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Should Specifiers Be Taking A Different Approach To … Specifying? (An intriguing thought exercise)

Just because we have been doing something a certain way for years / decades / forever, doesn’t mean we can’t change it. The art of specification writing, and yes it is an art, hasn’t changed much over time. I am not talking about the format, wording, placement of articles, etc, I am referring to the product information specified. Think about it. Have you changed your approach to how you specify product information in Part 2 over time? You probably have standard language you want for different products, and it all revolves around the “salient” properties. The “salient” properties…

“Salient” is defined per Google Dictionary as “most noticeable or important”. Specification Writers specify the MOST important product information, but who decided what was important? Was it the specification writer, the product manufacturer, or someone else? Deciding on what product information is important or “salient” seems subjective. I think we can all agree some information is important, like a material thickness, a fire rating, coating or finish, but what about other types of product information, like a list of ASTMs?

I’m not going to argue what specific product information is important and what is not, nor get into the different types of specifications related to product information specified. I am simply asking the question:

Are we specifying the right information that helps protect the established minimum quality and help protect the Owner?

When I specified products, the product information I included was what I DEEMED important, but was it really? We specify certain product information to protect the minimum quality set in the specification and protect the Owner. But… can we protect the minimum quality and the Owner a different way? Is the product information you specify the right information? These are important questions to ask because what if this is the wrong approach… or an inefficient and ineffective approach? Even though we have been doing it this way for decades…

What if the product information that should be specified is the information that the product manufacturer needs to provide a good estimate, therefore increasing their chance of winning the bid and protecting the established minimum quality and Owner. Think about it, why are we specifying information that is not important to the product manufacturer? Is it so we can justify the product quality, make a case for rejecting a substitution, having information handy in lieu of taking time to look for it? Wouldn’t the specification be better if the product information specified was applicable to the product manufacturer and allowed for a more competitive bid?

Manufacturers do not sell products to Architects. They sell an information service (the rep) and supply information. If they cannot provide that, my bet is they aren’t specified too often. So what if the approach specifiers took is by asking the product manufacturer what information should be specified in order for you to provide a competitive bid? In lieu of asking “I need a cut sheet, guide spec, etc that has this and that.” This question and approach (asking the product manufacturer what information should be specified) is a complete 180 approach to specifying. With thousands upon thousands of products specified, who are the specifiers to say what product information should be specified? We are far from product experts.

The manufacturer is the product expert, they presumably then should be the ones who determine the product information to specify by simply providing it upon request or make it know what needs to be specified. They know what information should be specified. I want to make this point again:

What if the product information that should be specified is the information that the product manufacturer needs to provide a good estimate, therefore increasing their chance of winning the bid and protecting the established minimum quality and Owner.

Specifiers, we should be able to rely on the true product experts to help protect the minimum quality specified and protect the Owner by allowing them to have a voice within the specification writing process. Not dictate what product information WE need.

Why do lesser quality products end up on projects? Cost. So why can we, the specifier, help out the manufacturer as I described above, by allowing them to provide us the “salient” product properties?

This was a very interesting thought exercise I put myself through and tried my best to put it down on paper. Again, I am not arguing one approach or another, but simply asking if there is a better approach to specifying by giving the product manufacturer a voice.

Building product manufacturers, I would love to here from you on this! Please feel free to reach out to me in the comments or email me at


One More “C”

Those of us that took the CDT know well the four C’s of the industry: Clear, Concise, Complete, and Correct. When following these 4 C’s during development of the Specifications AND the Drawings, it can bring them to a whole new level and easily see them as a complimentary set of Contract Documents. I’m not saying if you following the 4 C’s your Contract Documents will be perfect. There will still be miscorrdinated items, errors and omissions, and the need for clarifications. What I am saying is that if you are following the 4 C’s, you have the potential to limit your risk and have a set of Contract Documents that is easily understandable. I do like the 4 C’s and promote the practice when developing Specifications and Drawings, but I do think it’s time for an update. If you are on the Manufacturer or Contractor side, think about what is missing with those 4 C’s.

I’ll give you hint: gypsum board vs. gypsum wall board. Here is another hint: weather barrier vs. vapor barrier vs. air barrier.

Looking at the Specifications you might see gypsum board, while looking at the Drawings you see gypsum wall board. Or you see weather barrier in the Specifications and Vapor Barrier or Air Barrier on the Drawings. The first example, gypsum board, probably doesn’t have any cost impact, but it’s rather annoying the Architect or Specifier can’t use consistent terminology right? The second example, weather barrier, may have cost implications. If you see a specification for weather barrier and the product is a weather barrier by definition, but the Drawings have air barrier or vapor barrier everywhere, what does that mean? Did the Architect or Specifier use inconsistent terminology or not specify a product? Without looking at the set and not knowing the assembly intent, your guess is as good as mine. It would need an RFI to the Architect for clarification. Which costs time and money for the Architect to process.

