The Importance of Specifications and MasterFormat

According to the Dictionary of Architecture & Construction a specification is “a written document describing in detail the scope of work, materials to be used, methods of installation, and quality of workmanship for a parcel of work to be placed under contract; usually utilized in conjunction with working (contract) drawings in building construction”. In turn, a collection of specifications is defined as “a part of the contract documents contained in the project manual consisting of written descriptions of a technical nature of materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship”.

Specifications, as defined above, are typically involved in many project types including commercial, municipal and other large scale projects. They become especially important when a project is utilizing a public bidding process or when there are very detailed requirements for the project. Although specifications are not meant to address all issues that may come up during construction, they typically outline how to deal with issues in the field and define the project in much greater detail than drawings, contracts and agreements alone.

The nationally accepted industry standard guiding the preparation of construction specifications in North America is called MasterFormat and is published by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC). MasterFormat 2004 is currently the most commonly used version although MasterFormat 2010 is now being deployed and MasterFormat 1995 is still in common use even though CSI completely ceased its support of the 1995 version as of December 31, 2009. MasterFormat 2004 contains 50 divisions and provides a framework of divisions, section numbers, section titles and a standardized outline format in which design teams can consistently organize information about a project.

There are generally two different types of specifications including Performance Specifications, which are focused on the level of performance and workmanship that must be achieved in the project and Prescriptive Specifications which are focused on specific products & vendors or even specific contractors that are acceptable for each scope of work. Performance specifications are typically written by the design team either directly or in conjunction with a consultant specializing in specification writing. Many prescriptive (or proprietary) specifications can be downloaded for free on the internet either from the product manufacturers or through collective websites such as Arcat. In addition, there are a number of software platforms available for aiding in the writing of specifications including MasterSpec by ARCOM, SpecLink by Building Systems Design (BSD) and SPECTEXT by the Construction Sciences Research Foundation, Inc. Software platforms are continuing to develop along with construction trends and technology as well and now also include platforms that work in conjunction with the new Building Information Modeling (BIM) CAD platforms and are specifically geared toward green building technology and LEED certification.

Specifications play an important role in the ultimate success of any construction project. It is important that all of the goals and intents for the project are considered in the specifications including those of the client, a fully integrated design team, the builder and the eventual tenants. Specifications that are clear, well written and organized according to MasterFormat can result in greater bid accuracy, reduced complications in the field, quantifiable measures of the projects success and clarity of the client’s requirements and desires throughout the project lifecycle. EVstudio regularly incorporates specifications into many project types and our integrated project team results in a better specification as well. We can also integrate BIM technology, LEED requirements and any other project requirements into specifications that will increase the success of your building project and the construction process. Please contact us with any questions or for more information!


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