Specifications – Getting the basics right

When writing architectural specifications getting the basics in place from the start will help you build a document suitable to your needs. We have been consulting on specifications for many years and in this time we have witnessed the do’s and dont’s, learning from both our own and others’ experiences. We have listed below our thoughts on some basic rules that you can bookmark and come back to next time you need some guidance.

  1. Always edit your specification to reflect your appointment and the selected procurement route.
  2. Always start from a solid baseline document. Do not take the last project you prepared a specification for and change the headers and footers. No matter how vigilant you are, mistakes such as naming the wrong project, specifying incorrect materials and other basic errors will creep into your documents.
  3. Avoid using the term “or similar approved” in a specification. If you approve it you are assuming liability for it. Instead use the term ‘or acceptable equivalent’. By accepting an alternative the responsibility for Fitness for Purpose moves to the contractor and the architects acceptance is for design intent only. If the architect approves he takes back that responsibility. Normally alternatives are offered for program or cost reasons and the contractor is responsible for the fact that he is providing a different product that must be at least as good quality wise as the one specified by the architect. If the architect is specifying by description only the contractor is obliged to provide technical solution which again he has to be responsible for in terms of quality, performance, appearance and fitness for purpose.
  4. The proper use of defined terms is important in a specification. Check your contract!
  5. Document/section identification should appear on every page in the footer for document control purposes.
  6. Avoid putting specification clause numbers on your drawings. We recommend the use of product reference codes which are all included on a technical reference sheet (T-Sheet) that links the drawings and the specification. This makes life much easier when changes are required.
  7. Avoid mixing prescriptive and performance specifications. By this we mean don’t name a very specific product and then provide performance characteristics for that product – this is not necessary and is potential for conflict resulting in claims.
  8. Avoid specifying temporary works – this is the contractor’s responsibility. Just specify the need to protect adequately, not how to do it.
  9. Remove names of individuals when specifying products and just provide the company’s details.
  10. Remove unfinished clauses and terms such as “if required”. If you are specifying a specific technical solution then you have to specify everything.
  11. Do not highlight particular clauses by using bold or underlining, as this indicates that the clause is of special importance and there is no such thing in a specification, as by default it indicates that everything else is not so important.
  12. Always allow time to have your specifications proofread!
Mark Schumann

Mark Schumann

Mark Schumann is the Founder and Director of Schumann Consult.
Mark Schumann

Posted on February 27, 2013 in Specifications

Response (1)

  1. […] in February 2013, one of our first blog pieces discussed ‘Getting The Basic’s Right‘ when it came to specifications. A year later and we still come across Architect’s […]

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