If You’re an Owner, Do Yourself a Favor: Require Record Specs

I have a simple piece of advice for owners who are having buildings built.  Require the contractor to submit Record Specifications.   

Step 1:  Require, as part of the Contract for Construction, that the contractor submit Record Specifications at project closeout.  This should be easy.  You don’t even need to make up language for it.  It’s already in the commonly used AIA A201-2007, the General Conditions of the Contract.  Article 3.11, Documents and Samples at the Site, reads, “The Contractor shall maintain at the site for the Owner one copy of the Drawings, Specifications, Addenda, Change Orders and other Modifications, in good order and marked currently to indicate field changes and selections made during construction, and one copy of approved Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples and similar required submittals.  These shall be available to the Architect and shall be delivered to the Architect for submittal to the Owner upon completion of the Work as a record of the Work as constructed.”

Step 2:  After Step 1 has been undertaken, request that the architect expand upon this contract requirement in Division 01 of the specifications.  CSI’s MasterFormat has created a place for this requirement to be expanded upon – Section 01 78 39 “Project Record Documents.”  Arcom’s MasterSpec has some great standard language in this section, including requirements that the Contractor “Mark Specifications to indicate the actual product installation where installation varies from that indicated in Specifications, addenda, and contract modifications.”  “Give particular attention to information on concealed products and installations that cannot be readily identified and recorded later.”  “Mark copy with the proprietary name and model number of products, materials, and equipment furnished, including substitutions and product options selected.”  “Record the name of manufacturer, supplier, Installer, and other information necessary to provide a record of selections made.”

Step 3:  If Step 1 has been executed, execute Step 3 (whether or not Step 2 was executed).  At project closeout, make sure that the Record Specifications have been submitted by the contractor, along with the record drawings (the “as-builts”).  Do not pay the contractor the final payment until these have been submitted.

Step 4:  Store the record specifications, in a safe place, along with the record drawings.

A responsible owner might ask me some questions, and I will answer them:

Q1:  Will this cost me more money?

A1:  Yes, this will add a little bit of money to the construction cost.  It will take a little extra time for the contractor to update the record specs every day during construction.  It should take a contractor no more than 5 minutes a day, as long as he keeps up with it every day.

Q2:  Why would I want to spend this extra money?

A2:  Spending this tiny extra bit of money now will save you money in the future.  If you have the Record Specifications to refer to in the future, you will save yourself time that you might otherwise have to spend searching for a product name or model number that you urgently need.  If you have the Record Specifications to copy and give to other people that you hire to do maintenance on, or an addition to, your building, you will save yourself money because you will be saving the people you have hired some significant time.

Q3:  What would these people be spending time on?

A3:  If you have an existing building that you want to do an addition to, you might want to match the storefront, the brick, the stucco color, the precast panel concrete mix, the standing seam metal roof profile and color, the tinted glass color, the asphalt shingles, the stone veneer, the tile floors, the wood doors… If you wish to match any of the elements in the addition to their counterparts in the existing building, the architect will have to track down the exact products that were used in the existing building.

Q4:  But can’t I just have the architect write “match existing” on the drawings?

A4:  Yes, but then the contractor or his subcontractors will have to try to figure out what was used on the existing building.  If they don’t really know, or if they have preferred vendors that they purchase from, and don’t try to look too hard beyond those vendors, they might just “do their best” to match the existing.  That might be ok, or it might not be ok, but what leverage will you have to make them match it if you really want it to match, especially if you had put your project out to competitive bid?

Q5:  Why do I need Record Specs?  Isn’t that information on the Record Drawings (the “as-builts”)?

Q6:  Usually, specific product names, manufacturers, and model numbers are not on the drawings.  That information belongs in the specifications.  For example, the drawings should show the extent of, and the details of, a standing seam roof installation.  But if you want competitive bids, the specifications should list several manufacturer names and the acceptable product by each, and specific information such as the dimensions of the panel.  The drawings might list a generic color, or a specific color might be in the specs, but the type of metal finish (such as Kynar or siliconized polyester) will be in the specs.    

Despite your best efforts, things might not go flawlessly.  The contractor might not do a great job with these record specs.  The architect might not realize that he’s supposed to receive them from the contractor.  You might forget to make sure that you get them before you sign that final check.  But it’s really, really worth enforcing this common contract requirement.

And, of course, even if everything goes well, you might still waste some time.  Last week, a former co-worker of mine received an email from an interior designer who is working on a tenant finish in a space that I worked on 11 years ago.  The designer wondered if we remembered the manufacturer of the demountable aluminum and glass partitions in the space.  I couldn’t remember, and my old firm no longer had the record documents.  The designer actually had the record documents, but “that information wasn’t on the drawings.”  I suggested that perhaps she wasn’t looking at the specifications, which were on pages 2 and 3 of the set of drawings.  I heard back a few minutes later… the manufacturer’s name was right there, in the sheet specs.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…  But it’s well worth a try.

