New Hampshire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute

Why a Well Edited Specification Matters
 By Jeff Potter, CDT, Specifications Writer, HMC Architects 

In an era where Drawings are just not as good as they used to be, specifications need to be better and tighter. The Contractors know where to look to make their money, they have it down to a science. Yet, is the Architecture industry adopting to this? In my mind, no.

The industry is more focused on technology to help production and save cost on the front end than producing quality construction documents to save costly change orders on the backend. I believe they think this effort will save time on production and thus create the time needed for better coordinated documents. This isn’t the case. As I have heard several times, “They will just figure it out in the field.” Well that mentality produced a $40,000 dollar change order because the team did not want to spend the time to figure it out, which would have been a fraction of the cost if they would have figured it out. So when the Drawings are lacking, I feel it’s the responsibility of the spec writer to produce a project manual, to the best of THEIR ability, in order to help out other lacking areas.

In one particular case, a project manual went out on a substantially large project. The team did a fairly good job coordinating with the spec writer and vice versa, or so I thought. I worked on several addenda and realized how uncoordinated the project manual was to the Drawings. I did the best to my ability to help out, and made quite a few changes. About a month ago, I received an RFI on intumescent fireproofing. The question was if the product specified was fine to use on the exterior. When I looked at the specification, Part 1 said “solvent” which was a good start, then I went down to Part 2, and that is where the problem was. The spec writer failed to edit the specification correctly and listed, among many other wrong items, solvent based and water based products for interior and exterior applications. It was a mess…

I replied back to the project team saying water based product with a high end architectural finish was acceptable, although not ideal in my mind, for the interior applications. The exterior needed to be solvent based as they hold up better against weather. The team took this response back to the contractor. A few weeks later I heard a response from the team. The contractor stated they bid the water based products for both applications, and rightly so as it was the cheaper, easier product to work with. Looking back at the spec, there wasn’t much that could be done. We could issue an ASI or CCD with a revised spec, but there would be a cost impact, about a $30,000 impact. This isn’t to get into the better option of product here, but show the following:

1. The time it took for the entire project team to review and respond to the RFI.
2. The potential for a change order if the product was changed.
3. Because the specification was not tight or edited correctly, time and money was spent to review something that could have been avoided.

This is a good example of what happens when the specs are not tight or edited correctly. It’s tough for the team to understand everything, and that is where the spec writer comes in. I have heard a term, “information manager”, to describe the new, future role that specification writers are taking. This is interesting, as it’s shifting the role of the specifications manager. Not one person knows everything, but I feel as a spec writer, it is our duty to at least know something about everything or have the tools to gain the information necessary. In the case above, the team probably had no idea about the two types of intumescent fireproofing, and that is where the spec writer should have stepped in and explained the pros and cons of both to the team, so the specification could have been edited correctly. This is where the spec writer should have been the information manager…

As spec writers we need to help project teams out by managing the information related to the project, products, or firm standards. Together as a team, all of this information can be utilized to create solid specs and drawings. Again, the project manual can only be what is put into it. The spec writer needs input from the team and the team needs feedback from the spec writer in order to create well coordinated documents.