Construction Specifications: An Important Part of Construction Contracts

8 min
Nov 16, 2022

Steve Jobs once said, “Details matter. It’s worth waiting to get it right.”

What was true for Steve Jobs and his multi-million dollar company is also true in the construction industry. The details are important, and getting them right saves time and money.

Every construction contract should include detailed specifications regarding all aspects of the projectand that’s a lot of details. Construction contracts without clear and thorough specifications can result in unnecessary costs and delays.

But how can you be sure you’ve included everything and created specifications properly?

When it comes to standard specification for public works construction, we’ve got answers to questions like:

  • What is construction specification?
  • Why are construction specifications important?
  • When are they created?
  • What are the types of specifications?

Keep reading to find answers to these questions and more.

Flexbase: Streamlining Construction Documents Is One Part of Our Cash Flow Management Solution

Construction projects involve a multitude of detailed moving parts, including:

  • Timelines
  • Cash flow management
  • Invoices
  • Payments
  • Contracts
  • Project Specifications
  • Notices
  • Compliance documents
  • And more

If only there was an efficient way to gather and manage all of these details in one place.

There is.

And Flexbase has the tools to streamline these processes so that you can concentrate on what’s important to you — growing your construction business.

With our software and tools, we integrate processes like …

  • Construction ERP
  • Accounting software
  • Project management software

… so everything is in one place, accessible to everyone working on the project.

And not only that, Flexbase helps you streamline all your construction documents, including the construction contract, where these important construction specifications are written.

What Are Construction Project Specifications?

Construction specifications are required, customized documents that describe the quality of materials needed for construction work and requirements for their installation. As the name implies, being specific is important, and being over specific is preferred. The more detailed they are, the less chance you’ll have of problems during the construction process.

Construction specifications should thoroughly describe the materials’:

  • Technical characteristics
  • Construction; and
  • Installation requirements

Construction specifications should be created before construction begins and are often used along with other parts of a construction contract like the construction drawings.

Taking the time to get construction specifications right on the front end will pay off with fewer delays and changes along the way.

Construction Specification Standards With the CSI

Whether you’re talking about the Food and Drug Administration or your daughter’s boyfriend, you want to know that they have high set standards.

And the same is true when it comes to construction specifications.

Everyone wants to know that the service they receive or the product they buy is of acceptable quality and is going to perform the way it’s supposed to. Standards make that possible.

And in the construction industry, most contractors rely on the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) for guidance in construction specification standards and formatting.

So, what is CSI?

CSI is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1948 to improve “the communication of construction information throughout continuous development and transformation of standards and formats, education and certification of professionals to improve project delivery processes.”

CSI provides its members with:

  • Certification
  • Local chapters
  • Education; and
  • Standards

When it comes to construction standards, CSI is the “go-to” for most contractors because they work to develop and transform standards and formats around the globe using:

  • MasterFormat®: The standard in the construction industry for specifications, estimates, and data.
  • UniFormat®: A format that organizes project information, cost estimates, and preliminary descriptions, and more.
  • OmniClass®: A method for categorizing the full build through the whole project cycle.

Why Are Construction Specifications Important?

In any kind of project, we all know that the more details we’re given, the better chance we have for success. And, overall, that’s what construction specifications do — set you up for success.

With the right information on hand, everyone involved in a project has the information they need to thoroughly and carefully do their job on time. Without the specifications, you are at risk for disputes and losing precious time and money.

Construction specifications are also important for the following reasons:

  1. Improved communication - With all the details clearly spelled out, chances for miscommunication are minimized, and everyone is informed of what is required to finish the project successfully.
  2. Enhanced tender process - With adequate specifications, the contractor is better prepared to estimate pricing during the tender process.
  3. Readily available data - It’s impractical to try to include all the specification data on construction drawings, so having a separate specifications document makes the information accessible when needed.
  4. Legal protection - Specification documents are essential and are necessary if there is a discrepancy and arbitration is required.
  5. Accountability - Specification documents keep engineers, architects, and contractors on the same page and accountable to one another.
  6. Reduced risk - Construction specifications spelled out from the beginning result in:
  7. Fewer change orders
  8. Less wasted time and money
  9. Fewer disputes
  10. Accuracy - Getting a job done on time and within budget is possible when solid specifications are created from the very beginning. Contractors also have what they need to make day-to-day decisions on the job site.

How to Avoid Risk With Project Specification in Construction

Liability is always a concern. What if something goes wrong or a defect is found along the way? Who’s liable?

That will depend on what type of specification the contractor or subcontractor was working from.

