Contributed by Karl Michels
The recent growth of programs advocating sustainable design is numerous: LEED, Living Building Challenge, mindful MATERIALS, etc. Through all of these, though, there seems to be a disconnect between specified products and installed items. The owner is paying for something he didn’t receive, the architect is delivering a product they didn’t envision, the contractor is building a project that is not as described, and the manufacturer missed out on a sale of a product designed for the task.
The Boss noticed a continuing pattern of building projects where there is a difference in collaboration and specification language of sustainable design between architects, engineers, and contractors and he wants me to look into it. Something’s not right in these specs and I can’t quite figure it out, but, I’m on it. My name is Specman; I carry a bunch of technical sheets.
* * * * * * * * * *
8:15 AM. The sun is bright, the coffee burnt, and my head is splitting. I have been at this since 5 am this morning. I reach into the desk drawer, shake the last two aspirin out of the bottle, and knock them back with the lousy coffee. It’s going to be one of those days. Thank God for the pharmaceutical guys; they’re my helpers. The 010000 General Conditions and 018113 Sustainable Design specifications are pretty clear. Why didn’t this project get built with the appropriate materials as specified? I don’t quite get it.
9:02 AM. I phone the architectural specifier. “Specifier”, she barks into the phone. “What do you want?” She’s a hard driven cookie; smart, but tough. Billable hours are important, there’s no time for small talk. I called her Honey when I first met her; she made it quite clear she wasn’t an ex-wife or current girlfriend. Just because she was female didn’t mean she didn’t know her stuff and I would be well served to address her appropriately. She was right then and right now. She doesn’t know, however, that I call her Toots behind her back. “Look, I need some answers and I know you can give them to me”.
“Yeah. What’s the deal with the intent of sustainable design that only encompasses half of the project?” I ask.
“What are you talking about, Specman?” she answers. “A sustainable project is sustainable throughout. We just finished issuing the documents on that LEED Plutonium Level building. You know, the one intended to be loved and cherished by the community for time immortal. We covered all the bases: Fasteners are made solely of recycled horseshoes; Ventilation is air movement generated by the wings of 100,000 Monarch butterflies and the Finishes are comprised of the most ecologically responsible building materials with a minimum 20% recycled rainbow content verified by an independent third party. What more is there?” I increasingly get the feeling I might be grabbing a tiger by the tail.
“Well”, I answered, “someone else didn’t get the memo. The engineer hired by you to design the parts of the building no one sees in this same project advocated Electrical Wiring as “throughout” and Piping as “leak free.” Will that meet your sustainable design criteria?”
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
Although it didn't seem like it at the time, one of the best parts of my CSI chapter's certification classes was reading the A201 - not selectively, but the whole thing, beginning to end. Being the heart of the construction contract, anyone who works on a project should know what's in it. I can't quote every part of it, but it's familiar enough that I can find what I'm looking for fairly quickly. I don't deal with much of it, e.g., claims and time requirements, but there are a few parts that I find of particular interest.
We'll start with what I call the complementary clause.
§ 1.2 CORRELATION AND INTENT OF THE CONTRACT DOCUMENTS
Most architects are aware of this requirement, which is quite useful when something is on the drawings but didn't make it into the specifications. Clearly, when that happens there has been a communication failure. The specifier might not have seen something on the drawings, or it might have been added unbeknownst to the specifier. Regardless of the reason, this clause has saved many an architect when something was missed.
It's obviously a useful fallback requirement, but it shouldn't be relied on to cover mistakes that should have been avoided. It is quite powerful, but it also is limited. Let's look at a couple of examples.
The bidding documents show a bathroom on the drawings, and in the bathroom, floor tile is indicated. Unfortunately, there is no specification for tile. No problem, right? The complementary clause requires the contractor to provide floor tile! Of course, there is that pesky provision that requires to contractor to ask the architect about obvious conflicts, but it's pretty much impossible to prove the contractor saw this error and failed to call the architect.