What I am getting at here and what I want to add is a 5th C for … CONSISTENCY. Architects and Specifiers need to be consistent with their terminology across Specifications and Drawings. Using same terms and verbiage, so as to not cause confusion. If you call gypsum board, gypsum board, in the Specifications, you better call it gypsum board on the Drawings. It was one of my biggest pet peeves to see Drawings with multiple keynotes or sheet notes with various terminology describing the same product. Boy, I would redline the heck out of those sets. AIA Contract Documents published an Article in October 2021 titled, “The Top Five Overlooked Contract Terms and Conditions”, which stated should be reviewed prior to signing contracts. Guess what the #2 reason was?

“Specification Terminology”

My interpretation of that is Architects and Specifiers are not using CONSISTENT terminology or not using industry standard or recognized terminology. The International Building Code does a really great job of defining terms and those should be the definitions and terminology we should be following. If not indicated in that definition chapter, using industry recognized terminology is the next best.

Here is another example: SS. What does SS mean? To an interior designer it could mean solid surface, to a structural engineer it could mean stainless steel, and to a plumbing engineer it could mean service sink. It is extremely important to not only use the same terminology, but to stay consistent with the abbreviations as outlined on the Drawings.

On a side note, I am not advocating for the Division 01 Section that states definitions nor am I advocating for a definition article within each specification section. This is the 21st century, if you really have to define something, then it should be a brand new product that no one knows what it is. Specifications, in general, need an update, and excluding definition Articles or sections is a must. This is a whole other conversation, so back to…


Architects and Specifiers need to use consistent terminology across Specifications and Drawings to limit risk. Not having firm standards or following industry recognized terms creates an unnecessary risk that is easily avoidable. Manufacturers and Contractors would love this and would thank you for being consistent across your Contract Documents. Those with pet peeves similar to mine, would love this. So let’s get CSI to add in the 5th C and start practicing consistency.

Building the Relationship

I would be interested to know what percentage of Architects, Specifiers, and Designers still use the manufacturers hard copy product catalog. It would also be interesting to know what percentage of manufacturer reps still carry these product catalogs. When I first started at HMC roughly 6 years ago, there were two walls of book shelves, probably 20 feet long, 6 feet high, filled with product catalogs. The day after the Director of Specs retired in 2017, myself, along with another specifier, spent half the day throwing them out. Why? Because no one ever used them and they were covered with dust. The information contained in those product catalogs was irrelevant. Not just because of product changes, but because of the internet. All the information in those product catalogs could easily be found on websites. For sometime after, reps would bring in updated product catalogs, and I said no thank you to them. I wasn’t interested in rebuilding a dust collection. What I was more interested in… building a relationship with them.

I bring up the product catalogs because I believe they were a major contributor to the relationship between an Architect, Specifier or Designer (ASD) and a manufacturer rep. The rep was ‘forced’ to come and update the catalog every couple of months or so and have that face-to-face with the ASD. Now, with all information on the internet and email communication, that update doesn’t happen, theoretically lessening that face-to-face meeting frequency and lessening the strength of the relationship between ASD and rep. I think it was an easy sell for a rep to say, “Hey, can I stop by for 5 minutes, update the product catalog and see how things are going?” The ASD needs updated, current information, so why would they say no to that. With product catalogs becoming and now obsolete, what’s the benefit to having reps come in for the ASD when information can be found via the internet or communication through email?

Relationship Building. Nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation in a conference room. Nothing replaces the handshake.

Designing and then constructing a building today can be extremely complicated. Yes, it has always complicated, but with the thousands of products out there, new technologies, energy code requirements, specific project conditions, etc., how is the ASD supposed to KNOW EVERYTHING? We can’t. Simple as that. We must rely on the rep to help us out and tell us how and where their products work. ASDs are not the product experts in most cases, the reps are. They have the training and tools to provide the required information to the ASD for the use of their product. This is why building a relationship and MAINTAINING it are so important to the ASD. The ASD should be including the rep, when needed, early on in the project. They should be sending drawings and specs out for a quick review to them. I don’t think that happens too much. Partly because the relationship isn’t there, and partly because certain project delivery methods inhibit communication…

I wish we could end Design-Bid-Build. I wish we could end Public Bid in California. Those two inhibit communication between the ASD, the rep, contractors and trades, and the Owner. This is a whole other post, but in short, I wish everything could be integrated project delivery (IDP) where we get all parties involved early and often to produce a great set of Contract Documents, construct a building with few hiccups, and thus giving the Owner a building they love on time and on budget. IDP helps build these relationships between all parties and we can see the successes from it. Especially the development of the relationship between the ASD and reps.

