Blueprint – Interpreting Specifications

Standard building specifications are written documents that go with the construction drawings and describe the materials as well as the installation methods. They also prescribe the quality standards of construction expected on the project.

In the United States, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has established a widely recognized format of organization for technical specifications. CSI is a nationwide organization composed of architects, engineers, manufacturers’ representatives, contractors, and other interested parties who have worked together to develop this system of identification. Prior to 2004 the format consisted of specifications for 16 divisions. These specification standards are noted in the MasterFormat, which in 2004 was expanded to 50 divisions, as will be described later in this chapter.

Specifications are legal documents and should therefore be complete, accurate, and unambiguous. Specification writing has two main roles: defining the scope of work and acting as a set of instructions. At the core of specification writing is defining the scope of work. Ensuring that the required level of quality of the product and services is clearly communicated to bidders and that the completed project conforms to this specified quality is extremely important, although sometimes misunderstood. Most projects now incorporate the specifications within a project manual (a concept first developed by the AIA in 1964) that is issued along with the drawings, bidding requirements, and other contract conditions as part of the contract-documents package.

Construction drawings are supplemented by written project specifications. Project specifications give detailed information regarding materials and methods of work for a particular construction project. They cover various factors relating to the project, such as general conditions, scope of work, quality of materials, standards of workmanship, and protection of finished work. The drawings, together with the project specifications, define the project in detail and show exactly how it is to be constructed. Usually, any set of drawings for an important project is accompanied by a set of project specifications. The drawings and project specifications are inseparable. The drawings indicate what the project specifications

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do not cover; and the project specifications indicate what the drawings do not portray or clarify further details that are not covered or amplified by the drawings and notes on the drawings. Whenever there is conflicting information on the drawings and project specifications, the project specifications take precedence over the drawings. The general requirements are usually the first specifications listed for the structure, stating the type of foundation, character of load-bearing members (wood frame, steel frame, or concrete), type or types of doors and windows, types of mechanical and electrical installations, and the principal function of the building. Next follows the specific conditions that must be carried out by the constructors.

The impact of new technologies on the way we do business is considerable, and spec writing has not been immune. Specification production and reproduction have advanced by leaps and bounds in just a short time period due to these new technologies. Master systems are now commercially available in electronic form using a number of word processors. The specifier simply loads the master system into the computer and gets instant access to it, complete with drawing checklist and explanation sheets. Upon editing the relevant sections, a printout can be made with an audit trail that indicates what has been deleted and what decisions must be made. Most offices in the United States use an 8 1/2 x 11-inch format, while in Europe an A4 (8 1/4 x 11 3/4-inch) format is typically used.


Drawings alone cannot define the qualitative issues of a scheme, which is why specifications are necessary. Specifications are the written portion of the contract documents that are used to execute the project. Design decisions are continuously made as drawings proceed from schematic sketches to construction documents. Drawings depict the general configuration and layout of the design, including its size, shape, and dimensions. It tells the contractor the quantities of materials needed, their placement, and their general relationship to each other. Technical specifications are a form of materials list, requiring similar decision making that reflects the design intent and describes in detail the quality and character of materials, the standards to which the materials and their installation shall conform, and other issues that are more appropriately described in written rather than graphic form. And no matter how beautiful the designer’s concept, the project cannot be correctly implemented without clear, concise, accurate, and easily understood contract documents. Specs are a critical component of the contract documents.

The construction drawings contain as much information about a structure as can be presented graphically. A lot of information can be presented this way, but there is more information that the construction craftsman must have that is not adaptable to the graphic form of presentation. Information of this kind includes quality criteria for materials (for example, maximum amounts of aggregate per sack of cement), specified standards of workmanship, prescribed construction methods, and so on. When there is a discrepancy between the drawings and the specifications, always use the specifications as the final authority. This kind of information is presented in a list of written specifications, familiarly known as the specs. A list of specifications usually begins with a section on general conditions. This section starts with a general description of the building, including type of foundation, types of windows, character of framing, utilities to be installed, and so on. A list of definitions of terms used in the specs comes next, followed by certain routine declarations of responsibility and certain conditions to be maintained on the job.

