Myths About Specifications: Myth #1

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This is the first in a series of articles by Linton Stables, Senior Associate and Chief of Specifications at Perkins Eastman Architects. These articles, which were first published on the Perkins Eastman intranet, explore several issues that specifiers face in doing their work.

Myth Number 1:  Contractors Don’t Read the Specifications

What People Say: “Everyone knows that contractors don’t read the specs.”

Behind the Myth: It is a long-standing semi-serious joke in the industry that contractors do not pay any attention to the specifications. Architects sometimes contribute to this perception by treating the specifications as an adjunct or afterthought to the rest of the contract documents. Partly through unfamiliarity and partly due to a lack of time, architects in the office and in the field do not consult the specifications until there is a problem and they are seeking the solution in that document.

The Truth: Contractors do, in fact, look at the specifications. There is no way to bid a job by only referring to the drawings. Job superintendents may sometimes not pay as close attention to the specifications as they should, though experienced superintendents do. Some contractors may also look at the specifications for the sole purpose of finding possibilities for change orders.

Facing the Truth: Architects need to know their specifications at least as well as the contractors. In addition, it is important to enforce the specifications on all items all the time. The use of specifications only when there is a problem fosters the impression that they are not otherwise important, and would allow an argument (in court) of selective enforcement.

  • Many firms have embarked on programs to standardize their specifications across all practice areas and throughout the geographic reach of their work. This helps the architects in the field (construction contract administrators) by making it easy, once one learns the system, to find every requirement of the contract.
  • As construction contract administrators become familiar with their specifications they will also be able to know almost immediately when a field condition is or isn’t in compliance with the contract.
  • As contractors do repeat work with an architectural firm they will gain an understanding of how seriously the firm takes ALL of the contract documents, and how all the documents work together.