One of the significant reasons for the existence of specifications is to describe the level of quality to the products and work that go into a building project. Specifications establish the performance of the products and assemblies and their installation. They require advance documentation, in the form of product data, shop drawings, and sample submittals, all intended to indicate that the contractor understands the requirements and will communicate them to subcontractors, suppliers, and installers. The specifications require mockups and laboratory testing and field testing, all to demonstrate that the standards set by the specifications can and (hopefully) will be achieved in the finished work.
Types of Installer Qualifications
In addition to discussing the quality of the products and assemblies, specifications typically set requirements on the qualifications of the companies and individuals performing the work. Avitru's MasterSpec, in Section 01 40 00 "Quality Requirements," includes the following general, subjective requirement for installer qualifications:
"Installer Qualifications: A firm or individual experienced in installing, erecting, applying, or assembling work similar in material, design, and extent to that indicated for this Project, whose work has resulted in construction with a record of successful in-service performance."
The specification section defines the word "experienced" as meaning
"having successfully completed a minimum of [five] <Insert number> previous projects similar in nature, size, and extent to this Project; being familiar with special requirements indicated; and having complied with requirements of authorities having jurisdiction."
But that is all it defines. The section offers no guidance on how to judge successful performance.
The installer qualification paragraph is meant to serve for as a basis of qualifications for all installers except in cases wherein individual specification sections require qualifications that are more stringent or more specific. Many sections do so, and there are several ways that installers may be required to become qualified, including:
- Certification by an industry association, like the North American Contractor Certification, the Air Barrier Association of America or the Certified Tile Education Foundation.
- Successfully completing a manufacturer's training or certification program.
- Installer is capable of providing a system that is covered by manufacturer's warranty.
There are also industry programs that provide third party oversight of the work, like the Quality Certification Program created by the Architectural Woodwork Institute, in which the trade association oversees all aspects of the work to assure and control quality. Many manufacturers also provide field oversight of the installation of their products to help ensure quality.
The more stringent qualifications are fairly straightforward and easy to demonstrate, simply by providing a single, relevant piece of documentation. But what of the former type? MasterSpec's Section 01 33 00 "Submittal Procedures" offers that sufficient evidence for subjective qualifications will be as follows:
"Qualification Data: Prepare written information that demonstrates capabilities and experience of firm or person. Include lists of completed projects with project names and addresses, contact information of architects and owners, and other information specified."
When to Review Qualifications
Left unanswered, however: at what point is it useful to obtain this data, and whose responsibility is it to verify these references?
Architects receiving this qualification data as an informational submittal during construction essentially receive a document that is useless at best and harmful at worst. AIA Document A201-2017 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction in §5.2 Award of Subcontracts and Other Contracts for Portions of the Work, requires:
"…the Contractor, as soon as practicable after award of the Contract, shall notify the Owner and Architect of the persons or entities proposed for each principal portion of the Work, including those who are to furnish materials or equipment fabricated to a special design. Within 14 days of receipt of the information, the Architect may notify the Contractor whether the Owner or the Architect (1) has reasonable objection to any such proposed person or entity or (2) requires additional time for review. Failure of the Architect to provide notice within the 14-day period shall constitute notice of no reasonable objection.
Should the qualification data informational submittal required by Section 01 33 00 happen during this 'as soon as practicable after award' period? MasterSpec is not clear on this point, but clearly it should.
Potential for Increased Liability
In cases when these data arrive during construction, by the time the submittal is made the contractor has almost certainly contracted with the installer. If the architect then checks all the references and decides they don't demonstrate adequate capability, the architect simply has no right to object. Objection to a contracted installer, assuming the architect convinces the Owner to go along with the objection, would cause the general contractor to lose time negotiating with another installer, probably lose money paid to the first installer, and may also lose money by being forced to hire an installer whose price is higher than original one. These losses accrue to the Owner, who may then blame the architect for not objecting during the 14 days' review period (or, if they weren't submitted at that time, for not enforcing that provision of the General Conditions).
It's even possible that simply receiving the qualifications may increase an architect's liability. If some problem with the installation arises, and the architect did not object to the installer (neither during the 14-day review nor during CA), but the qualification data indicates that the architect had cause to object, the owner may very well blame the architect for not raising an objection based on the information the architect received.
The correct time to receive and perform careful due diligence on qualification documents is during bidding or negotiation of the contract. It is certainly appropriate for the specifications to describe all installers' required qualifications, but they should also stipulate clearly that the review of the qualifications documentation occur no later than immediately after award of the contract. Because submission of qualifications later than this have no utility, Conspectus advises architects not to request qualifications as an informational submittal during CA, except in cases where those qualifications are necessary to verify that warranties will be honored. Editing Divisions 00 and 01 to ensure the qualifications are submitted with the bids or proposals is the optimal way to make sure the due diligence is performed at the correct time.