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Even well-drawn construction drawings cannot adequately reveal all the aspects of a construction project. There are many features that cannot be shown graphically. For instance, how would a designer show on a drawing the quality of workmanship required for the installation of electrical equipment or who is responsible for supplying the materials, except by extensive hand-lettered notes? The standard procedure is to supplement construction drawings with written descriptions. These detailed written instructions, commonly called specifications (specs), define and limit the materials and fabrication according to the intent of the engineer or the designer. In fact, when there is a gap between the building as visualized by the designer and the contractor’s interpretation of the documents, specifications—not drawings—are the tool to close that gap. The specifications are an important part of the project because they eliminate possible misinterpretation and ensure positive control of the construction. There are several different types of specifications.

Specification Material Sources

Because of time and cost restraints, few individuals (or small firms) would today venture to write a completely new set of specifications for each job. Specifiers would normally rely on the many sources of reference material that are currently available and from which they could compile a set for each new project. Moreover, because of liability issues, specifiers often feel more comfortable relying on specifications that have repeatedly proved satisfactory in the past. When specs have to be modified to fit the conditions of a given job or new specs incorporated, text is generally taken from one of the master spec systems. These contain guideline specifications for many materials, allowing the specifier to edit unnecessary text rather than generate new information each time.

Another advantage of using master systems is that they use correct specification language and format for ease of specification preparation. Listed below are some of the major sources from which specification material is available, much of which can be retrieved via the Internet:

Master specifications (Masterspec®, SPECSystem™, MasterFormat™, SpecText®, BSDSpeclink®, ezSPECS On-Line™, CAP Studio for the furniture industry, and many others)

City and national codes and ordinances

Manufacturers’ industry associations (Architectural Woodworking Institute, American Plywood Association, Door and Hardware Institute, Tile Council of America).

Manufacturers’ catalogs (Sweet’s Catalog File, Man-U-Spec, Spec-data)

Manufacturers’ on-line catalogs via the Internet

National standards organizations such as the American National Standards Institute,National Institute of Building Sciences, National Fire Protection Association, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Association for Contract Textiles

Testing societies (American Society for Testing and Materials, Underwriters Laboratories)

Federal specifications (Specs-In-Tact, G.S.A., N.A.S.A., N.A.F.V.A.C.)

Magazines and publications (Construction Specifier, Architecture, Architectural Record)

Books on specifications (see bibliography)

Individual files of previously written specifications

During recent years, numerous firms that provide online specification-writing services have emerged. These services are discussed later in the chapter.

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One of the first things that a specifier has to decide upon when preparing a specification document is the format or method to be used to communicate the desired intent to the contractor. There are essentially two broad categories of specifications, closed or open, and most items can be specified by either method. Within these two broad categories, there are basically four generic types of specifications: propriety specifications, description specifications, performance specifications, and reference-standards specifications. The type chosen depends on several factors (Figure 10.1). These are discussed below.

Closed Specification

Closed (also called prescriptive or restrictive) specification is one that limits acceptable products to one or a few brand-identified types or models and prohibits substitutions. This type of specification is sometimes used where specifiers feel more comfortable resorting to a specific proprietary product with which they are familiar and which will meet the specific criteria of the project. However, it should be noted that this procedure (particularly when only one product is named) is not competitive and rarely attracts the most favorable price for the owner. Also, while a closed specification is common in private construction work, most public projects are required by law to be bid under open specifications.

