Keith Robinson, FCSC, RSW, CCS, LEED AP
Specifications need to move away from the overly simplified and technically inadequate approach adopted over the last few decades. There must be a return to technically competent specifications firmly rooted in performance, with product listings illustrating the design intent and execution requirements. Specifications should indicate what is required, and avoid telling the constructor how to perform the work. Contractual responsibilities must be clean—the consultant describes design intent, and constructor responds with appropriate means and methods.
Proprietary specifications don’t violate anti-trust laws—after all, design professionals are the most competent judges of what products best suit a project’s technical requirements. These specs recognize there may be several solutions to achieve performance; while there are no such things as ‘equals,’ there is potential for many acceptable materials. Rather than providing a shopping list, the specifier may include several acceptable materials as illustrating the performance requirements, and allow for competitive bidding based on a selection of products.
Proprietary specs may also allow for single material selections, particularly where performance requirements have a tight tolerance. They may include provisions for manufacturers and suppliers to propose substitutions having similar or superior performance to the named products, to be submitted to the architect for evaluation.
Maintaining a detailed master specification involves building it up over time to contain project history and incorporate constructive feedback through the contract administration process and other contributions from the constructor. Of course, in addition to maintaining an in-house master specification based on accumulated project experience, there are several industry groups that have published master guide specs useful to the specifier.
The return on investment to the professional design team is immense. Every hour spent working with master guide specifications that incorporate beneficial history from projects has a direct correlation to reduction in requests for information, fewer contractor instigated changes, and higher owner satisfaction.
The master specification can open communication between product reps, architects, designers, and other decision-makers. Using a well-maintained and researched master spec can significantly reduce the time needed to write project specifications, improve the clarity of project requirements, reduce disconnects between the specification and drawings, and provide time for the team to work on what must be done.