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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need specs? Can’t I show everything on the Drawings?

My notes on the Drawings are very complete, and I have a good set of “General Notes;” doesn’t that cover me?

Don’t you just copy over the specs from a similar job?

The Contractors I am used to dealing with don’t look at the specs. They say if it isn’t on the Drawings, they don’t have to do it.

Why is it so expensive to do a set of specs? I have a small job with a construction budget of less than $2,250,000, but the fee for the specifications is more than the ones I needed for a $10,000,000 project last year.

Why should I use a “Spec Writer” rather than the Project Architect to write the specs; shouldn’t the Project Architect be more familiar with the project?

What fees do you charge?

When should we contact you about our project?

I am confused about which aluminum-framed glazing system to choose; how do I decide?


Why do I need specs? Can’t I show everything on the Drawings?

There are certain types of requirements that are very difficult to show on the Drawings; such as specific requirements for submittals, performance, or quality for particular products. Even if they can be shown on the Drawings, it is often more efficient to specify them than repeat the same information again and again.

The standards for the professional practice of architecture indicate that Drawings should indicate location, size, and context of objects while Specifications should indicate quality and workmanship of objects as well as administrative requirements. Were your Drawings to attempt to show everything, they would be impossibly dense and cluttered.

My notes on the Drawings are very complete, and I have a good set of “General Notes;” doesn’t that cover me?

The standard specification for CMU is ASTM C 90. This sets out the requirements for concrete unit masonry products that are produced for commercial use. These requirements include use of certain materials, minimum compressive strength, and dimensional tolerances. I don’t think I have ever seen a reference on any Drawing to ASTM C 90. If you have noted a material as “CMU” or “Concrete Block”, this does not automatically include the ASTM C 90 specification. It is conceivable that the mason on your project might include “seconds” that did not meet the minimum requirements. Should the worst happen, the design professional could be held liable for not requiring CMU that complied with ASTM C 90.

Oh, and yes, we do have a copy of the current version of ASTM C 90 in our office.

Don’t you just copy over the specs from a similar job?

We review each project for scope and quality. We make every attempt to completely understand our client’s project as it develops so that the specification we produce is for your project. We find that each project is a little different. The last project may have fire-resistive partitions that are steel-framed drywall while this one is fully sprinklered and does not have that requirement. The requirements for fire-resistive metal framing and gypsum board construction will not be included in this project, and neither will the requirements for fire-rated doors, fire-rated penetrations, and fire-rated joint materials. Codes change, standards change, and the beat goes on…

Oh, and we will happily reuse the Specifications, without changes, from your previous project if you are reusing the Drawings.

The Contractors I am used to dealing with don’t look at the specs. They say if it isn’t on the Drawings, they don’t have to do it.

Almost every form of construction contract, whether it is from the AIA, the AGC, or a state or local government, recognizes that the Contract Documents are comprised of Drawings and Specifications. Contractors who ignore Specifications do so at their own risk, and it can be very costly. It has been my experience that Contractors who ignore the Specifications also tend to ignore the Drawings when it is convenient. AIA General Conditions of the Contract for Construction have for a number of years contained a requirement that the Contractor warrant that the Work has been done in compliance with the Contract Documents, all of them. If your project is using AIA A 201 without this provision being removed, and the Contractor is ignoring Specifications, the Contractor is in breach of contract, and the Owner can terminate the Contract at any time without penalty.

Why is it so expensive to do a set of specs? I have a small job with a construction budget of less than $2,250,000, but the fee for the specifications is more than the ones I needed for a $10,000,000 project last year.

The cost of producing a set of specifications has more to do with the complexity of the project than with the size of the project. It really doesn’t matter if you have one wood door or one hundred wood doors; you still need one wood door spec (if you have one wood door in one hollow metal frame, you need a specification for each product). That $10,000,000 retail shell building you did last year probably had 20 to 30 percent fewer specification sections than the $2,000,000 custom home you are working on this year.

Our fee includes an additional level of Drawing review that is necessary to fully coordinate our work with yours. This provides an additional level of quality control which can improve the quality of your services to your clients. Many of our clients tell us that this is one of the best services we offer.

