Supplementary Conditions - What Are They Good For?

by Sheldon Wolfe, CSI, CCS

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supplementary conditions modify the general conditions ... any other subject is better addressed somewhere else

One of the most-abused documents is the supplementary conditions. Intended to modify the general conditions, they have instead become a catch-all for a variety of items, most of which are properly addressed in other locations.

Many of the provisions in supplementary conditions were obviously created in response to a specific problem on a particular project. In angry reply to a bad experience, the specifier wrote a couple of paragraphs, and in an effort to make sure they were read, added them to the supplementary conditions - you know, that "legal" document that contractors have to comply with.

A few years ago I attended a roundtable discussion of supplementary conditions. Attendance was good, and several specifiers brought examples of the documents used in their offices.

Most of the items were legitimate modifications of the general conditions, and there was great similarity among the examples. There were, however, many provisions that obviously belonged elsewhere, most often in Division 1.

Take a few minutes and review your supplementary conditions. You'll need the general conditions to see what is being modified, a copy of Uniform Location of Subject Matter, and your Division 1 specifications.

Before we go any further, let's review the function of each of these documents. The general conditions describe relationships between the owner, the contractor, and the architect. They define each entity's responsibilities, and address the "real" construction work in only the most general terms.

The supplementary conditions modify the general conditions. Think about that. It means that they modify the relationships and responsibilities found in the general conditions. Any other subject is probably better addressed somewhere else.

Division 1 is the real workhorse of the specifications. While the conditions of the contract are passive documents, Division 1 is definitely active - it tells the contractor what to do. Look at the way the documents are written.

  • The conditions are written in passive voice, as if the author is telling a disinterested person about who is involved in the contract and how they interact with each other. "The Contractor shall perform the Work, the Owner shall pay the Contractor, and the Architect shall do everything else." 

  • The specifications, on the other hand, are written as if the author were speaking directly to the contractor. "Use these materials, install them, and make them work."

Env-sml.gif Send me some of your favorite examples and we'll look at them in the next column.

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Part 2 - Frosting on the cake

Part 3 - The architect by any other name...

1998, Sheldon Wolfe