One of the most important (and oftentimes most difficult) aspects of a construction project is describing the desired finished product in a manner that is clear to all parties involved. Setting well-defined, measurable expectations for the contractor is paramount to the success of any job. Not only will the client be more likely to be pleased with the final product, but the contractor will be spared from the headache associated with redoing or replacing work, losing both time and money.

Technical specifications (specifications) are defined by ASTM International as “an explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by a material, product, system, or service.” Specifications effectively draw the line between what is recommended and what is required. They are a supplement to a set of construction drawings and often go into greater detail than can otherwise be expressed efficiently on a drawing set.

When preparing such a document, care must be taken to use clear but concise language to eliminate possible confusion. Well-written specifications anticipate items that might be subject to interpretation and contain sufficient detail to protect the client’s interests and limit contractor change orders and scheduling delays.

Here is an example of a situation where carefully written specifications can eliminate stress on both the client and contractor’s side:

Installation of an Above Ground Storage Tank (AST)

In this example, the manager of a potable water treatment facility is looking to install a new AST to store and dispense sodium hypochlorite for the purpose of water disinfection. The manager decides to hire a third-party contractor to perform the installation work.

Since sodium hypochlorite is an oxidizing chemical, it can potentially have disastrous effects on physical building infrastructure, most notably incompatible metals. During installation, the contractor proposes substituting copper piping in place of PVC piping for use as remote fill piping since he or she has easier access to obtaining the former in a timely manner. The individual supervising the construction must make a quick decision to accept the substitution, which would help avoid costly delays on the job. At this time, the associated section regarding unacceptable construction can be easily located via a table of contents within the specifications. If the section correctly lists copper as an incompatible material, it is clear that the job cannot proceed in the proposed fashion. As a result, the client will wind up with a well-functioning system, and the contractor will not be responsible for any damage caused by the construction work.

Walden has a team of professional engineers with decades of experience in specifications writing and construction management. This allows us to advocate for outcomes that are in our client’s best interests and not cave into unreasonable contractor requests. Interested in learning more? Read our other post: What Does Good Construction Management Look Like? 4 Steps to Use on Any Project and give us a call at (516) 624-7200 to discuss how we can help you with your next project.  

*2023 update: For more information, check out our more recent blog “What Role Do Technical Specifications Play in Construction,” or download our guide for contractor services.