Substitutions: Often a Quagmire, but CSI Can Help

I think there’s a big problem with the way substitutions are often handled, at least here in Colorado.

CSI has some great solutions – for example, 2 different substitution request forms, one for use during bidding, and one for use during construction.  Arcom’s MasterSpec has what I consider to be fairly decent language regarding substitutions, in Division 01.  But these solutions are often not implemented.

I think that “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” on several levels:

  • G.C.’s often fail to forward Division 01 on to bidding subs, so subs don’t know the requirements for substitution request submittals.  (They don’t even know that there ARE requirements for substitution request submittals.) 
  • Then the G.C’s try to push substitution requests through to the architects without the required information, since they didn’t receive that info from their subs.
  • Project architects often fail to enforce the specifications’ requirements about the information that is to be submitted with a substitution request.  Sometimes, that’s because they aren’t familiar with the requirements in their own project specifications. 
  • So the architects waste their precious bid-period time trying to verify that the proposed substitution is comparable to the specified system or item, doing the work that the sub ought to have done.
  • Owners seem to not understand that substitutions can’t appropriately be made in the blink of an eye, since the designed system took weeks to design and took everything related into account.
  • Back to the G.C.’s – during construction, they submit on non-specified items, or they just install them, because that’s what their subs gave their bids on, even though they weren’t acceptable products.  This happens when the G.C. didn’t verify that the subs’ bids were in compliance with the construction documents during bidding, and the sub didn’t know the proper procedure for getting a substitution request approved.

As a specifier, I sometimes add some language to the “acceptable products” list in each spec section that refers to the Division 00 section “Procurement Substitution Procedures” and/or Division 01 section “Substitution Procedures,” or if I have a Basis-of-Design product by one manufacturer listed, and a list of comparable manufacturers after that, I sometimes add language in each spec section that indicates that the contractor should “Comply with the requirements of Division 01 Section ‘Product Requirements’ for comparable product requests.”

But as with everything else, the project architect still has to know what’s in the specs (and then enforce the specs), the G.C. still has to comply with the requirements of the construction documents (and make sure his subs do too), and the Owner still has to understand that proposed substitutions have to be very carefully evaluated since everything was designed around the specified product.

I think this is where our work as CSI members lies – we should try to educate the rest of our industry about the roles that all parts of a project team play in this substitution process.

This post is a reprise of a comment I made on the Denver CSI website, in response to our Chapter President’s November post.  Check it out, and join the discussion!  http://www.denvercsi.org/journal/2011/10/17/november-2011-presidents-message.html

5 thoughts on “Substitutions: Often a Quagmire, but CSI Can Help

  1. Liz: This is right on – not just in the Centennial State, but everywhere we’ve worked with or provided training to architects.

    I’ve had the rewarding challenge of serving as consultant to ARCOM for recent MasterSpec Divison 01 updates and the new Division 00 documents (which many users may not have seen yet). The definitions included in the two substitution-related documents help clear up the issues you raise, but only if architects and contractors read and follow the requirements.

    I do not know how a project architect can serve in that role without completing CSI CDT training!

  2. While I agree with what you have shared here, I think the topic leads to a discussion of how to properly specify product for effective buy-out. In my industry, mergers and brand consolidation have polarized groupings of related products. It has become very important to understand which groupings of brand names are now under the same corporate umbrella. When related products are not carefully selected to share the same corporate goup, the most competitive pricing is difficult to achieve and the owner’s interest is not served well.

    Just an observation worth considering for fellow spec writers out there…

  3. I believe there will always be valid reasons for the Contractor to submit Requests for Consideration of a Substitution. Accepting that reality, I have aleways carried several dozen blank copies of the two substitution forms, the one use during bidding and the one for use during construction, to the pre-bid site walk through and made a special point of explaining the process, advising them there must be cut-off time for the requests at bidding time, and enforcing the necessity for submissions thereafter. It works. ron.milne@stantec.com

    • Ron, thanks for your comment.

      Even when Owners insist that there are to be no substitutions, there’s always a chance that a specified item will be discontinued or otherwise unavailable – so we need procedures in place for substitutions during construction.

  4. Pingback: Substitutions in the Construction Industry: A Panel Discussion, on January 13 | Comments From a Spec Writer

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