Construction Specification: What Is it, Who Handles it, and Why Is it Important?

 August 13, 2021 by Michael Gober & Denis Gritsiyenko

Even people who have never worked in construction have heard the term “specs” and may have a general idea of what those are. 

But they probably don’t know about true construction specifications.

Even people in the industry may need a refresher, so today we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of construction specifications and drive home why contractors can’t live without them. 

Plus we’ll let you know the best way to keep track of all that information.

Read on to find out more about construction specifications — including their types, divisions, and implied liabilities.

  1. CM Fusion: Store Your Construction Specifications in the Cloud Using Our Document Management Software
  2. What Is Specification in Construction?
  3. What Are Construction Specification Divisions?
  4. Who Is Responsible for Building Specifications?
  5. Who Is Liable for Construction Specifications and Defects?
  6. When Should a Construction Specification Be Written?
  7. 15 Reasons Why Construction Specification Is Important
  8. How CM Fusion Simplifies the Process of Construction Specification

CM Fusion: Store Your Construction Specifications in the Cloud Using Our Document Management Software

One of the most difficult aspects of construction management can be keeping up with all the documents.

But it doesn’t have to be.

CM Fusion allows you to store your construction specifications and other important documents in the cloud, so you’ll never have to waste time looking for them or wondering where they are.

But besides that top benefit of our amazing cloud-based construction management software, CM Fusion also gives you the following features:

  • Real-time document status tracking

  • The ability to manage and track document versioning

  • Timestamping and download history

  • The ability to manage permissions

  • The ability to download and print to PDF

And it does all this while being mobile-ready, so you can access what you need any time and any place.

What Is Specification in Construction?

Construction specifications, which you will often hear referred to as “specs,” comprise a section of a construction contract that describes the materials, labor, and skills needed for a project.

Construction specifications serve as a guide to the management team for which materials to choose and which people to hire for the job, so they are important to have in place from the beginning.

They define the project requirements for:

  • Materials

  • Products

  • Procedures

  • Installation; and

  • Quality aspects

The specs discussed by the owner and contractor become the legal documents for the project — and the more precise they are, the greater the chance that the project will be executed correctly.

Specifications should be communicated in great detail because failure to do so could lead to:

  • Delays

  • Change orders; and

  • Cost overruns

So it’s clear that construction specifications should be as detailed as possible and done right the first time.

In fact, they are so important to a job that they override the project drawings in most cases if there is conflicting information.

3 Types of Construction Specifications

So now that you know what construction specifications are, we’re going to break them down into their three main categories — performance, prescriptive, and proprietary — and describe the differences between them.

#1: Performance

A performance specification lays out the operational requirements of a component or installation. This means that it tells the contractor what the final installed product must be able to do.

The focus of this type of construction specification is on the outcome and function of the project.

Performance specifications don’t give the contractors information on how to accomplish the task, only on what must be done. It’s up to them to figure out the best way to accomplish this.

So a performance specification describes what an architect or engineer needs, and the contractor determines the best way to get there.

This approach allows a contractor to be more flexible and creative when deciding how to follow through with a project.It also leads to the architect or engineer having less control over everything.

#2: Prescriptive

Prescriptive specifications go a different route in that they list the materials the contractor has to use and the process of installing them. These specs are typically formatted in the following way:

  • General — Contains references to national or international design standards, product handling, required submittals, design requirements, and quality control. 

  • Products — Describes in detail the different products required for each task and the performance and structural requirements for each.

  • Execution — Explains how to prepare the materials and manage the installation, plus gives information on how to test the quality afterward.

While performance specifications give more authority to contractors, prescriptive specs let the architects or engineers be the ones with more control because they can establish a set of rules that should be followed for each project component.

This type of specification also provides more certainty regarding the final project and is frequently used for complex parts of the project.

#3: Proprietary

Proprietary specifications should only be used when necessary, and we’ll tell you why.

These specs require the use of a single approved product type for an installation. 

This might happen when:

  • There is existing equipment already on site.

  • The owner prefers a certain type of product.

  • Only one specific piece of equipment can accomplish a certain task.

The reason architects and engineers prefer not to go this route is that it can make people think there is favoritism toward a specific manufacturer and could eliminate competition during the bid phase. You don’t want that because it could drive up costs.

What Are Construction Specification Divisions?

This organizational system — sometimes referred to as the Dewey Decimal System of building construction — is part of MasterFormat, a standard used for organizing specs and other information for building projects in North America.