Now we're in construction, and the contractor discovers the error. Because the tile should have been included in the bid, and because of the complementary clause, the contractor is on the hook; the tile must be provided. That is true, but without specifications, the contractor is free to choose any type of tile. The contractor can claim the bid was based on plastic tile on sale at the dollar store, instead of the really cool stuff the architect wanted, priced at $20 per square foot. Furthermore, without installation instructions, the contractor could argue that simply laying the tile on the floor is all that's required.
A silly example, to be sure, yet it emphasizes the importance of specifications as a way to ensure you get what you want.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
Many products offer not only a selection of standard finishes at a standard price, but offer more options at additional cost. Some will offer those options in price groups, such as Standard, Group 1, and Group 2, where each group is more expensive than the last. Finally, some manufacturers offer to match any color.
Unfortunately, the requirements for getting a custom color often are vague, and a minimum quantity may be required or other limitations may apply.
The result? I may tell a project architect that a custom color will cost more, but because I often don’t know how much, the response usually is, “It doesn’t matter; we want custom.”
The problem, of course, is that bidders, who are trying to get the job, are forced to either comply with the specifications and risk losing the job, or bid a standard color in hopes of getting away with it - which too often is the case. I recall a project that required all exterior metal finishes and all concrete coatings to be bid as custom, to match a specific color. Had that color been something unusual or exotic, that might have made sense, but the chosen color was essentially off-white. Trying to get all those colors to match was a nice theory, but in practice, there was as much difference in appearance between adjacent panels, one in shade and the other in full sun, as there was between the colors submitted. And then there are the effects of dirt and UV exposure… Colors change, and some change more than others, so the carefully selected finishes may no longer match after only a short time. For that project, the owner probably paid the price of custom color and got a standard color for some of the finishes.
A couple of years ago we had two projects going, which just happened to have the same custom color for the metal roofing. An astute supplier was able to combine materials for both in a single order. Individually, neither project had enough material to meet the minimum for a custom color, but together they almost did, so the supplier was able to cover most of the added cost. It's always possible for the architect to insist on a custom color regardless of quantity, but that can be more than a bit embarrassing when the contractor tells the owner that the cost can be reduced by a large amount simply by changing to a slightly different color.
Some joint sealants can be produced in virtually any color, and architects are accustomed to always asking for custom colors. It’s usually not a problem for a large project, but the architect should know that the contractor might have to buy fifty gallons of sealant for a joint that's only ten feet long.
Specifying acoustic properties presents similar challenges. Many assemblies will meet a given STC or NRC rating: brick, CMU, CMU with filled cores, multiple layers of gypboard, high density gypboard and similar products, resilient channels, clips, resilient adhesives for multi-layer assemblies, etc. What do they really cost? How do they really perform? Without knowing the relative costs and properties, detailing a particular assembly may result in performance that is lower than expected, or it may cost more than another assembly that would perform just as well.
And what about dimensions? It's easy to draw a large panel in elevation, but can it be produced? Do the length or width force the fabricator to alter the orientation of panels, which can affect appearance of some finishes? Do the dimensions require greater thickness of material, thereby increasing the cost beyond what the designer expected?
These are all very real issues that big-D Designers don't think about, yet it's essential to evaluate such information early in design - before the client has been sold on the design.
Contributed by Eric D. Lussier
Whether an emerging professional, new to your company or new to your position, personal advancement through a professional certification is a tremendous asset in more ways than one.
In the construction industry, the certifications through the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) carry weight with many of the major players of a project – the owner, the architect, the general contractor, product representative or construction manager.
CSI’s Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) program is the prerequisite to CSI’s advanced Certifications: Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA); Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) and Certified Construction Product Representative (CCPR).
Whether you are new to the construction industry or a 50 year veteran, the CDT program can and will help you with an overall building project. If you find yourself lost in a 1500 page, 32 division project manual, the CDT can help you understand where to find what you are looking for and just how that project unfolds from conception to delivery.
I can tell you first hand how much attaining the CDT has assisted me in my job. Before I started attending my CDT study group many years back, I focused mainly on Division 9 of architectural specifications, where you can find the sport flooring that I represent. Week after week of studying and learning from the (now former) Project Resource Manual, my eyes were opened to just how much broader of a scope a project is. From project conception right through to commissioning, I was able to more thoroughly understand all of the facets and parties involved.
