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Build Specifications

Owners, architects and designers need to be specific about the work needed on a project. If you miscommunicate what needs to be done, it can lead to huge delays, change orders, and increase costs. The construction industry has created a process to ensure that construction specifications effectively communicate project needs. This process consists of 3 types of build specifications that help detail the workflow.

What are the build specs?

Construction specifications, also known as specs, are the details of the work that must be completed in a construction project. These details include information such as materials, scope of work, installation process, and quality of work. Contractors and crews use these specifications as a guide to choosing the right materials for the specific project. The specifications discussed between the owner and the contractor are part of the legal documents of the project.  


Architects or designers create construction specifications before construction begins. But many involve project engineers for technical assistance. In every construction project, there are three types of construction specifications. The three types of build specifications are prescriptive, performance, and proprietary.

  • Normative specifications  


Of the three types of construction specifications, prescriptive specifications focus on the details of the types of materials used and the installation of those materials. Architects or engineers tend to resume project design work in prescriptive specifications. Prescriptive specs give a better picture of what the final product will look like compared to other specs.  


Normative specifications can be divided into three distinct parts: general, products and execution. General includes information such as national quality standards, product handling, design requirements, and quality control. The products phase reviews the different products needed for each task as well as the individual performance levels of each product. The Execution phase will review how to prepare the materials and proceed with their installation. This process also involves testing the quality of the materials and checking whether they have been installed correctly.  

  • Performance Specifications  


After the normative specifications, come the performance specifications. Performance specifications discuss the operational requirements of a project. It details what the final installed product should be able to do. In this phase, the owner or general contractor does not give specifications to a subcontractor detailing how to complete the job. Instead, designers and architects give contractors details on how the final product should perform in this phase. For example, a contract asks the team to build a pump that pumps 300 gallons per minute. There are no guidelines on how to run the pumping system this quickly, so it is up to the contractor to figure it out.  


Of the three types of construction specifications, this phase involves the most testing to ensure that a project meets all of its operational requirements. The architect or engineer describes the outcome of the project and trusts the experience of the commercial contractor to make it happen. Since the contractor must understand what to do, decisions about materials and strategy move away from the architect and engineers and towards the contractor.

  • Proprietary Specifications  


Proprietary specifications are used when you need to use only one type of product for any type of installation. These are the least common of the three types of construction specifications, but they relate to work involving existing equipment and installations that have already been completed. When the owner or client wants to be consistent with their materials or simply prefers a specific type of material, use proprietary specifications. Contractors use proprietary specifications when their section of the project depends on the performance of a specific product.  


Architects and engineers tend to try to avoid proprietary specifications, as this can lead to the promotion of a specific manufacturer. Favoring one manufacturer can discourage competition during the bidding phase of the project, which can increase the total cost of the project. The architects and engineers will provide the contractor with a list of reliable vendors to choose from to end it.

Be as specific as possible  


Planning a construction project takes a long time and requires a lot of detail. It may seem overwhelming and tedious, but it's an essential step in starting a construction project. Without it, you waste time and money trying to figure it out. The more time you spend detailing each stage of the project, the more accurately your project vision will be executed. Using these tools for stellar build specs benefits the project.

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