What Are Construction Specifications?

At the heart of every successful construction project lie detailed, well-communicated construction specifications.

Oct 19, 2023

A worker wearing a high-visibility shirt is writing on a set of construction blueprints laid out on a table. The person's hand holds a pen, and a measuring tape is attached to their waist. Nearby is a clipboard with papers and a smartphone. The setting appears to be an industrial or construction site.
A worker wearing a high-visibility shirt is writing on a set of construction blueprints laid out on a table. The person's hand holds a pen, and a measuring tape is attached to their waist. Nearby is a clipboard with papers and a smartphone. The setting appears to be an industrial or construction site.

Construction specifications are detailed documents that provide a set of guidelines for the building, installation, and execution of a construction project. Prepared ahead of the construction process, these descriptions broadly define:

  • Scope of work

  • Materials to be used

  • Methods of installation

  • Quality of work  

Specifications for construction are part of the larger group of documents that include schedules and shop drawings. While visual plans and documents paint a picture of what a building will look like, a construction specification lays the foundation for how it will be brought to life. 

These comprehensive documents provide a roadmap to construction teams for completing a project, ensuring that it meets quality standards, regulatory requirements, and the expectations of all parties involved.

What is the role of architects in building construction specs?

Typically, there are a number of professionals involved in preparing construction specifications. Here are the key roles involved in drafting the specs:

  • Architects: Create detailed architectural drawings and write specifications describing design intent, materials, and quality standards.

  • Engineers: Provide technical details related to structural, civil, mechanical, and electrical systems, specifying materials and technical aspects.

  • Contractors: Contribute specialized expertise to specific sections of specifications (e.g., acoustical, environmental, sustainability).

  • Legal experts: Ensure that specifications align with legal requirements and industry standards, providing legal review if necessary.

  • Specialty Consultants: For specialized projects, contribute to specifications related to their area of expertise (e.g. healthcare or laboratory projects).

Cultivating collaboration was a major theme at the 2023 Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) National Conference—and you can see why. Different roles, companies, and suppliers all need to collaborate to create effective construction specs. 

Collaborative construction software is one great way to help keep the whole team on the same page.

The role of CSI in construction specs

In the construction industry, most professionals rely on the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) for construction specification standards and formatting.

CSI promotes effective communication, quality and consistency in construction projects through the use of standardized specifications:

  • MasterFormat®: The standard format for architect specifications, estimates, and data.

  • UniFormat®: A layout for classifying project design, cost analysis, and building elements.

  • OmniClass®: A classification structure for databases, software, and building information modelling.

Using MasterFormat to write your specifications for construction can help organize everything accurately so that everyone—from clients to contractors and architects—can understand the plan.

Types of construction specifications

Architectural requirements can be quite diverse, including everything from legal and contractual obligations to quality control standards and cost estimates. There are 3 types of construction specs designed to address this wide range of architect requirements.

The three types of construction specifications are:

1. Prescriptive construction specifications

Also known as "closed specifications,"  prescriptive construction specs provide detailed instructions about the materials, products, and construction methods.

Prescriptive specifications can further be broken down into 3 subcategories:

  1. General phase: Consists of information such as product handling, national quality standards, design requirements, and quality control. 

  2. Product phase: Provides information about the specific materials, product types, brands, models, and sizes for the project.

  3. Execution phase: Includes information about construction tolerances, installation procedures, and testing.

2. Performance construction specifications

Performance specifications focus on the final outcome of the construction project without specifying how to obtain the desired results. Once the architect or engineer describes what the final product will be, the contractor has to figure out how to achieve it.

You can use these specifications for projects where the specific materials and methods are less critical and the focus is on achieving a particular performance level or functionality.

3. Proprietary

Proprietary specifications, sometimes called "brand-name specifications," specify a particular brand or manufacturer that must be used in the construction project. They are highly precise and limit the options available to contractors.

These specifications are used in renovation projects or when materials must match an existing structure. Architects, however, are hesitant to use proprietary specs because preferring a specific brand is seen as anti-competitive and limits the options for contractors, potentially increasing project costs.

The choice between the three types of specifications in construction depends on the architecture requirements such as:

  • Project complexity

  • Budget

  • Owner preferences

  • Need for flexibility or innovation

Often, a combination of these specs is used in different parts of a construction project to achieve the desired outcome.

👉 Download our Shop Drawing Review Checklist to ensure your construction specifications are met with accuracy and precision.

Components of construction specs

Architect’s specifications for construction have 50 divisions. These are further divided into sections including details about materials and methods.

These clear instructions and standards ensure the construction project aligns with the owner’s expectations and the design team’s intentions. The divisions not currently listed (for example, 15-20) are reserved for future uses as the construction industry evolves. 

The key components for a specification in construction are:

Scope of work

The introduction page outlines the extent and nature of the work, including all construction phases. It provides a clear delineation of responsibilities between various contractors and trades. 