Why should I use a “Spec Writer” rather than the Project Architect to write the specs; shouldn’t the Project Architect be more familiar with the project?

While it seems ideal for the Project Architect to be assigned to write the project specifications (after all, they should be the one most familiar with the project), there may be very good reasons not to do so. On most projects in most offices, the Project Architect has the burden of coordinating the work of the design consultants, the project designers, the Owner, and the production staff, as well as organizing the construction drawings. As project schedules have become more compressed over the last 10 or 15 years, there is rarely enough time to get everything done, and the specifications usually wait until the last minute. The PA, who may have generated a set of specifications, will usually not be responsible for more than one or two specifications a year and will most likely be unfamiliar with specification production techniques, the master specification being used, and changes in standards that affect the specifications.

Our firm will typically work on around 50 projects a year for a variety of building types and owner types. We maintain current master specifications and make every attempt to understand current code requirements. Construction specifications is what we do, and we thoroughly understand the types of formats and the production techniques required to maintain consistency of appearance and content. In most cases, we can edit a specification section with very little input from you in much less time than it takes your staff to mark up hard copy and edit your master text.

Because we do maintain a current set of master specifications, the documents we generate for your project will not require “polished plate glass” (not manufactured since the early 1970s) or “plywood with DFPA grade marks” (DFPA has not existed since the mid 1960s) or refer to the Standard Building Code (merged with the International Building Code in the late 1990s).

What fees do you charge?

Our fees are based on a thorough review of your project’s specification requirements. We would prefer to meet with you and discuss your project thoroughly. We understand that you may not have completely designed your project so we believe in asking questions about what you have decided on and what you are considering. We will ask who your client is and how a contractor will be selected. We will ask if your client may have a standard “front end” or if guide specifications to be used or if you want us to assist in developing these documents and sections.

Single story shell retail buildings are usually the least complex, and will usually require 35 to 45 sections for architectural products and systems. Multi-story educational facilities are often the most complex with 80 to 90 sections required for architectural products and systems. Public work or projects with LEED requirements will add another level of complexity. Multiple submissions for design review by you or your client may be required.

More information about the specifics of your project will permit us to forward a fee proposal to you that is comprehensive and fair.

When should we contact you about our project?

We believe that our services are most effective when you contact us during the Design Development Phase of your design services. We can develop a relatively detailed and complete outline specification to be used for pricing, and we can help you identify building systems and products that require more consideration. We have an opportunity to assist you with product research and suggest cost effective alternatives in a timely manner. We find that projects that develop in this way have fewer surprises toward the end of Construction Drawing production.

Of course, there will be projects for which the decision is made to outsource the specification production late in the production phase. Because of previous commitments, it is usually difficult to respond effectively less than 2 weeks before your deadline.

I am confused about which aluminum-framed glazing system to choose; how do I decide?

There are three different types of aluminum-framed fenestration used on the exterior of buildings: storefront, curtainwall, and windows. Each of these products has applications for which it is designed, and each applications has strengths and weaknesses.

Storefront fits inside an opening and has limited resistance to wind loading as well as air and water infiltration. It is best used at ground floor openings, but the height will be limited by wind load considerations. Operable window units may be installed with storefront framing. For wind loads in excess of 30 psf and heights in excess of 10 ft., you may need to consider a curtain wall system. There are a wide variety of glazing and finish options. Cost for these systems is considerably less curtain wall.

Curtain wall systems are designed to resist higher wind loads as well as the water and air infiltration resulting from higher windspeeds. A number of manufacturers offering "standard" systems which are acceptable for many projects, but custom-designed systems are also available. Operable window units may be installed with curtain wall framing. There are a wide variety of glazing and finish options. These vary considerably in cost depending on performance requirements as well as glazing and finish options.

Windows are manufactured units with glazing usually installed at the factory. Windows have been tested for structural resistance to positive and negative wind loads as well as sir and water infiltration. Window units are usually more expensive than storefront systems for punched openings, but may be better suited for applications located more than two stories above grade, and may perform better than storefront framing even at grade-level applications. Which window to choose? There are standards. Click here to see our breakdown of the AAMA standards which include an analysis of what the numbers really mean.

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