The closed proprietary specification method is the easiest form to write but the most restrictive, in that it names a specific manufacturer’s product. It generally establishes a narrower definition of acceptable quality than do performance or reference-standard methods, and gives the designer/space planner complete control over what is installed. The specification can also be written as an open proprietary section, in which multiple manufacturers or products are named or alternatives solicited. This would increase the potential competition and encourage a lower installation price from vendors. In some cases, a multiple choice may not be appropriate, as, for example, where a specific brick is required for repairs to an existing brick facade. When the specification does not allow for any substitution of materials, it is known as a base bid proprietary specification.

Open Specification

Also called performance or nonrestrictive, this type of specification gives the contractor some choice in how to achieve the desired results. Proprietary specifications may also be used as open specifications but with the addition of the “or equal” clause, which allows the contractor to consider other products for bid if they are shown to be equal in performance and specifications.

Due to the ambiguity surrounding this clause and the disagreements it often perpetuates, specifiers generally shy away from incorporating it into proprietary specifications.

A second method of open specification that is gaining popularity is descriptive specification.

This type of specification describes in detail the requirements for the material or product and the workmanship required for its fabrication and installation without providing a trade name. This type of specification is often stipulated by some government agencies to allow the maximum competition among product manufacturers. Descriptive specifications are also more difficult to write than proprietary ones because the specifier must include all the product’s relevant characteristics in the specification.

A third type of specification that is often used is the reference standard. This standard simply describes a material, product, or process referencing a recognized industry standard or test method as the basis for the specification and is often used to specify generic materials such as portland cement and

Figure 10.1 Various types of specifications (source: Specifications for Commercial Interiors by S.C. Raznicoss).
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clear glass. Thus, in specifying gypsum wallboard, for example, you can state that all gypsum-wallboard products shall meet the requirements of ASTM C36.

As this document describes in detail the requirements for this product, the specifier is relieved of having to repeat the requirements and can instead refer to the recognized industry standard.

In using a reference standard, the specifier should not only have a copy of that standard, but should also know what is required by the standard, including choices that may be contained therein, that should be enforced by all suppliers. This type of specification is fairly easy to write and is generally short. In addition, the use of reference-standard specifications reduces your liability and the possibility for errors.

The fourth major type of specification used is the performance specification. This type of specification establishes the performance requirements without dictating the methods by which the end results are to be achieved. This gives the greatest leeway to contractors because it allows them to use any material or system that meets the performance criteria specified, provided the results can be verified by measurement, tests, or other types of evaluation.

Performance specifications are not often used by architects and engineers because they are the most difficult to write. The specifier must know all the criteria for a product or system, state the appropriate methods for testing compliance, and write an unambiguous document. In addition, sufficient data must be provided to ensure that the product can be demonstrated. Performance specifications are mostly used in specifying complex systems and where a specifier wants to encourage new ways of achieving a particular result.

Product specifications often use a combination of methods to convey the designer’s intent.

For example, a specification for a ceramic tile would use a proprietary specification to name the product or products selected by the specifier, a descriptive specification to specify the size and design, and a reference standard to specify the ASTM standard, grade, and type required.


Traditionally, the organization of the project manual has been a matter of individual preference by the design firm producing it, resulting in a wide diversity of method around the country that became confusing. As design firms and contractors became increasingly nationwide in their operations, a pressing need grew for a consistent arrangement of building-construction specifications. To meet this challenge, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1964 developed the concept of the project manual, which has now gained wide acceptance. Essentially, it contains the technical specifications as well as several other types of documents, which, together with the drawings, constitute the contract documents. A typical table of contents for the project manual might show the following major divisions:

General project information. All parties responsible for the development of the project should be included on the Project Manual’s cover page, which identifies the names and addresses of the owners, architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and structural engineers.

Bidding requirements. These apply to contracts awarded through a bidding process and include an invitation to bid (or advertisement), prequalification forms, instructions to bidders, bid form, and information available to bidders.

Contract forms, which may include the agreement (the contract between owner and contractor), performance bond, labor and materials payment bond, and certificates of insurance.

