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Walter Scarborough | Specifications Matter


Specifications Matter by Walter Scarborough

I’m Walter Scarborough and I’m here to tell you why Specifications Matter. I’m an architect and a specifier. I have 40 years of architectural experience, 25 years as a specifier, having provided specifications on over 500 projects. I’m a Fellow of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). I’m a coauthor of the college textbook, “Building Construction — Principles, Materials, and Systems”. I’m also the author of the 1st and 2nd edition of CSI’s Project Delivery Practice Guide.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) is an organization composed of architects, designers, engineers, some contractors, for the mutual benefit of advancing the state of specifications in building knowledge. It’s easy to join and inexpensive, and it gives you the opportunity to meet with other like-minded people in meetings at a chapter level. And also there’s a convention once a year, and there’s plenty of publications too, as I was saying earlier, to advanced the knowledge of building construction.

I would like to thank Stan Agee of Pieresearch for the opportunity to make this presentation and to tell you that Specifications Matter! The specification you see is the Pieresearch accessories specification that I wrote for six of Pieresearch’s products. These specifications are also on Pieresearch’s website.

To almost everyone involved in the construction of buildings, specifications seem to be a strange and mysterious world. Massive amounts of technical information, references to obscure standards, no graphics, just thousands of incomprehensible words! We have to understand that everyone associated with the design and construction of a building have an obligation to spend the owners money wisely and efficiently. The owner determines the quality of a project by first controlling the cost of the work. Second, determining the extent of the work. And third, establishing the time required for the work. This is all accomplished by the project team that results in drawings and specifications.

Architects and engineers who produce the construction drawings, know they have to contribute technical information to the specifications effort, but they simply do not know how specifications work. Consequently, there are lots of bad specifications out there.

Contractors tend to believe that the only functional roll of specifications is to serve as a doorstop in the job trailer! However, when things go wrong, and they do, there is a mad, ruthless and “every man for himself” race to the specifications to see what was supposed to have been provided, erected, applied or installed.

In spite of all the bad attitudes that seem to be prevalent, specifications matter. Specifications serve an important purpose is one of the two instruments of service, the other being drawings, prepared by the architects and engineers that are required, necessary and essential to the proper construction of a building.

Just so you know, the objectives of the specifier for the specifications for a project should be:
• First, the materials and products specified should be appropriate for the project.
• Second, the playing field should be level for manufacturers and subcontractors.
• Third, specifications should be tailored to the design concept as shown on the drawings.
• Fourth, specifications should complement the drawings.
• Fifth, specifications should be clear, correct, concise and complete.

Since it is not possible for the notes on the drawings to include sufficient amounts of the technical information that is required to perform the work, specifications are needed, that should be the repository of technical information.

Regarding the distinction between drawings and specifications:
• Drawings-shows graphics. Specifications-specifies technical information.
• Drawings-shows products and materials many times. Specifications-specifies products and materials one time.
• Drawings-products and materials are shown generically. Specifications-products and materials are specifically identified and detailed.
• Drawings-indicates quantity. Specifications-specifies quality.
• Drawings-show context. Specifications-specifies content.
• Drawings-show size, dimension, shape and relationships. Specifications-indicate descriptions, properties, characteristics and finishes.
• Drawings-indicate the locations of things. Specifications-specify the installation provisions.

Drawings and specifications are complementary of each other, and what is stated in one, is as stated in the other.

If the specifications are not included on a project, and the notes on the drawings are generic, then the contractor gets to select whichever products and materials they want to select for building component, without regard for quality or if they are even the right product for that application.

Without specifications, there are no submittal requirements, no special warranties, no manufacturer and installer qualifications, no pre-construction field testing, and inspections for quality control. No preparation provisions for the substrate before something is erected, install or applied, and there are no performance requirements.

Technical information about the products and materials which are required to properly construct a building, and that information should be in the specifications.

If there are no specifications, will the owner really get the project they are paying for? Architects and engineers are charged with the responsibility of producing the information necessary to construct a building, and the only way of doing so is to provide both drawings and specifications. Drawings alone are not sufficient to properly construct a project. Specifications are essential to the success of constructing projects. There is simply no way around it. Specifications provide the required technical information that cannot be put on the drawings.

While there are some owners, developers and architects who do not believe in having specifications, there is a group that depends upon them for their livelihood… that group is subcontractors their success is inseparably linked to specifications.

Good specifications provide the necessary technical information to the subcontractor so that accurate bids can be developed and submitted. In the absence of specifications, subcontractors have to speculate about what is on the drawings. In other words, they have to guess, assume or flip a coin.

Where did this attitude of not needing specifications, or using specifications, come from?

Some constructors believe the specifications impede the progress of the work. There are also some constructors that tell their clients that the project will cost more if specifications are included in the scope. One reason that constructors do not want specifications is that the specification do not let the constructor do what the constructor wants to do with the project. Another reason is the constructors believe they know better than the architects and engineers about what needs to be done for the project. And a third reason is that people just do not like to read.

But the reality is the constructor now has control of the quality of the project and the quality will always fall victim to the preconceived budgets and increased profits. The project loses, and the owner loses.

Owners and developers who construct buildings without specifications are actually handling a time bomb, that when it goes off, will result in significant damage, deterioration or failure of something. In addition to possibly violating state licensing laws, architects that produce construction documents without specifications are not rendering the kind of professional service to their clients as has come to be expected from the architectural profession.

All you have to do is ask any building forensics specialist: constructing a building without specifications is a bad decision.

So the point is, specifications matter!

This video was made courtesy of Pieresearch, “The Standard of Excellence”! Manufacturer of high-quality alignment and centralizer products for the deep foundation and earth retention industries.

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