Efficient Construction Documents

What is the best way to ensure consistency and high quality in your construction documents?

Be efficient!
Say everything only once. Each exact repetition invites a future discrepancy when the design changes and all must be revised. Finding every repetition will be difficult at best and likely impossible if the repetition is not exact.

You may think this concept applies to words - to specifications - because it is one of CSI's tenets: "Say it once and in the right place." This concept is not limited to specifications. Drawings can benefit, too. Check these examples and begin to develop your own ideas for improvement.

Think Global Requirements
As you create a detail, schedule, or a specification, ask yourself what information can be said once and applied globally. I advocate that if a specification can make a simple statement that does apply globally, then the drawings never need repeat the information. If your specifier can make a simple statement in the specification and eliminate the need for many notes on the drawing set, for goodness sake, let the requirement be specified.

If all gypsum board used on a project is 5/8 inch thick, why should the drawings ever need to include that information? Specify the thickness as part of the product description.

A. Interior Gypsum Board: ASTM C 1396; 5/8 inch thick.

There! Done! Every instance of the product is now controlled by a single statement.

Residuary Legatee
"But wait," you say, "it is never that easy. Our projects always include more than one thickness of gypsum board. There are always special conditions for selected applications." Okay, here's a solution for that too. Let's go back to the spec section.

A. Interior Gypsum Board: ASTM C 1396.

1. Ceiling Applications: 1/2 inch thick.
2. Other Applications: 5/8 inch thick.

See how simple it can really be when you just give it a bit of thought?

Using a single, global statement is the most efficient way to accurately control requirements for the entire project. Be sure to state the special conditions first. Then end with the "residuary legatee" - everything else not included in the special conditions. No instance will be ignored and no scope will be missed.

This concept is not limited to specifications. Now, on to the drawings.

Exterior Wall Assemblies
One bane of the drawing set is exterior wall sections. How many drawing sheets have you seen with similar wall sections taken at various places along the exterior wall on a single drawing? Then the notes are repeated (well at least apparently repeated) for every section. The reader must check every note to be certain that no differences exist. Applying all the duplicate notes implies a difference does exist.

Create an exterior wall assembly schedule, just like interior partition schedules. Draw the snapshot of the assembly, include all the graphics to illustrate the individual materials. Label each component in the assembly. Then label the assembly: "Exterior Wall Type 1."

Now when labeling the wall section sheet, there is no need to repeat all the notation. Simply label each instance as Exterior Wall Type 1. You need not repeat any component note or any graphic material representation - an outline will do because the assembly is already defined.

But what about the intersections with foundations, floors, parapets, and openings? Draw a separate detail to fill in the special information required where the typical exterior wall type must transition or interface with other materials. But, show each unique instance only once.

Door Schedules
Door schedules are another great example.  Often schedules are completely filled in, every cell in every column and every row, simply because the cell exists. Anyone using the schedule must read every entry carefully to be sure no special conditions exist.

Complete the schedule cells that are unique, those that are required to show special conditions. Add one or more rows at the top of the schedule and label it as a typical interior door, exterior door, or other door. Then complete all the cells showing the data for the typical doors.

Now the schedule will visually indicate were every unique instance exists. Each special case will be more self evident because only the special requirements will be stated.

When the Design Changes
If the drawings and specifications are created efficiently, changes can be accommodated efficiently too. Change the typical door in the schedule and all similar doors are automatically updated. Revise the exterior wall type in the assembly schedule. All other referenced instances are updated without additional effort. Add a spec statement requiring 3/8 inch thick gypsum board for applications where the board is laminated to existing construction. There is no need to search the locations where the thickness may be shown on the drawings.

How Can I Say This Just Once
As you create construction documents, ask yourself: "How can I say this just once?" Spend a minute or two considering how to make the documents efficient. Write that spec or create the drawing a bit differently. Make maximum use of global requirements. You will reap the benefits every time the documents must be revised.

So let's hear you opinion. What ideas do you have to improve document efficiency? Let's stop perpetuating redundancy and potential coordination mishaps.

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