Required: Revised Thinking

It’s important to change with the times

Project specifications have evolved over the years, but nothing has equaled the proposed revisions to the specifications section that have developed recently. When an electrical project was about 5 percent of the total construction cost, most “specifications” were oral and based on an understanding between the owner and the builder. As projects increased in costs, the specifications, which are part of the “legal” documents of a project, have become more prescriptive.

The variance between prescriptive and performance-type specifications is that the prescriptive specification details what can usually not be included on the plans. Performance specifications are those that require a contractor to, for example, install lighting to a level of 100 foot-candles without actually providing a detailed set of plans.

As specifications grew, many designers put together guidelines of what they consider to be important. Often, these paragraphs were ambiguous, and many times they were not updated when the Code changed. An example was the specification that required all conductors of #8 and under be of a solid type. Of course, #8 solid is only permitted for ground wires. This may be minor point, but it does illustrate that these “contract” documents were often deficient. With the advent of word processors, the errors often found a life of their own and multiplied as paragraphs were selected by less qualified persons.

Over the years, a need arose for more organized specifications, and that fostered the forming of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) some 40 years ago. The outcome of these efforts was the establishment of a divisional system that was composed of 17 specific sections that started with Division 00, which is the bidding and contract requirements. Often this section is also called an invitation to bid with all the bells and whistles. The lineup then goes through Division 16, which included most of the electric work scope and details. Some electrical work was at times spread to other sections such as 15 (handling climate controls), and at times Division 10 (for such things as electric hand dryers). These instances were of a minor nature as compared to the overall scope of work, yet if missed or not read could cause considerable problems, not to mention being the seeds of claims.

As complexity of buildings increased, the divisions were further divided in sections that for electrical work would start with 16 followed by three additional numbers for a total of five digits. These sections are divided into location, materials, function, the application and finally the applicable work. In the case of electrical work, this placed such items as water treatment plant instrumentation into a separate section under Division 16. It can become the worst nightmare if an estimator commits the company to Division 16 without knowledge of all that it may encompass.

Obviously, projects have further increased in complexity and now the five- digit system is being replaced with a six -digit coding system. As originally disclosed in ENR in April 2003, the conversion to the revised system has not been a simple thing. Most expect the changeover will take some three years, and that will still leave some items in suspense. The new format was expected to become available online in mid June of this year. The Web site for CSI is:

The original revisions would have included more than 80 sections. After some heavy opposition, this was modified to 49 sections, of which some 16 sections are “not occupied.” Of the remainder, it appears that some 15 of the new sections could include work done by electrical contractors.

The major groupings in the new format divide the specifications into five identifiable sections. These are: procurement and contracting requirements; the general requirements; facilities; facility services; site and infrastructure; and finally the process equipment section. It’s quite apparent that our work will fit into most of these groups. All this means that a set of specs will require a new outlook when reviewing the documents and will probably revise many specification review lists.

The CSI formatted construction specs are said to apply to 95 percent of the non-construction. Of course, there are large multifamily projects that have used the CSI format. It remains to be seen how much of the industry will adopt the new format and how long it will take to change the course of construction. Once the system is used, it will most certainly change the tasks of the estimator. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at


About the Author

Eric David

Freelance Writer
Eric David is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at .

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