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Contract conditions (general and supplementary). These include general conditions of the contract such as AIA Form 201 or similar preprinted forms. Supplementary conditions include anything that is not covered in the general conditions, such as addenda (changes made before contract signing) and change orders (changes made after contract signing).

Technical specifications. These provide technical information concerning the building materials, components, systems, and equipment shown on the drawings with regard to quality, performance characteristics, and stipulated results to be achieved by application of construction methods (Figure 10.2).

Writing and Coordination Guidelines

As mentioned earlier, specifications are legal documents, and their language must be precise. If the written text is ambiguous or inadequate, the specification will not communicate. Moreover, a convention has developed over the years as to the information that should be shown on the drawings and that which should be indicated in the specifications. This is essentially based on a number of broad general principles, which include:

Drawings should convey information that can be most readily and effectively expressed graphically by means of drawings and diagrams. This would include data such as dimensions, sizes, gauges, proportions, arrangements, locations, and interrelationships.

Specifications should convey information that is easier to convey through the written word,such as descriptions, standards, procedures, guarantees, and names.

Drawings are used to express quantity, whereas specifications should describe quality.

Drawings should denote type (for example, wood), while specifications will clarify the species (for example, oak).

Some exceptions to these understandings can create confusion. For example, building departments of the majority of municipalities will only accept drawings with applications for building permits and will not accept a project manual with specifications. Furthermore, all data demonstrating compliance with the building code must be indicated on the drawings.

This stipulated repetition of identical data on both the specifications and the drawings exposes the documents to errors and inconsistency. Nevertheless, this aside, to achieve better communication, the specifier should:

Have a good understanding of the most current standards and test methods referred to and the sections that are applicable to the project. Use accepted standards to specify quality of materials or workmanship required, such as “Lightweight concrete masonry units: ASTM C-90-85; Grade N. Type 1.”

Avoid specifications that are impossible for the contractor to carry out. Also refrain from specifying the results and the methods proposed to achieve those results, as the two may conflict. For example, if you specify that a fabric should meet certain ASTM standards and then specify a specific fabric that fails to meet the stated requirements, the specification will be impossible to comply with.

Do not specify standards that cannot be measured. Using phrases such as “a workmanlike job,” for example, should be avoided, as they are subject to wide interpretation.

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Figure 10.2 The Masterspec Table of Contents for a small project (source: American Institute of Architects). (continued)
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Figure 10.2 The Masterspec Table of Contents for a small project (source: American Institute of Architects).
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The clarity of specifications depends on the use of simple, direct statements, concise use of terms, and attention to grammar and punctuation. Avoid the use of words or phrases such as etc. and/or, any, and either, which are ambiguous and imply a choice that may not be intended.

Avoid exculpatory clauses such as,”the general contractor shall be totally responsible for all…,” which try to shift responsibility. Be fair in designating responsibility.

Keep specifications as short as possible, omitting words like “all,” “the,” “an,” and “a.” Describing only one major idea per paragraph makes reading easier while improving comprehension. It also facilitates editing and modifying the specifications at a later date.

Capitalize the following: major parties to the contract, such as Contractor, Client, Owner,Archi-tect; the contract documents, such as Specifications, Working Drawings, Contract, Clause, Section, Supplementary Conditions; specific rooms within the building, such as Living Room, Kitchen, Office; grade of materials, such as No.1 Douglas Fir and FAS White Oak; and, of course, all proper names. The specifier should never underline anything in a specification, as this implies that the remaining material can be ignored.

Use “shall” and “will” correctly. “Shall” is used to designate a command: “The Contractor shall….” whereas “will” implies a choice: “The Owner or Space Planner will…..”

The coordination of the specifications with the construction drawings is essential, as they complement each other. They should not contain conflicting requirements, omissions, duplications, or errors. To minimize the possibility of errors, the specifier should:

Ensure that the specifications contain requirements for all the materials and construction depicted on the drawings.