The time has come to register for the Spring cycle of CSI certification. You can register now here. You are never alone when you work with CSI, either. Whether a member or a CDT test taker, fellow CSI members like myself are always there to help. Through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or the tried and true phone call, we’re always glad to help.
David Stutzman, CSI, CCS from Conspectus. “What was my first project after graduating college with an architectural degree? A prominent design? No, measuring and documenting 65 existing buildings at Letterkenny Army Depot; calculating energy savings; estimating construction costs; and finally writing the project specifications using the Corps of Engineers master specs.”
Liz O’Sullivan, CSI, CCS, CCCA: “There’s SO MUCH to learn – all of us in the construction industry are constantly learning (or should be). Much of this knowledge can ONLY be gained through experience, but not all of it has to be.A really good way to learn about how your documents may be interpreted by the users is to prepare for a CSI certification exam, starting with the CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam.” Read Liz’s blog: https://lizosullivanaia.com/
Tara Imani, CSI: “I’m also a CSI CDT; meaning I took the time 111 years ago, to understand how a good legal set of contract documents are put together and administered.So, as you can tell, I have a lot of education but it’s all because I thought it was important to broaden my understanding of this complex industry at that time in my career; I didn’t do it to add initials after my name!” Read Tara’s blog: http://www.indigoarchitect.com/
Randy Nishimura, AIA, CSI, CCS: "Passing the CDT examination means you have become fluent with construction project processes and communication. It means you’ve demonstrated professional commitment, credibility, and reliability to your employer, colleagues, and clients. Obtaining CDT status benefits you, your company, and your customers. Getting your CDT also means acquiring the privilege to add “CDT” after your name on your business card and resume." Read Randy's blog here: http://sworegonarchitect.blogspot.com/
Registration is open until Mid-March. Head over to www.csiresources.org/certification/csi-certification to sign up.
Contributed by Cherise Lakeside
One of the goals of Let’s Fix Construction is to bring common problems in Architecture, Engineering and Construction to the table for positive and collaborative discussion and solutions. We have complained long enough. It’s time to start fixing things.
In my humble opinion, the best way to fix something is to learn what you don’t know. Often problems are perpetuated simply because we lack a piece of the puzzle and, because nobody tells us, we keep repeating the same mistakes.
The issue that I would like to address today has driven me crazy for years. What’s worse is that it is a relatively easy fix. But, we are not fixing it.
If you don’t already know me, a quick background: I have worked in AEC for 30 years – In Architecture, Engineering AND Construction. This wide-ranging experience in our industry has been a gift in that I have been able to see the process from many different sides. Add to that a heavy involvement in the Construction Specifications Institute (No, they are not only about specs!) and I feel uniquely qualified to write this blog.
There is a commonality in AEC, no matter what discipline in which you work. Architecture, Engineering, Construction, Manufacturing, Product Reps, Owners, etc. That commonality is project delivery processes and contract administration. It doesn’t matter who you are, you need to know the project requirements, risks, roles and responsibilities. Period. No question about it. No brainer.
But, guess what? Very few in relation to the whole of our industry have this knowledge. WHAAAAAT? How in the world do you work on a project and not know this? Ummmm, we are all over the place.
Let me ask you a few questions:
Can you answer these questions? Seriously, I could go on for hours listing the things that many don’t know.
The important point here is that the items above and many more affect every one of you on a project, I don’t care who you are. You can’t possibly efficiently and effectively do your job without having this knowledge. Your level of risk skyrockets if you don’t know the contractual requirements of your project (or at a minimum where to look for them) and your efficiency plummets. In a “time is money” business, this is unacceptable.
Now, you might be thinking something like ‘This if for the powers-that-be to understand.’ That is flawed thinking. Very, very flawed.
Let's Fix Construction is a collective group of construction professionals who want to better the industry by sharing our knowledge, openly communicating and encouraging collaboration.
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