Monday, September 14, 2009

Let's talk about specs, bay-bee

Interns often get a great deal of experience on drawings but lack a comparable level of experience on specifications. Let me first say that there is no law against you looking on your company's server in the project files at the spec in electronic form, nor is there a reason that you cannot flip through a hard copy of that spec yourself, but I understand that doing so usually feels like trying to drive through an unfamiliar country with a map not written in your language. The main thing to know about specs is that they dictate to the contractor the what, while the drawings dictate the how. Drawings describe the external appearance of the object's existence (storefront windows: they're this tall, this wide, mullions are spaced like this, if you count them on the plan and exterior elevations there are 16) and specs explain the inherent qualities of the object (list of acceptable manufacturers of storefront windows, list of acceptable products by those manufacturers for this application, make sure they pass x hurricane and wind pressure tests and y seismic tests and use z as a finish). A contractor has to review the specs as well as the drawings to ensure that the project is built to the proper standards, quality, and cost. If the contractor misses something in the spec, revising his construction to comply with the details is generally on his dime.

The specs cover everything, soup to nuts, on a project. If it's in the project, it gets a spec section. Windows? Spec section. Flooring? Spec section. Adhesive for the flooring? Gets described in the flooring spec section. A table of contents for the latest version of specs can be found here on Masterspec's website--I recommend downloading a copy to your work computer and keeping it handy. Not only will it make it easier to get familiar with specs, but it can help with your noting and detailing on the drawings. Some drawing software (like Revit) allow you to keynote stuff in your details to a spec section, and that can make it less likely that a contractor will miss something because it was in the specs. While some firms (or projects/clients) still use the older 1995 Masterformat of specs, which uses 16 divisions, most firms and projects are going to the new 2004 masterformat, which uses a whole lot more, which are thus:

Division 01 - General (covers things like the process of doing CA, project meetings, sending submittals to the architect, sending in pay applications, and performing closeout procedures and handing the building over to the owner)
Division 02 - Existing Conditions (total and partial demolition of existing structures and sites)
Division 03 - Concrete (cast-in-place concrete, precast concrete, and anything related to making or installing those two things)
Division 04 - Masonry (cmu [concrete block], bricks, cast stone units, glass block, and anything related to making or installing those items)
Division 05 - Metals (steel structural items as well as decorative metal things, like railings)
Division 06 - Wood, Plastics, and Composites (wood framing and structure, wood trim, casework/cabinetry, plywood and fabricated wood products, and nice woodwork)
Division 07 - Thermal and Moisture Protection (batt and rigid insulation, roofing materials, stucco and EIFS exterior finish systems, exterior metal panels, sealants, and fireproofing)
Division 08 - Openings (doors and windows of all types and materials, door and window hardware, louvers and vents, access doors, insulated glass, interior and decorative glass, mirrors, and skylights)
Division 09 - Finishes (flooring, paint, wallcovering, floor and wall tile, ceiling tiles, wall and door protection, etc.)
Division 10 - Specialties (odds and ends like signage, toilet compartments, toilet and bathroom accessories, marker boards, operable partitions...lots of stuff that needs to be properly installed but doesn't fit in any of the other categories)
Division 11 - Equipment (in kitchens, laundry, medical, lab, theater and stage, loading dock, etc.)
Division 12 - Furnishings (not just chairs and what not, but also things like modular casework and cabinetry, shades and blinds, theater and stadium seating, etc.)
Division 13 - Special Construction (things that the contractor hires a special subcontractor to do, like saunas, cold storage units, or the RF enclosure for an MRI at a hospital)
Division 14 - Conveying Equipment (elevators, escalators, dumbwaiters)
Division 15-21 - Reserved
Division 22 - Plumbing (anything and everything having to do with the supply and removal of water, sewage, and gases; if it goes through a pipe, it gets discussed here)
Division 23 - Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (if it heats, cools, humdifies, dehumidifies, filters, supplies, or removes air, it's covered here)
Division 24 - Electrical (power systems, circuitry, light fixtures, panel boards, fuse boxes...all covered here)
Division 27-30 - Reserved
Division 31 - Earthwork (excavation, grading, moving dirt around, and installing new foundations)
Division 32 - Exterior Improvements (this used to be Chapter 02 for the landscape architects and civil engineers to describe exterior paving, fencing, benches and bollards, irrigation, and planting material)
Division 33 - Utilities (getting local utilities to the site and building and getting sewer and groundwater away from the building)

On Wednesday, we'll talk about the structure of a spec section and what each subsection does.


  1. Nice post. I didn't see the Masterspec link, but I imagine you mean the one here:

    There is also a complete listing of numbers and titles at, with keyword searches (free login required) and a convert-as-you-type transition guide (login not required).

    Thumbing through the MasterFormat hardcopy is an excellent way to gain perspective on the breadth of knowledge there is in the construction industry - for every 6-digit number you see, there are people who devote an entire career to the knowledge and techniques related to their trade. CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) is devoted to connecting designers and specifiers to the vast resources of industry members in a common organization through education, certification, and networking.

  2. My mentor in specs years ago gave me some advice that is good to share with readers here: Specs often make more sense if you go to Part 2 first (Products), then Part 3 (Execution), then Part 1 (General). There are also a few sections that have schedules in Part 3 that are more easily edited as 3->2->1.

    The drawings indicate locations and extent (where and how much), and the specs indicate materials, level of quality, type of installation, and general and procurement requirements (what and how good). The rest of "how" is somewhat of a combined function of Part 3 Execution + detail Drawings + the Contractor's methods and means according to the AIA A201 General Conditions.