Weak in faith, part 1 - Master Guide Specs vs. the MOP

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

manufacturers are in business to sell products, and they have an understandable tendency to stack the deck

part 1:  master guide specs vs. the MOP

part 2: specifiers vs. master guide specs

part 3: specifiers vs. the MOP

part 4: specifiers vs. themselves


Overall, CSI's documents present a fairly unified and consistent approach to preparing and interpreting construction documents, something I like to emphasize when teaching certification classes.

The Manual of Practice and the format documents (MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and PageFormat) provide a firm but adaptable framework for preparing construction documents. They provide enough structure so that, as your mother would say, there is "a place for everything and everything in its place." On the other hand, they are sufficiently flexible to allow one to specify just about anything imaginable.

CSI does not go into great detail about how to address specific problems; there is no standard specification for concrete, no typical way to specify performance, no boilerplate text for any part of a specification. That level of detail is left to the specifier, who is supposed to apply the principles of the MOP and the organization of the format standards.

Obviously, this leaves a lot to be done. If a specifier were to start with nothing it would take a long time to assemble a set of master specifications. Writing even a simple section can take many hours; the amount of research that would be required for a complex system or assembly would be overwhelming.

Fortunately, several entrepreneurial individuals saw an unfulfilled need and began to produce generic master guide specifications for a great variety of construction products and systems. Unfortunately, the results don't quite follow the basic rules of specifying established by CSI's standards. And there is plenty of blame to go around. Specifiers and manufacturers alike follow the lead of those who produce master guide specifications, and some wander even farther from the true path.

Manufacturers have a defensible position; they are in business to sell products, and they have an understandable tendency to stack the deck in any way they can in their own proprietary specifications. How many times have you seen a manufacturer's guide specification that requires the product be produced by only one manufacturer not once, but two or three times? From their viewpoint, it makes sense to identify the manufacturer under Section Includes, Quality Assurance, Manufacturers, Components, Assemblies, and a few more times under Execution. They also like to include a variety of restrictive specifications that have little to do with performance or quality.

I can't get too excited about a manufacturer who writes a specification that eliminates the competition. They still offer useful information, and the price is right. The sad thing is that some specifiers can't quite seem to figure out what's going on, and leave all of the proprietary provisions in place. - and then call it a competitive spec!

2000 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, swolfe@bwbr.com
on the web at www.CSI-MSP.org 

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