Lessons Re-Learned

Once again, I have realized that we need drawings for every little renovation on our century-old house, even when all we’re doing is replacing something existing with something that is new and (nearly) identical.  Last night I drew a soffit detail for the guys doing repairs on our soffit in preparation for painting the exterior of the house.  I am glad I still know how to draw with a lead holder and trace and triangle and parallel rule.  I still tear drafting dots in half to conserve them.  It’s been a while, but I did my best.

I do not mean to make light of the complex issues of international politics and human rights, but Aung San Suu Kyi said something this week that made me think of construction documentation.  “Unless we aim at achieving the best that is possible we will have to make do with the least that is tolerable.” 

Tolerable:  Telling people to take down what they installed yesterday, because it won’t work. 

The best that is possible:  Giving those workers a clear, concise, correct, and complete drawing before they install.


Today’s Webinar on Submittals

This afternoon I attended a great CSI Practice Group webinar. You don’t have to be a CSI member to be part of the Practice Groups. There are practice groups with free webinars for BIM, sustainability, specifying, product representation, and construction contract administration. For info on CSI Practice Groups: http://www.csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Communities-2109-14280/Practice-Group

Today’s Specifying Practice Group topic, presented by Dave Stutzman and Louis Medcalf, was “Submittals.” There’s one little tangent from the presentation that I want to elaborate on here:

On a recent project of mine, the lack of a submittal for the contractor’s proposed solution to an unexpected situation caused a problem. The contractor didn’t think that a submittal was required by the contract documents, and the architect didn’t realize that a submittal was required by the contract documents. The contractor could have saved himself some money and time, and could have saved the architect and the owner some time, if the contractor had just prepared a submittal for the architect’s review before proceeding with the work. (Oh, yes, some freshly-installed flooring underlayment had to be removed before the project could proceed. THAT was a waste of time and money.)

If something is added to a project, because of an unforeseen condition, everyone (architect, owner, contractor) often acts as if it’s the first time this sort of thing has ever happened. It’s not. Unexpected things happen all the time on construction projects, and that’s why we have standard processes to deal with them.

Anything that wasn’t originally in the project, but is part of the project now, is in the contract as the result of either a change order or a minor change to the contract. Whether it’s a moisture mitigation treatment for an existing slab, or a whole new roof assembly, whether it was initiated by an owner as a late addition to a project, or it was initiated by the contractor as a solution to an unexpected condition, or initiated as a substitution request because of a sudden product unavailability, it ends up in the contract as the direct result of a change order or a minor change (such as the type authorized by an ASI, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions). Even when the change results in no added cost to the owner, and even when its purpose is solely to repair a mistake made by the contractor, it’s a change, and it should be documented (and submitted on).

Architects and specifiers can make sure that the contract documents require submittals for things that weren’t originally in the project. Requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction is a good idea. In fact, requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction may be even more important than requiring submittals for things that were originally part of the design, since the new element wasn’t originally thought through along with the rest of the design. The contractor’s preparation of the submittal, and the architect’s review of the submittal, act as a double-check mechanism to help make sure that the added item will be appropriate.

If the architect is creating a new spec section as part of an ASI or Proposal Request, the architect should include in the specs a requirement for submittals – just as the spec sections in the original documents did. If the architect is modifying a spec section as part of an ASI or a Proposal Request, the spec section probably already calls for submittals. The architect needs to dictate those submittal requirements in the documents issued during construction.

Then, the architect just needs to make sure that the contractor provides the submittal required by the contract documents; the architect then just needs to enforce the contract documents.

We have typical processes that state submittal requirements for Substitution Requests and for contractor-generated Change Order Proposals. So the architect doesn’t need to reinvent a process; the architect just needs to enforce the contract documents.

If there’s a substitution request generated by the Contractor, the Division 01 spec section “Substitution Procedures” can include language that requires product data and samples to be submitted as part of the substitution request. MasterSpec’s master language already does this very well.

Contractor-initiated Change Order Proposals that are the result of unexpected site conditions are addressed in the Division 01 spec section “Contract Modification Procedures.” The MasterSpec version of this section includes some language for this, but more specific language could be added by the specifier.

When unforeseen site conditions pop up, people often panic, and rush through things, trying to find a solution quickly, to stay on schedule. Just remember – there are probably already processes for these situations in your contract documents, in Division 01 of the specifications. Do not ignore them. This is the worst time to throw out the rules.  Your schedule may suffer even more if you ignore submittal requirements. If the requirements for typical submittal info get written into the “rules” (Division 01) and are in there BEFORE unforeseen situations come up (before the contract is signed), it’s easier for the architect to enforce the submittal requirements. It can be difficult to extract a submittal from a contractor after a substitution request or a change order proposal has already been submitted and informally approved.