Because of the pandemic, my rep meetings have become virtual. It’s not an exact substitute for a face-to-face, but it’s the next best thing. I’m learning that having strong relationships with my local reps is a huge benefit. Not just because of the information they provide to the project, but because of the VALUE that can be added. Reps are the experts like I mentioned before. ASDs need to fully utilize them in their projects from beginning to end. I will say, the project will be better for it and the knowledge gained will only help.

I want to thank all the reps in this industry, especially the ones I have a relationship with. Thank you for the help you have provided and I look forward to continuing our relationship. Only together can we make change, positive change, in this industry.

What does the future specifier role look like?

It’s been some time since I have done a blog post, with a growing family, adding a puppy, taking on a larger role at work, and oh yes, COVID. I have been thinking and processing for months now this question, “What does the future specifier role look like?”. So let’s dive right into this, 10 years into the future from today, this is what I think the future specifier role will look like.

The future specifier is still a person. It won’t be a computer or an application. Technology is progressing very fast, especially in this industry, but there will still be a need for a person to take on the role of a specifier. Someone will still have to put together the Project Manual, conduct the research, process brackets and red lines, and control the information coming in related to specs. I do think technology will make all of that much easier. Hopefully, specification writing software companies can incorporate AI to help control information and help make informed decisions, or simply, provide the evidence to make decisions that can be backed up data. Data will be a huge part of a Specifier’s role. I have written about this before in a past blog post, but to be able to track specified product usage, time spent editing specs, installation history and so on will be a part of the role. Having someone that can control this information and interpret the data will be key.

Some in the industry have moved towards this type of role, redefining the specifier as an information manager. To me, this makes sense for all the reasons I mentioned above. Just think for those Specifiers out there, how many times do you get information to revise a spec, but realize it just doesn’t change that one spec, it has a ripple effect to a bunch of others as well. The future specifier will need to be able to manage this information flow and think in terms of assemblies and how one decision can have a major impact on specifications. Take for example a revision from a traditional 3-coat plaster assembly with gyp sheathing, fluid applied WRB and steel studs to an exterior insulation finish system (EIFS) … that changes things quite a bit doesn’t it. Deletions and additions of new specifications, potential modifications of others. To a specified, this would take a good amount of time to process and complete. Hence the term, information manager.

We can’t discuss information management without discussing CSI MasterFormat. This organization format made sense when it was created decades ago. It made sense to separate based everything back in 1963 … 50 years later, I argue it doesn’t. Yes, it neatly organizes information to be found by the contractors, but does it make sense to specify the components of an interior gypsum board wall in at minimum 4 sections, not including wall finishes? We have the stud spec, joint sealants, gyp board and insulation. With the addition of paint and additional finishes, that one interior wall could be close to 10 specs. It is time to start thinking in terms of assemblies. This young generation does not. They don’t think that plaster is part of an exterior wall assembly and one small change on a detail can effect several specs, not just one. So, I think specifications should be written in an assembly type format, and no not Uniformat. An assembly specification that includes all Part 1 information, Part 2 components, and Part 3 installation requirements for the ASSEMBLY. This will help control the flow of information, make documents a bit more coordinated, and make the process much more efficient. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t make sense and it’s not efficient to go from spec to spec to make small revisions to one assembly. With that…

Most Specifier’s in ten years will not be Architects. They might have gone to Architecture school, but to be a great specifier, the way specifications are written, creation of firm masters, and the availability of digital information, you do not need to be an Architect with a complete understanding of it all. What you will need is competency and the willingness to ask questions and conduct research. Competency is huge because we must know something about everything, and if we don’t, we need to be able to find the information on it. No more are the product binders or Sweets Catalogs, all information is digital. We must be able to know how to access it and navigate it, taking a subjective approach to our findings. Specifiers and Architects are not scientists, so to understand all of the ASTMs and other testing standards, we must be able to at a minimum navigate through it and know where to find the information we need. Which leads me into a something different…

Relationship Building. Because Specifiers can’t know everything about everything and in ten years with advances in products and introductions of new products, Specifiers and really the industry, need to build relationships with product representatives. They are the experts on their products inside and out. They are able to provide the best solution for our questions. Previously, I don’t think this was a requirement for Specifiers, but it will need to be. Relationships are key, building trust is key, and with that, products can be specified correctly. A person who can control information, manage data and interpret data to work through a specification, and build relationships with outside reps will be a force in the industry.

Lastly, the specifier in 10 years will need to be a proactive team member within their own firm. Unfortunately, specifications have turned into an afterthought and are not actively taught to younger generations. The specifier will need to teach and spread the knowledge they have to other members on the team. I think of all the times I have heard “spec writers are the people in the basement or the corner or the lone person out” and know this can’t be the case in 10 years. The personality of a Specifiers will need to change. They will need to be proactive, upfront, and honest with their teams. Taking on a mentor role, which many already do, will be huge in continuing the role of a Specifiers in the future.