MasterFormat is part of the Construction Specifications Institute and Construction Specifications Canada and is used throughout the construction industry for formatting specifications for contract documents.

What Are the 16 Divisions of Construction?

The MasterFormat was originally divided into sixteen separate areas of construction. It has since been updated to include fifty areas, but for simplicity’s sake, we will focus on the original group.

  1. General Requirement

  2. Existing Conditions

  3. Concrete

  4. Masonry

  5. Metals

  6. Wood and Plastics

  7. Thermal and Moisture Protection

  8. Doors and Windows

  9. Finishes

  10. Specialties

  11. Equipment

  12. Furnishings

  13. Special Construction

  14. Conveying Systems

  15. Mechanical/Plumbing

  16. Electrical

The master list of divisions has sections and title numbers within each part for use in organizing information about construction requirements and associated activities on any given project. This standardization improves communication among all involved parties.

Who Is Responsible for Building Specifications?

As we mentioned previously, the responsible party in building specifications largely depends on the type.

With performance specifications, the contractor has more control and thus is responsible for the outcome.

With prescriptive specifications, the architect or engineer sets the rules that need to be followed and bears more of the responsibility accordingly.

Who Is Liable for Construction Specifications and Defects?

The point of splitting the specifications into categories is to know who will be held liable if the project does not come out as planned. 

For one specific type, prescriptive specifications, contractors can call an implied warranty of specifications known as the Spearin Doctrine into play. This is based on a 1918 Supreme Court decision and states that if the plans and specifications included in the contract are accurate and are followed, they will result in suitable work.

The Spearin Doctrine can be used as a claim or a defense.

If a contractor experiences damage as a result of defective specifications, the contractor may have grounds for making a claim.

Conversely, if an owner claims that the contractor’s work was defective but the issue was caused by an error in the specs, that contractor could avoid liability.

For any project you may be involved with, it’s important to know the type of construction specifications that were used so you’ll know who is liable for any defects.

When Should a Construction Specification Be Written?

We know that construction specifications should be as specific and detailed as possible. But at what step in the process should they be written?

As you might guess, they are needed early on. Writing construction specifications is a formal process that must be completed during the design phase of a project. 

They must be prepared before construction begins so contractors will know what materials, personnel, and skill sets are needed for the job.

15 Reasons Why Construction Specification Is Important

These days, when smart contractors are leaving behind file cabinets full of messy papers and going digital, construction specification documents can serve as the foundation of a digital project. Let’s explore some reasons why those specs are so important.

  1. The construction specification gives clear instruction on the intent, performance, and construction of the project.

  2. The specs can reference the quality and standards to be applied.

  3. Materials and products can be clearly defined.

  4. It allows identification of installation, testing, and handover requirements.

  5. Within the specification, classification can be used to support handover and asset management.

  6. Identifying information is easier because it eliminates the need for overload on a drawing or model.

  7. A spec can support project cost estimations by identifying materials, products, performance, and workmanship.

  8. The spec and the drawings together form part of the contractual documents, which minimize project risk and give support if any legal issues arise.

  9. It gives the client assurance that they’re getting what they asked for.

  10. It is essential for the construction phase and an important part of the follow-up processes.

  11. A detailed specification provides many answers to on-site construction questions, which in turn saves everyone money.

  12. When the project is over, best practices from the spec can be incorporated for optimizing future endeavors.

  13. They can be developed over time and adapted to each specific project.

  14. The specification is a living document and should be used throughout the construction phase.

  15. A construction specification becomes part of the project’s audit trail and can form the basis for future management or policies.

It only takes a handful of these reasons to show how important specifications are, but this comprehensive list emphasizes how a contractor can’t live without them.

How CM Fusion Simplifies the Process of Construction Specification

Since you rely on your site construction specifications for so many steps along the way, you want to make sure this documentation is:

  • Easily accessible

  • Kept updated; and

  • Completely organized

That’s where CM Fusion comes in. You won’t find a better piece of construction document management software.

With CM Fusion, rather than trying to keep track of your specs in your email inbox where things can get lost or changes aren’t tracked, you’ll always know where to find the latest, updated version of construction specifications for any project.

And with the free 30-day trial we offer, you truly don’t have anything to lose. Contact us today and let us get you started on the road to efficiency and organization.


Try CM Fusion, risk free for 30 Days – Your first project is FREE!

If you are trying to figure out where to look now, our company CM Fusion offers a free version of Construction Project Management Software. Not to mention, our customers brag about it’s ease of use, so you should be able to sign up and start managing your projects in minutes.

Try CM Fusion for Free