Is the Spec Open or Closed?

Is the contractor permitted to submit substitutions or propose comparable products? Not if the spec is closed, he is not. Be careful if you think you know, just from reading a technical section of the specifications. The manufacturer and product listing specified in Part 2 of each section may tell you if the spec is open or closed, or it may not. The crux of the matter is to understand what makes a specification open or closed and where to find the right information to confirm your understanding.

Specifications may be written as a proprietary spec. These are the simplest type to write. Just state the product that is required and that is it. No fuss, no muss. Here is what is needed, just go buy it.

Product: Model XYZ manufactured by Best Corporation on Earth.

Basis of Design specification take a bit different tack. This specification selects a single product as the A/E's preference, with it's salient characteristics required for the project. Consequently, the A/E may have relied on the basis of design to detail the product installation. It will be the Contractor's responsibility to select the right product from the other named manufacturers and to modify the installation details as needed to suit the selected product.

Basis of Design Product: Model XYZ manufactured by Best Corporation on Earth, or comparable product by one of the following:

Manufacturer A

Manufacturer B

Manufacturer C

Specifications often include a list of several selected products or several manufacturers know to make the required product type from which the contractor may choose. When the products are specified, the contractor has the shopping list. When only the manufacturers are specified, the contractor must determine what product will meet the specified requirements and submit the product for consideration.

[Product and] Manufacturer:

[Model XYZ manufactured by] Best Corporation on Earth

[Model QRS manufactured by] Manufacturer A.

[Model 123 manufactured by] Manufacturer B.

So are the specifications above open or closed? From the examples, it is impossible to know. If the product lists contained an explicit statement that permitted or prohibited substitutions and comparable products, then the intent would be clear.

In the examples above, the reader must rely on other information to know if the spec is open or closed. And where is that other information found?

Division 01 to the Rescue!

Division 01 contains the administrative procedures for the entire project. Every section in Division 01 applies to every technical specification - sections in Divisions 02 - 49. Contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, and, yes, even the A/E must know what is included in Division 01 to properly execute and administer the contract.

Section 016000 - Product Requirements will explain how the contractor may make product selections. This section will define the global intent for giving the contractor the right to propose substitutions and comparable products. Here are examples of how Division 01 can close or open the specifications for every section.

Closed (Restricted) List: When specifications name one or more products or manufacturers, provide one of the named products or a product from one of the named manufacturers.

Open (Unrestricted) List: When specifications name one or more products or manufacturers, provide one of the named products, or a product from one of the named manufacturers, or [another comparable product from any manufacturer] [submit substitution request for another product].

When Division 01 defines product and manufacturer lists as open, then the individual specification sections must explicitly close the list when only name products and manufacturers will be accepted. The approach used for each project must be set early and applied consistently within every specification section. Remember the global definition in Division 01 will rule, unless specified otherwise in the technical sections.

So whether the individual specification section seem to be closed or open, always check Division 01 to fully understand the product selection process.

For Contractors:

  1. For closed lists, select a named product or a product from a named manufacturer meeting the specified requirements.
  2. For open lists, select any product meeting the specified requirements.

For A/Es:

  1. For closed lists, do not entertain substitutions and comparable products (except for circumstances beyond the contractor's control).
  2. For open lists, specify only what is important to the project and then carefully review the submitted product to ensure it meets all the specified requirements.

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