are 16 Divisions enough?

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

road construction

major changes in MasterFormat will require substantial investment from those who use it


How many Divisions should MasterFormat have? Since it was first published, it has had the sixteen divisions with which many (dare I say most?) of those involved in construction are familiar. It has become a widely accepted tool for organizing construction information - at least for buildings.

Are new divisions or new titles necessary? Can the existing organization handle all of the specialized systems that have appeared in recent years?

dissension in the ranks

The arguments in favor of common standards for organizing specifications would seem to be irrefutable, yet there is growing resistance to the existing CSI standard. Some of those who work with various construction specialties have frequently argued that their work requires a new division, or at least new titles within existing divisions.

Those with the oldest claim for reorganization are the mechanical and electrical engineers, many of whom would argue that they are shortchanged by the sixteen division organization. If nothing else, a separate division for plumbing might make sense.

highway construction

Most states use unique systems for writing and organizing specifications for highway construction, supported by their respective departments of transportation. These standards are well-established, and are successfully used throughout the country. The result is that we have parallel systems for organizing and specifying construction for paving and related site work. Despite the potential for problems, it seems that most design professionals and most contractors who are involved in road construction are able to use either system.

It would be easier for all concerned if a single set of standards governed road work as well as building construction, and in the past year or so at least one state has decided to convert its highway specifications to conform to CSI formats.

new products and systems

Site construction received a lot of attention in in the 1995 edition of MasterFormat; about 40 percent of all title changes occurred in Division 2, many of those related to road construction. But what about other products, specifically those that some claim are not addressed in MasterFormat?

About two years ago, a security system consultant submitted several Division 17 specification sections. I told him that the 1995 MasterFormat includes Section 13700 - Security Access and Surveillance, and suggested several section numbers that could be used for his work. He claimed that his company had started using Division 17 because the 1988 MasterFormat didn't fit his needs, and refused to change because of the difficulty of verifying all of the cross references within his specifications and on his drawings.

At least two other groups - telecommunications systems and process engineering - have laid claim to Division 17, each convinced that its needs are not met in the existing sixteen Divisions. Although it is possible that existing section titles could be adapted for either group, they may well be justified in asking for some consideration for their work.

the impact of change

One can easily make a case for any of a variety of changes to MasterFormat, but would the benefits outweigh the problems?

Many manufacturers have adopted the MasterFormat organization, and use it in their product literature. Means cost tables, Sweet's catalogues, MasterSpec, and a host of other publications also use it. Major changes will require substantial investment from all those who use MasterFormat. Normal schedules for development of printed literature mean a significant delay between announcement of a change and the time it appears in print.

Design professionals are not immune; renumbering sections, changing cross references, and learning new titles doesn't happen overnight.

There is some movement toward a universal keynote system that would assign a specific section number to every type of product. This would require that all design firms use the same section numbers; it would also require exhaustive research to ensure that every product had a number. The obvious problem is found in level four titles, where MasterFormat does not assign numbers, and often lists more section titles than there are available numbers.

what do you think?

Is there sufficient need to create a Division 17? Or a Division 18? Or should we throw the whole thing out and start over? Do existing section titles cover everything?

If you have comments about MasterFormat send me an e-mail.

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1999 Sheldon Wolfe, CSI, CCS, CCCA