Specification Superlatives

"All work shall be of the highest quality, in accordance with the best trade practices, and performed by skilled workmen. All work shall be accomplished to the satisfaction of the Architect and Owner."

This is text that was suggested by a prominent building envelope consulting firm to be inserted into a curtain wall specification. As I read it, I could only think CSI's Construction Document Technologist (CDT) certification program and the basics it teaches.

Fraught with Questions
If the work must be completed to the highest quality and best practices, then how can the results be measured? The required results have never been achieved before, not if they are indeed the best. So there is no basis for comparison. If this statement is included in every contract and actually enforced, we would soon be resorting to checking for nicks on screw threads to distinguish a difference to make the current project the best.

What happens when the Architect and Owner disagree about what is satisfactory? The contractor is obligated to satisfy both. If the work is satisfactory to the Architect and the Owner, does that relieve the obligation to be the best? Why would the contractor do more to be best if the work is deemed satisfactory?

CDT Specifying Fundamentals

Construction documents must be enforceable. Requirements must be measurable. Superlatives are not measurable; they are relative. Facts are measurable. Specify a test method and an acceptable (not necessarily the best) result. Whatever the result, it must be appropriate for the project and a measurable fact - a dimensional tolerance, a load resistance, a thermal performance.

Construction documents must be biddable. Requirements must be clearly defined. Contractors can only imagine what will satisfy the Architect and Owner. And each contractor will have a different opinion, depending on how badly they want the work. Expectations must be specified. Specify a test method and an acceptable result. Seems there is a pattern here.

Avoid Generalities
The suggested text is an expedient, but useless, way to specify apparent excellence. Superlatives are a temptation, a way to fool the uninitiated into believing the results will be superlative just because the specifications are full of them.

Avoid unmeasurable superlatives. Highest and best performance is unattainable, or will be after only a few projects with the same performance standard.

Think twice about insisting that the mason lay the concrete block with both partition faces perfectly flush and in plane. It just can't be done.

Recent Posts


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