Navigating MasterFormat 2004

By Deborah L. O’Mara | Aug 15, 2006
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Change, they say, is good for the soul. That sentiment, however, was nowhere in sight when changes to the 40-year-old 16-division structure of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat were first undertaken several years ago.

When CSI, Alexandria, Va., proceeded to revise the categories of construction classification in the MasterFormat 1995, many in the electrical contracting industry were up in arms. After all, for many years, almost all electrical and communications work had been included in Division 16, with a few things, such as fire alarms, placed elsewhere. But now, the “bible” of the industry, which organizes construction specification standards, was expanding to 50 divisions from 16.

Regardless of the controversy, MasterFormat 2004 is here, and exists as a model specification system for construction projects.

It is beginning to take hold, spurred on by property owners, managers and th e architectural, specification and engineering communities. In fact, according to a study at Brigham Young University by Kevin Miller and D. Mark Hutchings, some 76 percent of responding firms said they planned to make the switch. Many of these already have, but smaller firms may take more of a wait-and-see attitude rather than adopt the format along with the inherent costs to switch. CSI currently publishes a list on their Web site at of MasterFormat 2004 adopters.

In addition, the General Services Administration (GSA) has adopted MasterFormat 2004 and requires design consultants to use AIA MASTERSPEC, which is available in both MasterFormat 1995 and 2004 editions. For an interim period, GSA has been allowing either version for use on GSA projects, at the design consultant’s choosing.

“For now, it looks like the MasterFormat 1995 will co-exist with MasterFormat 2004, at least for awhile,” said Brooke Stauffer, executive director, Standards & Safety, NECA.

But if electrical contractors are still struggling with the latest documentation, they better hold onto their hats, because it’s only the beginning.

“If people thought it was bad to go from 16 divisions to 50, wait until they see the next phase—the total revise of the document,” said Thomas C. Montgomery, PE and director of electrical engineering for Henderson Engineers Inc., Lenexa, Kan.

“CSI continues to reevaluate and consider other changes to support the transition to MasterFormat 2004,” Montgomery said. “The most recent revision basically moved and spread out the documentation from the 16-division structure to some 50, including 49 technical divisions and one Procurement and Contracting Requirements division. The MasterFormat revision addressed where the current information would reside within the specification. The next revision will be in the content.”

Montgomery said Henderson Engineers currently uses the specification in about 10 percent of its projects nationwide, because its architectural clients mandate it. That percentage is growing, he said.

Where’s the work?

Not only were divisions reorganized and their number increased, but separate ones were set up for integrated automation; electrical; communications; electronic safety and security; fire suppression; plumbing; and heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

“The 1995 edition of MasterFormat doesn’t provide enough locations for many areas that specifications need to address in covering the large amount of information associated with today’s construction projects. Over the years, specifiers have tried to make do by placing data in project manuals where they could, using their individual judgment about locations, if locations could be found at all,” according to the CSI publication, “What’s Different About MasterFormat 2004 Edition and How It Helps the Project Team.”

The primary reason for the revision was to address technology advancements and the application of new construction methods and materials, said Montgomery.

“Technology is growing by quantum leaps, and the MasterFormat spec has to grow by quantum leaps to keep up,” he said.

Technology has simply outgrown Division 16. Some of the high-tech products and services, such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), didn’t have a home. Now, for example, the “mysterious” Division 17, which was not officially adopted by either CSI or the industry, is frequently used to specify new technology, such as VoIP as well as others.

The new divisions covering the electrical and fire protection systems include the following:

  • Fire Suppression (Division 21)
  • Electrical (Division 26)
  • Communications (Division 27)
  • Integrated Automation (Division 25)
  • Electronic Safety and Security (Division 28)
  • Transportation (Division 33—includes traffic signals)
  • Power Generation (Division 46)

For the electrical contracting industry, MasterFormat 2004 requires some “navigation” and electrical contractors have embarked on a plan to get educated. Some may be asking where everything is, especially if they don’t know how to read the new documentation or look in the proper place.

“If an electrical contractor has to bid a job specified according to MasterFormat 2004, they’ll have a hard time finding where all the work went, or at least where it’s located,” Montgomery said. “Now the electrical work is spread all over the map and the contractor doesn’t know where the information is when he’s bidding the job, unless he becomes familiar with the documentation.”

Montgomery, as an instructor with NECA’s Management Education Institute (MEI), has been educating electrical contractors on how to properly implement and understand MasterFormat 2004 over the last year. He teaches how to be certain to find all those specifications that apply to the electrical contractor bidding the project. Contractors bidding jobs that refer to it must be prepared to meet its requirements and follow them.

Liability concerns

“Electrical contractors have to be educated on the subject, and they want to be,” said Ronald Cooper, executive manager of NECA’s San Diego Chapter. “They want to know what their role is in the specifications, and especially, where the liability will fall, now that the divisions have been spread out.”

Insurance and errors and omissions liability, contractual liability, and overall responsibility seemed to be overriding concerns of the some 24 contractors in attendance at a recent MasterFormat education session in San Diego.

“The electrical contractor wants real world documentation they can put to use. If the GSA, architect, owner or specifier is going to use this, they need to have to the documentation to support it,” Cooper said.

Many national master specification publishers have completed the conversion of their respective specifications to MasterFormat 2004, so that documentation is becoming available. Other than changes in section numbering and some title changes, they currently are, word-for-word, identical. The real difficulty lies in knowing where to look, not what is specified—what was there before is still there but just in a different location.

“A sample, complete specification book will have to exist and be created to provide electrical contractors with real-world examples. Facility owners would also be well-advised to do a pre-bid qualification program so electrical contractors understand the contractual relationship before they venture into the unknown,” Cooper said.

For the end-user and the facility owner who is having work contracted, there are advantages in the new MasterFormat 2004. The new format encourages the planning of a specification that addresses all aspects of construction, now including horizontal, rather than just vertical construction. It goes beyond initial construction into operations, maintenance, sustainability, and energy conservation, to name a few, and it offers a uniform specification that encompasses total facility ownership throughout its life.

This is also why, according to CSI, the SectionFormat may also change—to also encompass all these stages of facility ownership. Both SectionFormat and PageFormat are currently in the early stages of review for updating.

The basic premise behind MasterFormat hasn’t changed in 40 years. What has changed is that the work has been split up and spread out within the model specification. Electrical contractors must become familiar with the new 2004 version before they see it in a request for proposal.

If they don’t, they could make some costly mistakes in their bidding. When you see the CSI MasterFormat 2004 in a bid you want, you better know what it is and how to find all the work you may be responsible for, prior to putting any numbers on paper.    EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or [email protected].



About The Author

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 773.414.3573.





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