Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat is the most widely used standard for organizing specifications, catalogs and other documents for commercial and institutional building construction projects in the United States and Canada. Since CSI has issued a complete revision in order to reflect changes in technology and contracting practices, it may be worth your time to read through this brief analysis and to begin thinking about the challenges that your business may face as a result.

The background statements issued by CSI indicate a new approach was needed to meet the changing needs of the construction process. New technology, the growing varieties of project management, the nature of the competing contractor organizations and equipment and material suppliers could not fit into the existing specification structure any longer. After three years of planning, peer review and industry negotiations, CSI issued its new MasterFormat 2004 Edition with the goal of making it official nationwide by 2006.

The changes

New topics are addressed and new sections have been added since the 1995 edition. The divisions have been reorganized, their number increased from 16 to 50 and are clustered into groups and subgroups.

The first 16 divisions (00-15) cover general construction subjects. There are separate divisions for plumbing, fire suppression, electrical, communications, integrated building systems, safety and security systems, heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

They are in a new subgroup of divisions called Facility Services. The new edition also provides locations in the new Site and Infrastructure subgroup for subjects unique to heavy civil engineering projects (roads, bridges, dams, tunnels).

Industrial construction (factories and power plants) that were not covered before are in the Process Equipment subgroup. Some division numbers are reserved as placeholders to be used for new topics as construction materials and technology develop in future years. A new six-digit section numbering system replaces the five-digit format for the sections within the divisions.

“MasterFormat 2004 Edition is expanded to include all aspects of a construction project-from the owner's concept-to design-to facility management-and even demolition,” according to CSI. The new divisions and additional sections make it easier for all involved in the construction process to locate information critical to understanding and executing their work.

“The re-engineering of this industry standard sets the present and future pace for organizing construction communication. MasterFormat 2004 simplifies the process of determining where specific subject matter is located. For those using word-processing software to write specifications, there are automated features such as global search-and-replace, styles, macros and other productivity tools that can significantly reduce the work once required to transition to a new edition of MasterFormat.”

The AIA MasterSpec format also is being revised to match the new CSI subgroups, divisions and sections. Existing sections will be renumbered and new sections will fit the CSI numbering system. Sweet's construction products catalog and the FirstSource construction products catalog are converting to MasterFormat 2004 effective with their 2006 editions.

The benefits of MasterFormat

Using MasterFormat 2004 to develop construction specifications could result in cost savings to owners of 5 to 10 percent, estimates CSI. Much of its expanded content fosters fuller and more accurate specifications.

For example, the new edition provides for enhanced specifications about buildings' data, communications and integrated automation systems, which have seen dramatic advances since MasterFormat 1995. Building owners also may find that MasterFormat 2004 works well for maintaining project information, recording documents, warranty information and other data critical to facility maintenance and operation.

Claims of benefits for contractors by CSI include standardized locations for many specification sections that previous editions of MasterFormat did not address. Construction project bid documents developed according to the MasterFormat 2004 can help contractors and subcontractors develop more accurate bids and project schedules. That could mean fewer cost overruns, mistakes and delays.

Fewer change orders, errors and omissions should be encountered due to less misplaced, incomplete or missing information. With the new MasterFormat making it easier to translate an owner's wishes into a building and by helping construction projects go more smoothly, contractors could see increased client satisfaction, which can generate future business, according to CSI.

Challenges and opportunities

Electrical specifications that were previously described in Division 16 now are distributed among five different divisions under the Facility Service subgroup.

New divisions are added addressing rapidly developing areas such as telecommunications networks, integrated automation systems and electronic safety and security systems. They are Integrated Automation (Division 25), Electrical and Lighting (Division 26), Communications (Division 27), Electronic Safety and Security (Division 28), and On-site Power Generation (Division 48).

It appears that this restructuring was an accommodation to the interests of contractors and suppliers that specialize in these areas. Most general contractors have not seen the changes yet, so it is too early to predict their responses.

The new format makes it easier for the general contractor to package subcontract bid documents into designated specialty areas. This move could foretell a trend toward even more fragmented construction teams on a project that could multiply coordination and scheduling that is already very complex.

It could tend to regroup contractors with capabilities and interests that are driven by the technology described in each division unless they are positioned to pursue all of the electrical/electronic work as a prime subcontractor. It could also drive engineering firms away from integrated building systems to clustered designs for each division of work. That could influence possible changes in the training and specialty classification of trade workers.

One might envision a future with the present form of electrical journeyman generalist being replaced by a process that certifies workers for separate divisions as is now the case with telecom and security or control technicians.

This could increase specialized wage classifications and curriculum changes in apprentice training programs. Subsequent reorganizing of contractors into new specialty trade associations or divisions of existing associations may also result. Perhaps the editorial structure of this magazine may need some revision to match the new MasterFormat for convenience of advertisers and readers. Undoubtedly, the collective response of the industry will drive such new trends.

It is not too early to let your fingers do the walking through the pages of the new CSI MasterFormat 2004 to see where they might lead your business in the foreseeable future. For more details visit EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or