Use the same terminology in both documents (i.e., drawings and specifications). If metal studs are used in the specifications, the same term should be indicated on the drawings.

Check that dimensions and thicknesses are shown only on one document and not duplicated. Typically, sizes are indicated on the drawings, and the standards for the materials and components that those sizes reference are written into the specifications (unless the project is a very small one without a project manual).

Make sure that notes on drawings do not describe installation methods or material qualities, as these normally belong in the specifications.


The 16-division MasterFormat™ was originally created in 1963 and is a product of The Construction Specifications Institute and Construction Specifications Canada. It is a widely used format both in the United States and Canada for specifications of nonresidential building projects. MasterFormat is the standard for titling and arranging construction project manuals containing bidding requirements, contracting requirements, and specifications. The Construction Specification Institute (CSI) has been working since its inception on trying to standardize the specification numbering system and the format of the sections, which was modified in the MasterFormat version of 1995. In recent years the CSI actively sought to add new divisions to address the rapidly evolving and growing computer and communications technology. A modified MasterFormat was introduced in 2004 that increased its division numbers from

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16 to 50, of which 13 divisions were left blank to provide room for future revisions as construction products and technology evolve (Figure 10.3). The consensus at CSI is that adding divisions is better than trying to fit everything into the previous format of 16 divisions.

This move to modify and enhance the MasterFormat is driven in part by changes in the construction marketplace. Construction technology has advanced rapidly since 1995. For example, there have been major developments in the scope and complexity of computer and communications systems for buildings and security systems.

The Construction Specification Institute describes “MasterFormat” as a master list of numbers and titles for organizing information about construction requirements, products, and activities into a standard sequence. Construction projects use many different delivery methods, products, and installation techniques. Successful completion of projects requires effective communication among the people involved on a project. Information retrieval is nearly impossible without a standard filing system familiar to each user. MasterFormat facilitates standard filing and retrieval schemes throughout the construction industry. MasterFormat is a uniform system for organizing information in project manuals, for organizing cost data, for filing product information and other technical data, for identifying drawing objects, and for presenting construction market data.

The MasterFormat standard is the most widely used standard for organizing specifications and other written information for commercial and institutional building projects in the U.S. and Canada. It provides a master list of divisions, and section numbers and titles within each division, to follow in organizing information about a facility’s construction requirements and associated activities. Standardizing the presentation of such information improves communication among all parties involved in construction projects. Each division is further defined in MasterFormat™ by level two and three numbers and titles and suggested level four titles. Level two numbers and titles identify clusters of products and activities with an identifying characteristic in common. An explanation of the titles used in MasterFormat is provided, giving a general description of the coverage for each title. A keyword index of requirements, products, and activities is also provided to help users find appropriate numbers and titles for construction subjects.

The current MasterFormat consists essentially of dividing the specifications into 50 divisions. MasterFormat 2004 Edition divisions are:

Specification Section Format

Each specification section covers a particular trade or subtrade (e.g., drywall, carpet, ceiling tiles). Furthermore, each section is divided into three basic parts, each of which contains the specifications about a particular aspect of each trade or subtrade.

Part 1: General

This part of the specification outlines the general requirements for the section and describes the scope of work of the project as well as providing the bidder or contractor with the administrative requirements for the section. In general, it sets the quality control, requirements for delivery and job conditions, notes the related trades with which this section needs to be coordinated, and specifies the submittals required for review prior to ordering, fabricating, or installing material for that section. It consists generally of the following:

Description and scope: This article should include the scope of the work and the interrelationships between work in this section and the other sections. In addition, it should include definitions and options.

