Guest post by C. Webster Marsh, Penumbra Controls
Most new construction projects have various forms of documentation, but construction documentation often falls into one of two categories: Drawings or Specifications. Drawings are the visuals, oftentimes showing physical layouts, dimensioned elevations, and detailed one-lines, but drawings are rarely enough to communicate a project’s needs and therefore the written Specifications, also referred to as the Project Manual, are a key player. Good lighting controls designers will spend as much time on the Project Manual as they do on the drawings, since poorly maintained specifications can create serious issues during construction.
What Is the Project Manual?
The written specifications or Project Manual is where specifiers put a lot of the detailed information not shown on the drawings, such as how they want submittals assembled, what performance and installation requirements the product must adhere to, or any industry standards that it must meet. Specifications are often treated as the fine print backing up the drawings: the “specifics,” supporting the intent of the project by describing the detailed parts of the products shown on the drawings. Imagine you place an occupancy sensor on plan, with the intent of using a specific manufacturer’s sensor for a specific purpose. The specifications are where you will detail out whose sensor you want and the components of that sensor which make it essential to your design.
Schedules, such as a device schedule that lists out each device specified on plan, are an example of a specification and they are often placed on the drawings, but specifiers should be cautious as schedules are rarely a complete specification and still require additional documentation that is found in the Project Manual. While it is also possible to place this information on the drawings, it can be cumbersome to edit this information as the project evolves, so common practice is to save written specifications in a separate word processor file.
Format and Method
The target audience of the Project Manual is the General Contractor, who will distribute parts of the manual to different subcontractors to read and adhere to. Because it is rare for one person or group to read the entire manual, it is important to follow a standardized format so that the right contractor receives the right specifications. The Construction Specifications Institute (also known as CSI) is one of the predominant groups that publish guidelines for US-based construction projects. They provide MasterFormat which is a very common specification format to be implemented on projects. MasterFormat is a standard that, among other things, organizes specifications by splitting up trades, such as Mechanical and Electrical trades, into numerical divisions so that each division can be associated with a subcontractor type. Division 26 is the electrical division where an electrical contractor will look for luminaires and lighting controls. Each division also has a list of numbers that are commonly associated with a type of product. For instance, Section 26 09 23 is the section assigned to Lighting Control Devices and is a common section used by specifiers when specifying lighting controls. There are many sections dedicated to lighting controls, however, and a good CSI specification will identify the section numbers that best match the design.
The Four Cs of Specifications
Writing any specification takes time, knowledge, coordination, and experience to do correctly and good specifications utilize what CSI refers to as the “Four C’s”: Clear, Concise, Correct, and Complete statements. Good specifications clearly communicate in a concise way exactly what is needed, without leaving room for interpretation or further explanation. Project Manuals can sometimes have long cumbersome statements that begin “The electrical contractor shall verify quantity of…” which is no longer recommended. A better statement begins, “Verify quantity of…” which begins with an action and cuts to the point of the statement in fewer words.
Saving Time with Written Specifications
Specifications for lighting controls documentation require a lot of time to complete, which doesn’t play well with fast construction timelines, and so they can become burdensome to the specifier to create. Because of this burden, workarounds have developed in the industry to save time.
Template Documents: Specifiers may use a template document to cut down on time dedicated to writing specs. Template documents are pre-written specifications that can be edited for different projects, but template documents need to be carefully crafted and reviewed on a regular basis. Specifiers can create more issues if their Project Manual uses an old template that has redundancies, inconsistencies, or outdated information.
Manufacturer Documents: Many manufacturers are also taking it upon themselves to provide specifiers with their own written specifications for their products. While these documents are a great starting point, like a template document, specifiers should spend a lot of time reviewing and editing these before adding them to their Project Manual as they can be limited, restrictive, or outdated.
Specification Software: There is new software emerging that gives specifiers the ability to shortcut the writing process of specification. This software uses a variety of tools which allow specifiers to pick and edit pre-generated language and then generate a complete Project Manual. While it’s tempting to leave most of the work to a computer, this software should not be perceived as a way to automate specification writing and care must still be taken while using this software to make sure pertinent project related information is not left out or inaccurate information is added.
There is a lot of documentation that a lighting controls designer needs to work with when specifying a project, but the Project Manual is probably the most neglected part of that documentation. It is a common occurrence to see Project Manuals copied from one project to the next to save time. Good specifiers will spend time familiarizing themselves with these documents and edit them per project, which can help avoid disastrous results. CSI also provides many helpful resources to industry members looking for more information on written specifications, but no matter what, designers must dedicate the time to produce airtight specifications.