The scope also details the materials for the contractors to bid on, such as specific window styles or wood types for flooring.

General requirements

In the first division, you inform contractors about their responsibilities, the construction mechanisms, and what materials to use. It includes:

  • Detailed information about the project, such as bidding requirements, confidential information, and payment terms. It also includes copyright and warranty information.

  • Project management and administration details, such as the types of meetings between project administrators and contractors. 

  • Submittal procedures on how contractors should submit project updates, field reports, and material samples.

  • Quality requirements in terms of safety and quality standards such as IBC (International Building Code) and NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association).

  • The condition of materials and machinery provided by the owner, including safety hazards.

  • Closeout documents that contractors should submit, such as safety inspection results, permits, and receipts from material costs.

Facility construction

After writing division one of the general requirements, the coded divisions of facility construction specs specify the following:

  • 02 Existing conditions: Describes demolition plans, including structure or selective demolition, salvageable materials, and problematic areas.

  • 03 Concrete: Details concrete type, colorants, additives, and pouring processes.

  • 04 Masonry: Covers stone types and their application in the project.

  • 05 Metals: Includes information on metals and finishes, especially in structural applications, roofing, stairs, and railing.

  • 06 Wood, plastics, and Composites: Explains the use of wood, plastics, and composite building materials.

  • 07 Thermal and moisture protection: Covers insulation, roofing, and waterproofing.

  • 08 Openings: Details doors and windows.

  • 09 Finishes: Includes tiles, flooring, paint, baseboards and molding.

  • 10 Specialties: Covers fireplaces, bathroom partitions, lockers, shelving, awning, and bath enclosures.

  • 11 Equipment: Describes kitchen appliances, laboratory, hospital equipment, loading docks, and exhaust systems.

  • 12 Furnishings: Includes bike racks, cabinets, window shades, art display, and audio systems.

  • 13 Special construction: Addresses specialty rooms like saunas, prefabricated structures, bullet-resistant rooms, and radiation protection.

  • 14 Conveying equipment: Concerns elevators, escalators, and dumbwaiters.

Facility services

The facility services divisions encompass:

  • 21 Fire suppression: Includes fire sprinklers and necessary materials for fire suppression.

  • 22 Plumbing: Details materials, installation location, and code-compliant installation procedures for plumbing.

  • 23 HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning): Covers ventilation, condensation pumps, filtration systems, and heating units.

  • 25 Integrated automation: Encompasses electronic components controlling HVAC, conveying equipment, fire suppression, electrical systems, internet wiring, and smart home features.

  • 26 Electrical: Involves power outlets, lighting fixtures, and electrical sockets installation.

  • 27 Communications: Addresses audio video systems, medical monitoring, and sound masking equipment.

  • 28 Electronic safety and security: Includes home security, intercoms, video cameras, and gas alarms.

Site and infrastructure

These divisions encompass external components connected to city planning, including:

  • 31 Earthwork: Covers sedimentation control, erosion control, and site clearing.

  • 32 Exterior improvements: Includes fences, pavers, and gates.

  • 33 Utilities: Encompasses underground utility warning tape, storm drains, and stormwater control measures.

  • 34 Transportation: Details of bollards, helipads, and wedges.

  • 35 Waterway and marine construction: Specifies methods and materials for hydraulics, floodwalls, and seawalls.

Process equipment

In this subgroup, you specify equipment types and their usage for the project. These divisions are:

  • 40 Process interconnections: Specifies the pipes, valves, and fittings types to connect various process components.

  • 41 Material processing and handling equipment: Details conveyor belts, crushers, and mixers used to process and transport materials.

  • 42 Process heating, cooling, and drying equipment: Describes the specifications for boilers, heat exchangers, chillers, and drying ovens.

  • 43 Process gas and liquid handling, purification, and storage equipment: Specifies the tanks, pumps, filters, and gas scrubbers.

  • 44 Pollution and waste control equipment: Defines air pollution control devices, wastewater treatment systems, and hazardous waste storage containers.

  • 45 Industry-specific manufacturing equipment: Specifications for specialized machinery such as CNC machines, extruders, or injection molding equipment. 

  • 46 Water and wastewater equipment: Outlines water treatment plants, sewage pumps, sedimentation tanks, and filtration systems. 

  • 48 Electrical power generation: Describes the electrical generators, transformers, and backup power systems.

You can also refer to the Construction Specifications Institute’s resources for guidance on creating effective construction specifications.

Best practices for construction specifications in architecture

Here are the six best practices for drafting effective architect requirements:

  1. Use clear and concise language to reduce misunderstandings.

  2. Incorporate supporting documents to help contractors visualize the overall project. 

  3. Clearly define roles and responsibilities to enhance accountability. 

  4. Regularly update construction specifications to keep everyone informed of the latest expectations.

  5. Adhere to industry standards to ensure the project complies with established safety, quality, and durability benchmarks.

  6. Avoid repetition of requirements to minimize ambiguity and confusion.

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