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Division 00 — Procurement and Contracting Requirements


General Requirements Subgroup


Facility Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div

Facility Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div

sion 01 —General Requirements
Construction Sttbgroup

sion 02 — Existing Conditions

sion 03 — Concrete

si on 04 — Masonry

sion 05 — Metals

sion 06 — Wood, Plasties. and Composites

sion 07 — Thermal and Moisture Protection

sion 08 — Openings

sion 09 — Finishes

sion 10 — Specialties

sion 11 — Equipment

sion 12 — Furnishings

sion 13 — Special Construction

sion 14 — Conveying Equipment



SerVfCes Subgroup:


sion 21 — Fire Suppression

sion 22 — Plumbing

sion 23 —Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning


sion 25 — Integrated Automation

sion 26 — Electrical

ision 27 —Communications

sion 28 — Electronic Safely and Security


Site and Infrastructure Subgroup;

Division 3 I — Earthwork

Division 32 — Exterior Improvements

Division 33 — Utilities

Division 34 — Transportation

Division 35 — Waterways and Marine Construction




Figure 10.3 The newly revised MasterFormat System (source: Construction Specifications Institute, Inc.). (continued)

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Process Equipment Subgroup:

Division 40 — Process Integration

Division 41 — Material Processing and Handling Equipment

Division 42 — Process Heating, Cooling, and Drying Equipment

Division 43 — Process Gas and Liquid Handling, Purification, and Storage


Division 44— Pollution Control Equipment

Division 45 — Industry-Specific Manufacturing Equipment



Division 4H — Electrical Power Generation


Figure 10.3 The newly revised MasterFormat System (source: Construction Specifications Institute, Inc.).

Quality assurances: This article should include requirements for qualification of consultants, contractors, and subcontractors. Also included here are the standards and test requirements, and any full-size “mock-up” models of items for testing.

Submittals: Instructions for submittal of product samples and other relevant information, including warranties, certificates, product data, and installation instructions.

Product handling, delivery, and storage: This includes instructions for aspects like packing, location for delivery, temperature control, and protection for the product after delivery.

Project and site conditions: This stipulates the requirements and conditions that must be in place prior to installation, such as temperature control and the use of necessary utilities. For example, all wall tiling should be completed prior to cabinet installation.

Alternatives: Whether alternatives are acceptable is detailed in the General Requirements.

Sequencing and scheduling: This is used where timing is critical and where tasks and/or scheduling need to follow a specific sequence.

Warranties: This section typically includes warranties that exceed one year. Terms and conditions of the warranty should be spelled out, and the owner should be provided with copies.

Part 2: Products

This section defines and details the materials and products being specified, including fabrication or manufacturing of the product, the standards to which the materials or products must conform to so as to fulfill the specifications (Figure 10.4), and similar concerns. The itemized subsections would therefore include:

Manufacturers: This section is used when writing a proprietary specification and lists approved manufacturers. The section should be coordinated with the product options and substitutions section.

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SCALE: 1″ = 10′-0′ Figure 10.4 Section of a custom-upholstered restaurant banquette seating detail (source: Kubba Design).
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Materials, furnishings, and equipment: A list should be provided of materials to be used. If writing descriptive or performance specifications, detail the performance criteria for materials, furnishings, and equipment.

Mixes: This section specifies the proportions of materials to be used when mixing a particular product.

Fabrication: In this section, fabrication and construction details should be given.

Part 3: Execution

This part of the specification describes the quality of work-the standards and requirements specified in the installation of the products and materials. It also describes the conditions under which the products are to be installed, the protection required, and the closeout and cleanup procedures. The subheadings in this section include:

Inspection: The section outlines what the contractor is required to do—for example, to the subsurface—prior to installation. Wording may include such phrases as “the moisture content of the concrete should meet manufacturer’s specifications prior to installation of the flooring material.”

Preparation: This stipulates the improvements to be made prior to installation.

Installation and performance: The specific requirements for each finish should be specified, as well as the quality of work to be achieved.

Field quality control: This specifies the tests and inspection procedures to be used to determine the quality of the finished work.

Protection: Where special protection is necessary for a particular installation, such as marble flooring, this section must be included.

