The Exact Contract: Formats Matter (April 2000)
The people who prepare specifications are typically design professionals (engineers and architects) or suppliers or manufacturer's representatives who have extensive technical knowledge of their product. The education of designers usually includes at least a cursory introduction to the source of specification information, and their firms may employ a specifier, or subscribe to one of the services that provide guide specifications by subscription. These tools may not make preparing specifications fun, but they make it easier. The basic tools are the formats.
The Real ToolsDoes the format matter if you really know your subject and are an expert? It's technical information you're trying to get across, and basically you have to know your stuff or have a way to find the information. It may surprise you to find that having a format - several formats, in fact - makes it easier to find, write, and use the information. When you write a specification, the formats help you locate the information you need, determine what you need to say about it, check that you've covered the subject completely, and know what you don't have to say.
How is this possible? I predict that if you get the tools and try them out, you'll find that they work. The basics are contained in the Manual of Practice (MOP), published by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). The MOP includes the formats: MasterFormat (the list of 16 Divisions and 5-digit numbers), SectionFormat, and PageFormat. Let's take a brief look at MasterFormat and SectionFormat.
Masterformat Locates the ProductThe most recent edition of MasterFormat is dated 1995, superceding the edition of 1988. The revisions were developed with the participation of many users from all parts of the construction industry, and after review and commentary by other users. Many of the changes were designed to improve the engineering portions (as distinct from the architectural), while significant changes in the organization of the Bidding and Contract documents and Division 1 grew out of new study and experience with contract administration. You get an idea of what's in MasterFormat when you look up information in Sweet's or in a Means estimating guide, but when you look at MasterFormat itself, you will learn more about the logic of groups of Sections. For example, Division 15's hvac area is divided at what is called Level 2 into Heat-Generation Equipment, Refrigeration Equipment, HVAC Equipment, Air Distribution, HVAC Controls, and Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing. HVAC Equipment - 15700, includes topics that may use separate numbers such as 15720 - Air-Handling Units, and 15750 - Humidity Control Equipment. For your project or your product line, you might prepare Built-up Indoor Air-Handling Units - 15721, or Modular Rooftop Air-Handling Units - 15724.
Sectionformat Organizes DetailsInside the three Parts of SectionFormat you'll find another level of subjects. The Section outline acts as a basic checklist to help you not only organize your information but make it complete. Like the list of 5-digit numbers, it creates a system for keeping information organized while allowing you to use just the topics you need for your subject. If you use a typical alphanumeric outline organization, your Articles, the first level of division inside a Part, are numbered, the numbers starting with the number of the Part: 2.1, 2.2; or 2.01, 2.02. The number is associated with a title, such as 1.1 Section includes, 1.2 References, 2.1 Manufacturers, 2.2 Cabinet, 2.4 Fan Section, 3.1 Installation, 3.2 Adjusting. Paragraphs under the title follow the system A., 1., a.
If the outline of SectionFormat is in front of you as you write, you will be reminded to consider whether you should include a "Quality Assurance" article in which you should specify the special regulatory requirements your installation is subject to; a "Source Quality Control" article specifying the factory test of the unit; a "Preparation" article in Part 3 for field coordination that must precede your installation. You may need many of these or a few, but you have a checklist to help you make your information complete as well as consistently arranged. Specifiers' experience suggests that these checklists work well for construction subjects in all disciplines.