I am not a big fan of reinventing the wheel, but I have been burned enough in my career by “cutting and pasting” that I make it a habit to start from scratch as often as I can when writing a proposal, memo, scope, and, especially, project specifications.

As civil engineers we know that our work consists of way more than just preparing construction plans. In fact, there is an acronym to describe the deliverables we need to provide at the end of the project lifecycle: PSEs, which stands for “plans, specifications and estimates.” Still, specifications are not glamorous or even necessarily interesting to prepare, but they are crucial. Many a claim, lawsuit and loss of business may have been avoided had the specifications been complete and accurate. And this is because the specifications are as equally important as the construction plans, since they “tell” the contractor what cannot be detailed in the construction plans. For example, concrete test requirements, special finishes and primers, and curing times cannot easily fit in the plans, so they are included in the specifications. And even though we think that a past project was “similar enough,” it is best not to recycle specifications from start to finish. Furthermore, specifications provide the contractor with acceptable features that can be used. For example, the project may require a specific brand or brands of plumbing materials, roofing, or windows to name a few.  Additionally, the specifications provide minimum technical requirements, such as transparency rates, weights, impact tolerances, and so on, which the contractor can use to find a more reasonably priced product, as long as the “specification” requirements are net.

Sometimes, during disputes and claims negotiations, both parties may cite the specifications to prove their arguments, which means that the specifications may be ambiguous enough so that both parties are able to make their own interpretations. For example, there is a well known claim, which may have reached urban legend status, in which a contractor claimed that since the plumbing fixture specifications did not require rust resistant sink features, they we re not obligated to provide them. The client, on the other hand, insisted that it was a reasonable to expect that bathroom basis features, which come into contact consistently, would have included rust proof protection, regardless of whether the consultant had specified it. And that is a fair expectation, but if the specs did not call for that protection, are they truly accountable to go back and replace the fixtures. I do not recall how this claim ended, but, at best, the two parties reached a compromise and they never worked together again, which is not a good thing for the consultant or contractor. Therefore, it is crucial that the specifications be as complete and “dummy-proof” as possible. And if you do choose to use specs from previous projects, make sure to go though them with a fine toothed comb to find any errors, omissions and left over verbiage from the previous project(s.) This includes changing the project name and physical address, which gets missed more often than you might think.

Construction Specifications