The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

14 December 2015

Election time

Photo credit: User:RadioFan
I remember being, as a new CSI member, somewhat confused by our election process. Having been a voter for many years, I knew that US presidents did not take office immediately, but were presidents-elect for a very short time, during which they did not work in the White House. So it seemed strange that, instead of voting for the next president of CSI, we vote for a person who won't take office as president for at least a year. The other problem I had had nothing to do with the process; I simply didn't know who was running for office! But we'll get to that later.

23 November 2015

Tell me again - and show me the money!

In the last few articles we looked at how redundancies needlessly increase the size of specifications. Another thing that affects the length of specifications is writing style. Even though CSI's mantra, "Clear, concise, correct, complete", suggests specifications should contain only the essence of requirements, commercial guide specifications and office master specifications alike tend to use words that aren't necessary.

In 1949, Ben John Small wrote an article titled "The Case for the Streamlined Specification." In it, he uses anecdote and logic to explain why terse writing is superior to verbose. He also cites previous works that show that streamlined writing is nothing new, but has been advocated as far back as 1896.

In his opening remarks, Small said, "Streamlining is not and never has been considered a panacea or short cut in the writing of good specifications. If one can write a thorough and competent specification using the long form one can streamline that same specification without the slightest adulteration, yet reduce its bulk by one-third or more." Briefly, streamlining is the removal of all words that are not essential to understanding the specifications.

19 October 2015

Tell me again part 3

In "Tell me again part 1" we looked at how proper use of reference standards can reduce the amount of text required by making those standards part of the specifications. In "Tell me again part 2" we saw how proper use of Division 01 can eliminate repeated requirements in specification sections in other Divisions. Now let's look at redundancies found on drawings and in specifications.

21 September 2015

Tell me again part 2

In "Tell me again part 1" we looked at how proper use of reference standards can reduce the amount of text required by making those standards part of the specifications. Going back to the "say it once" principal, proper use of Division 00 and Division 01 can go a long way toward eliminating needless text.

In the good old days, it was common to include at the beginning of every specification section a statement similar to this: "Drawings and General Provisions of the Contract, including General and Supplementary Conditions and Division - 1 Specification Sections, apply to this Section."

CSI's Manual of Practice, Product Resource Manual, and Construction Specifications Practice Guide explain how to eliminate this statement:
Although the Division 01 role in governing the work has been accepted in practice for many years, this authority is not explicitly stated in either the AIA or EJCDC general conditions. Until that change is made, the authority should be established by a provision in the supplementary conditions as follows: Sections of Division 01-General Requirements govern the work of all sections of the specifications.

17 August 2015

Tell me again, part 1

I’m sure you’ve heard the Army way of presenting information: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them.

While that may be a practical way of doing some things, it has no place in construction documents. For those, we have a different rule: Say it once in the right place. I think it’s safe to say that specifiers believe this rule, though convincing those who create the drawings is difficult; the result often is that the specifications may state things but once, while it’s common for drawings to repeat things many times, and it’s also common for drawing notes to repeat what is stated in the specifications.

So what’s the big deal? Why not repeat things?

14 July 2015

What does the future hold for specifiers?

In the last few years, it has been proposed that owners might benefit from hiring specifiers directly; it has even been suggested that specifiers might help owners choose architects. Specific aspects of these ideas, and of related issues, were addressed by member presentations at the 2012, 2013, and 2014 CSI annual conventions. There will be one similar presentation at this year's convention.

Last year, at the convention in Baltimore, several Institute directors and interested members met to discuss a report that had been submitted to the Institute board by Ujjval Vyas, PhD, of the Alberti Group. This report, titled "The Risk Management Value of Specifications," was prepared at the request of CSI. The report's Executive Summary noted conditions that would surprise few specifiers: Specification software is beginning to replace activities traditionally done by a specifier; contractors are becoming more involved in specifications, especially in design-build projects; and specifiers suffer from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome -

18 May 2015

What's the difference between drawings and specifications?

We all know what specifications and drawings are. Or do we?

In casual conversation, it's not unusual to hear someone say "the specs" or "the specifications" when referring to the project manual. Similarly, it's common for people to say "the drawings" when referring to, well, the drawings. In either case, it's almost certain that everyone's mental images are of documents in two sizes: 8 1/2 by 11, and 30 by 42, or some other large size.

13 April 2015

Are specifiers an endangered species?

For many years, there have been debates about the future of construction specifiers. Where will we find new specifiers? Are they all dying off? Is the profession no longer needed? While I believe there is reason for concern, I don't think much has changed.

Several years ago, Bob Johnson conducted an informal survey on, asking members to answer these questions:
  • What is your current age?
  • Did you receive education beyond high school?
  • What was your major?
  • At what age did you first prepare some significant specifications?
  • Did you have a mentor in specifications?
  • How was the mentor related to you (office, CSI chapter, etc.)?
  • At what age did you first take a formal education seminar or course in specifications?
  • Who provided the education?
  • At what age did you achieve CCS (will be later for many because of when the program started)?
  • At what age did you first become a full-time specifier?

22 March 2015

Haystacks: Do construction documents do what they're supposed to do?

The purpose of construction documents is simple: They tell the contractor what is needed to complete a project.

How best to do that has been a subject of debate for a long time, even though a basic set of rules has been used at least as far back as the 1940s. In his "The Case For the Streamlined Specification", published in the July 1949 Construction Specifier, Ben John Small referred to a book titled "Specifications" that was written in 1896; the older book apparently discussed some degree of streamlining.

That's fine as far as it goes, but if the intent is to clearly communicate with the contractor, are we doing as well as we could? Architects and specifiers have a nice collection of rules for organizing information, but do they make sense for the contractor? Our rules are fairly consistent, and they are generally accepted by design firms, but can they be improved? A large project many take a year or more to complete, yet we still have inconsistencies and conflicts. Is it fair to expect a bidder, who typically has only a few weeks to figure out what we want, collect subcontract bids (many of which are incomplete or include qualifications), decide how much to include to cover the inevitable problems, and arrive at a competitive price?

Can we do better than asking contractors to find the critical information in a haystack of information that is less important?