A specification is a comprehensive and detailed written description, as composed by a design professional, of the desires of an owner as to how he wants to construct a building, what services and products he wants included, governance of the actual construction and how he wants it to look when completed. Architectural drawings that depict the specification pictorially are prepared to complement the specification and together they will form the final contractual documents. Drawings and Specifications must work together and provide the necessary information.
There are three basic types of specs:
- Performance based where the specifier restricts the text to stating the “performance” that must be achieved by the completed work while referencing bylaws, codes, tests, procedures, regulations, performance standards to which all bidders must adhere. Meeting the “performance” standards then becomes the overriding criteria for acceptance.
- Prescriptive based where the specifier references and describes a specific product and manufacturer that is acceptable. No alternates.
- A combination of both that names specific manufacturers and products perhaps describes in detail a specific manufacturer’s product, references specific codes and standards but allows other manufacturers to be considered for acceptance before or after the actual bidding process based on meeting the performance intent.
Type 3 is the most common and certainly the fairest for all. Adhering to an equality specification requiring pre-approval and as compared to a desired standard of performance will result in a project that will meet the basic goals of time, cost and quality.
It is when a type 3 specification is written & used and then the specifier reverts into a type 2 frame of reference & thought process that the problems start.
A spec comes out and uses as its base a product as manufactured by the Wacky Wall Company. Indicates by inference or by name that others can bid as long as the intent of the spec. is met. This includes STC, current testing, wall configuration & operation, finishes, stacking needs etc. Also calls for faces attached by nailing, frames made from balsa wood, track made from extruded plastic etc. In other words, specifies a whole bunch of specifics that are not Moderco standards OR the standards of other manufacturers. Is Moderco acceptable?
Yes! Because we meet the intent of the specification. We will provide what the spec calls for in terms of the end result but simply accomplish it in a different way than will the particular manufacturer (Wacky Wall Co) who is named in the specification. It has to be foremost in your mind that all manufacturers make their product “their way” (like the song: “I did it my way”) and from materials both of which are choices they have made but not based on the materials or features having any real advantages to the consumer. It is what it is including Moderco. If there is any real reason for a manufacturer to choose specific materials or manufacturing methods it will be because of cost not that fact that there are advantages. Let’s look at some specific examples.
One manufacturer always specifies ON THEIR STEEL TRACK SYSTEMS: “hangar brackets must support the load bearing surface of the track” Our question is why? If the surface is not supported will it fail? Maybe their track has failed in the past and that is why they include this requirement. Or maybe they are the only ones who use a steel support bracket designed this way and they are trying to gain a specification advantage by calling for a feature that is unique to them? They do not have this “feature” on their aluminum track systems so maybe their aluminum is stronger or has never failed or the ‘feature” itself is meaningless.
One manufacturer will specify steel track and then say aluminum track is not acceptable. And then when they get aluminum track specified they will say that steel track is not acceptable. Why? Not because one is necessarily better than the other or better suited to the application but because they are trying to gain an advantage.
Another goes to great lengths to explain how the skin is to be attached to the frame. No advantage to the way they do it; it is simply the manufacturing method they have chosen. But they will try and get the specifier to hold others to this method which of course is not possible.
Other features used as “weapons” to gain an advantage include acoustic seals, weight (system, panel, hanging etc), aesthetic features and appearance, accessories, hinging etc.
When you are working with your designer/specification writer/architect:
- Determine intent and expectations
- Custom write a specification that is fair to all and meets the needs of the project. He will appreciate it.
- Name acceptable competitors and acceptable competitive models. Do not let other manufacturer choose what they want to bid.
If you are bidding on a project where a competitor is specified:
- Review the specification with the specifier and point out features that are unique to the product specified and why you cannot comply.
- Point out what is truly important (STC, current and up to date acoustic tests, models, configurations, operation, aesthetics, weights, etc) and confirm that you will meet these requirements but in a different way that will not have any negative impact on end results.
- Gain prior approval before project bids.
A specification is a valuable and necessary tool that ensures quality but also equality. It is not intended to be a weapon that will give one company an advantage over another.