Adjust and clean: This outlines in detail the cleaning and adjustments requirements.

Schedules: This is used only if deemed necessary.


Over the past decade, several firms have developed various versions of automated specification-writing systems, and many now offer these services on-line to architects, interior designers, engineers, and others. One such firm is Building Systems Design’s (BSD) SpecLink, which is an electronic specification system that uses master-guide specifications in CSI three-part format and has a database of over 780 master-specification sections and over 120,000 data links that automatically include related requirements and exclude incompatible options as you select specification text (Figure 10.5). BSD also developed the Perspective early design-performance specifications organized by CSI UniFormat.

Interspec LLC is another firm that uses a proprietary technology that connects a large database of building specifications to an electronic architectural drawing of the project. The customer can also access the specs through the Internet. Moreover, the customer can make alterations as the specs are being written. Interspec also has a do-it-yourself program for designers with small projects. Using the e-Specs service will enable companies to increase their productivity while simultaneously reducing their costs. By linking the architect’s CAD drawings to the master-guide specifications, the need to mail or deliver large blueprint drawings to the spec writer is eliminated. With these automated systems, the de-

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signer can input all necessary information at the earliest stages of the project, before any drawings are available, and instantly obtain an outline or preliminary specification.

SpecsIntact System is another automated software system available for preparing standardized facility construction specifications. SpecsIntact was designed by NASA to help architects, engineers, specification writers and other professionals doing business with the three government agencies using it, i.e. the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

There are many other systems on the market such as e-Specs Online, which is a proprietary browser-based specification-management system. These new systems are transforming the way architects and interior designers prepare specifications for commercial and residential buildings. They can provide greater accuracy, in less time, at a lower cost. These systems also eliminate or minimize costly construction changes due to omissions, discrepancies, or improper quality controls. A firm’s proprietary interactive online editing system can be integrated into the specification-development process over the Internet with secure password access. A completed specification manual can be delivered on-line for client downloading or printed and bound, as well as saved on CD-ROM. The bottom line is whether outsourcing is the most effective way to go for a particular design firm.


Architects and engineers, like other professionals, are expected to exercise reasonable care and skill in carrying out their work. Although this does not imply 100 percent perfection at all times, the level of performance should be consistent with that ordinarily provided by other qualified practitioners under similar circumstances. Law relating to professional responsibility and liability has become very active in recent years, and the zone of risk and exposure has expanded dramatically in professional practice. Indeed, under current law, whenever a designer enters into a contractual agreement and specifies a subsystem of a commercial or institutional space, he or she becomes responsible for the performance of that system.

Among the more significant areas of exposure are the liability of the architect engineer to third parties unconnected with the contract for claims of negligence or errors in design that lead to alleged injury of persons using the building. The legal bases for the majority of current liability suits include professional negligence, implied warranty or misrepresentation, implied fitness warranty, breach of contract, joint and several liability, and liability without fault for design defects. Often, these legal bases overlap. Thus, a designer who fails to reject defective work by a contractor or supplier may be considered to be professionally negligent and in breach of contract.

Designers can protect themselves from possible liability suits by working within their area of expertise, using concise contracts and specifications, complying with codes and regulations, using reputable contractors, maintaining accurate records, and securing legal counsel and liability insurance.

Another area of exposure is building product performance—that is, holding the architect responsible for damages caused by faulty materials and components and sometimes for the cost of their replacement. This tends to place a heavy emphasis on the selection and specification of building products with long records of satisfactory performance, thus inhibiting the introduction of new materials and methods.

Product liability is mainly concerned with negligence. And while it greatly affects manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, and distributors, designers and specifiers are increasingly becoming involved in product-liability suits. Designers can minimize product-liability actions by specifying products manufactured for the intended use.























Figure 10.5 BSD SpecLink summary catalog listing and computer screen printout. SpecLink is one of the many electronic specification services that have emerged in recent years (source: Building Systems Design, Inc.).

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