The role of specifier will look different in 10 years, probably 5, and technology will be by far the biggest impact to the role. I am excited for what the future brings and hopefully this post gets gears turning because the industry needs to find a solution to the decreasing specifier and understanding of specs. I am always available for discussions on this topic or other industry related topics, so please feel free to reach out!

Answers Matter. Questions Matter More.

Tonight, my wife and I were sitting in our daughter’s room practicing ‘tummy time’ and rolling over. Which she has nailed and now prefers to just roll over all the time! At one point, my wife said, “You are my title chicken nugget.” I then spun off of that and ask, “Are you a spicy nugget? Are you baked or fried? Are you breaded or not breaded? If breaded, is it Penko?” I then had to stop myself because I could have gone on and on. At the moment, I came to a realization that I’m asking those questions because I am specifier, and it’s my job to ask questions. This thought led me to another series of questions:

“In the Architecture Industry, are we asking questions? If so, are we asking the right questions? Are we showing/teaching the younger generations the value of asking questions?”

Questions are important in this industry, sometimes even more important than the answers. However, with smaller project budgets and quicker turn arounds, is it just easier to give the answer, than to sit down and explain the answer? Yes, it is. It’s tough to point fingers at that because we are under such burdening constraints, but I think it’s part of the reason why construction documents are not as good, or complete, as they once were.

There are numerous times within the week, where I get emails for a specification section. Those emails go a little something like this:

“Can I get a specification section for stucco?”


“Can I get a specification section for ceramic tile?”

How many of you see issues with that? Those questions solve about 1% of my questions. Which in reality, the only question it CAN solve, is, “What do you want?”. My responses back are usually question filled, for instance with tile:

“Where is the tile? Full mortar bed or thin set? If full mortar, cleavage membrane? Grout type? If in a wet location, waterproofing membrane needed?”

On and on I can go, as many of you can as well.

The way my firm’s master specifications are built, that gets me a pretty good start if I get answers back for that tile request. I also don’t worry about product selection as our standards are good, so the team gets what they get, unless they tell me otherwise.

I hardly get specification requests which thoroughly explain what is needed. I’m just happy if I get 50% of what I need, or they send me a product data sheet with selections. Most of the time I don’t even get answers to my questions, so I ask for the detail and figure it out in my own. Which takes quite a bit of time, especially if the detail is not telling the correct story.

Questions are everything in the industry. There are times, for example, I’ll reach out to a Senior Architect in our office with a quick question. That quick question turns into an how long conversation with each of us discussing and asking questions about the original question. Sometimes at the end, we don’t have an exact answer, but have a better overall picture. My discussions with this person are great, and the projects are better for it, the master specifications are better for it as well. Not only are questions asked, but the right questions are asked.

The other day, I was in a meeting with our President of Standards and a young Designer who was helping us out. The President of Standards and I were discussing some details at the time, and we had mentioned how great it was for this young Designer to be in this meeting, and how much she will learn from helping us out. This person then chimed in and said she was googling items she didn’t understand or know about to gain knowledge of them. At some points, she even asked some questions. The President of Standards and I both agreed how awesome that was and we kept bringing this person up and what they were doing in future meetings. At one point, even recommending her for additional standards work. We couldn’t give her enough praise because she was taking the initiative by asking questions.

Asking questions isn’t an art, it can be done very easily. It just takes the right mentality. A mentality, that, unfortunately not everyone has. It starts with training and supervisors taking the time to sit down and teach their employees. Sometimes I get emails from production level staff in regards to a submittal. Most times it’s something they don’t understand and want clarification. One, this is great because they are asking the questions, but two, where is the supervisor? The supervisor, I believe, should be mentoring, sitting down with the employee going over the submittal together. I can’t imagine some of products that get approved if the supervisor doesn’t review the submittal with them. It also teaches the young employee very little. There is no positive growth by letting them sink or swim on their own all the time.

Becoming a licensed Architect takes a long time, and it’s built upon learning and asking questions. It’s in the nature of profession, but we have deviated from it. Blame it on the Licensing requirements, the project constraints, the generational gap, etc. It is a multi-level problem, that I hope gets turned around.

Do questions show weakness? In my mind, no. Asking questions shows the ability to learn and the acceptance that you don’t know everything. I believe that somewhere along the line, and this is true for everyone in every job, admitting you don’t know something is taken as a fault, and can potentially cost your job. That mentality should be changed to one of acceptance and where asking questions is okay. We don’t know everything, and we shouldn’t expect others to know everything. What we should expect are the questions.

So let’s get back to asking the questions and maybe, just maybe, some of our construction documents will be better for it.