalls and their consequences?
Many specifiers when confronted with requirements that they don't fully understand have a natural tendency to leave such requirements in, assuming that they may need these things during construction. After all, the professional specifiers put them in the spec for a reason, didn't they? The problem is that leaving these things in can result in unnecessary costs both to the owner and to the design team's contract administration activities. There is also the very real problem of being embarrassed if the owner or contractor question why such requirements were deemed important. David's advice, seconded by Louis, was: when in doubt, leave it out.

Louis explained how testing requirements that might be needed for a hospital or high-rise building may be excessive for smaller, simpler projects. Requirements for pre-installation meetings should be adjusted to the size and complexity of the project. David pointed out that excessive submittals not only may result in unnecessary review costs, but can increase the design team's liability without corresponding benefit to the project.

Where do I start? Part 2--where else?
This portion of the discussion started with the reminder that most spec sections are easier to edit if the specifier starts with Part 2, goes on to Part 3, and edits Part 1 last after decisions have been made as to what products are required and what field quality controls are appropriate. The next thing is to decide what will be the appropriate method of specifying the products in the section for the specific project so that the client gets the products it is paying for. In some cases, such as commodity products, final product selection can be left to the contractor. For example, as long as the Portland cement meets the requirements of ASTM C150 (reference method of specifying), do we care what manufacturer produces it? On the other hand, if the interior designers and the owner want an acoustical ceiling with appearance characteristics unique to a single manufacturer, the proprietary method of specifying should be used. In such cases, a similar product with equivalent acoustical or light reflecting performance is not acceptable, and requiring documentation of product performance attributes in submittals is superfluous.

Next there was discussion as to when delegated design is needed. Requiring the contractor to employ or arrange for shop drawings to be prepared by a registered Professional Engineer adds cost to the project. Whether or not to require a registered Professional Engineer to prepare the delegated design of certain elements is a question of judgment related to the size, complexity, or location of the project. Although appropriate for curtain wall specs for a high-rise building, it may be unnecessary for a curtain wall system for, say, a 3- or 4-story suburban office building using a standard manufactured system. Storefront framing does not generally need delegated design by a PE, but if the storefront is facing the beach in Miami, Florida or is used for fixed windows in a multi-story building, delegated design would be appropriate.

Part 3 Requirements
Because published specification masters need to include requirements for every conceivable situation, they may include field quality control testing requirements that are needed only for high-rise buildings, federal jobs, and mega-projects. Field testing is costly for the owner, contractor, and the design team, and should only be required when really needed. An institutional owner may want more testing than a developer client.
Items for which field quality control testing are usually needed include: horizontal waterproofing for slabs over occupied spaces, critical safety items, and site-fabricated products (such as concrete tilt-up wall panels).

Part 1 Requirements

It is very easy to specify excessive numbers of submittals. The specifier should ask what is likely to go wrong and what products need to have selections made for appearance attributes.
Installer qualifications can be specified without asking for qualification statement submittals. On the other hand, if there is extensive field welding it may be appropriate to get copies of welder certificates as informational submittals.

Manufacturer qualifications are generally only meaningful for specifications using the descriptive method of specifying where manufacturers are not listed and the manufacturer is selected by the contractor. Where specific manufacturers or products are specified by name Part 2 of the section, this kind of submittal is a waste of time for everyone: owner, design team, contractor, subcontractor, and supplier.

Requiring excessive pre-installation meetings is a common problem. Louis stated that he had seen specs with requirements for preconstruction meetings for vinyl composition tile for a few small utility areas, a small quantity of ordinary steel storage shelving, and a handful of refrigerators and microwaves in break rooms. Not only did the specifications require the architect's staff to attend the meetings, but the submittals articles in these specs committed the architect to reviewing the minutes from these meetings. Spec masters have such standard requirements for preinstallation meetings because they are needed for extensive shelving systems for warehouse projects and appliances in a large apartment or condominium project.

Adapting Master Specifications for My Practice
Specification masters can have preliminary editing to delete products or other requirements not used in a firm's normal practice, and to add specialized products and requirements. Hard-won experience from past projects, whether product research or field experience, should be embodied in spec masters as part of the firm's corporate knowledge base.

Specification masters with very broad content can be edited into shorter sections with fewer products to save time in editing. The concept is to have lots of very narrow spec sections so that the specifier does not waste time going through pages and pages of irrelevant requirements. This is especially helpful for fast-track projects with multiple work packages. Instead of revising sections with broad scope as the project progresses, divide the sections as appropriate for work package content. For example, the glazing section might be divided into exterior glazing for the shell and core work package, interior glazing for the interior architecture work package, and specialty glazing for the interior design work package.

Conclusion
Published spec masters are a valuable resource, but they require professional judgment for editing to be project-specific. Every section contains large amounts of text that are unnecessary for most projects, but are included for the few projects that need them. All the paragraphs in these spec masters should be regarded as optional, and specifiers for each project should always go back to the masters. Leaving in requirements that are not understood is not a prudent approach, and almost always is not in the best interests of the architect or the project.

Recent Posts

BLOG 
ARCHIVE

Professional Associations
Owner Focus
Contractor/Estimator Focus
Architect/Specifier Focus