With performance specs, the liability is placed on the one doing the work, while prescriptive specs leave the liability with the one who created the specs.

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of construction specifications.

Who Handles Construction Specifications?

In general, architects or designers are the ones who create the construction specs, but there may also be times when engineers or other specialized professionals may share in the preparation of them.

Engineers come with a wealth of technical knowledge that makes their input beneficial in certain circumstances. And on projects with an especially large scale, the construction company may want other professionals involved who will see that all the details are managed.

Design drawings and construction specs must be prepared at the same time and changed as necessary as the project advances.

When Are Construction Specifications Created?

Construction specifications should be prepared by architects in collaboration with engineers and designers in the design phase before construction starts.

3 Main Construction Specification Divisions: What Are the Types of Specifications?

No two projects are the same, and each will need its own set of construction specifications.

The three types of construction specifications …

  • Prescriptive
  • Performance; and
  • Proprietary

… are geared to address details regarding materials and installation, function and performance, and product style requirements.

Prescriptive construction specs give specific information and instructions on materials and installation methods.

Compared to the other types of specifications, prescriptive specs give the best picture of the end product.

Prescriptive specifications can further be broken down into three subcategories:

  1. General
  2. Product
  3. Execution

General provisions deal with information such as:

This subcategory is regarding the materials and products necessary for the project as well as the degree of performance of each product.

The execution phase involves details of how to prepare and install materials as well as examining them after they are installed to ensure they were installed and are functioning properly.

Performance construction specifications will give the contractor an idea of what the final project will look like and how it should function — rather than giving instructions on how to obtain the desired result.

For example …

Let’s say a contract specifies that the stone cladding be able to withstand earthquake motions. The performance specs will not tell the contractor which stone cladding to purchase or how to apply it; the contractor uses his experience and knowledge to choose the right supplies and install them properly.

Because of the purpose of performance specs, the contractor has a fair amount of discretion in deciding how to accomplish the desired result. This phase will also require the most testing by the contractor to make sure the final product functions as it should.

Though proprietary specs are used, they are rarer than prescriptive and performance specs.

Proprietary specifications are used when only one specific type of product or material can be used for an installation. You’ll see these types of specifications used with renovations or when materials need to be matched to an existing structure.

For example, proprietary specs may be used when an addition is being added to an existing home, and the brick chosen for the addition needs to match the brick on the house.

Proprietary specs can be tricky for engineers and architects because it may require recommending one vendor over another which can curb competition and result in higher costs.

Construction Specification Format

MasterFormat is the standard in construction specification format and includes aspects like:

  • General requirements
  • Facility construction
  • Existing conditions
  • Concrete
  • Metal
  • Wood
  • Opening
  • Facility services
  • Fire suppression
  • Plumbing
  • Heating
  • AC
  • Site and infrastructure
  • Earthwork
  • Utilities
  • Exterior
  • Process Equipment
  • Process heating, cooling, and drying equipment
  • Pollution and waste control equipment
  • Water and wastewater equipment

Construction Specification Example

Click here for an example of a type of construction specification with categories for:

  • Site work
  • Foundations
  • Concrete slabs
  • Structure
  • Exterior walls
  • Roofing
  • Support buildings
  • Building installations
  • Plumbing
  • Fire protection systems
  • HVAC
  • And more

How Can Your Construction Specifications Be Improved?

By now you are convinced that construction specifications are essential and extremely important. Perhaps you’ve been working with construction specs for years, and you want to know how to make them better and more advantageous.

Consider the following 3 tips for better construction specifications:

  1. Attention to details - You can’t go overboard here. It’s impossible to include too many details. Though it will be time-consuming and painstaking, taking time on the front end of a project to include every detail will pay off in the end. Detailed specs benefit everyone - designers, architects, engineers, contractors, and customers.
  2. Punctuality - Start early and don’t rush the process. There was a time in the past where specifications were the last things considered before the tender process. That is no longer the case because of increased competition and advanced technology that gives better information of the work to be done. Getting specs done early and correctly sets any project up for success.
  3. Software - Construction software enables you to:
  4. Update all your construction documents in one place.
  5. Link specification details to design documents and drawings.
  6. Use older specs from past contract versions for clarification if project changes aren’t clear.

If the thought of researching construction software options leaves you less than excited, let Flexbase handle the detailed work for you.

All of our platforms are integrated, so all of your information is in one place, and you won’t need to enter information multiple times into various interfaces.

Construction processes are complex and multi-faceted, but performing the administrative duties of construction projects doesn’t have to be stressful and frustrating — if you have the right tools and resources.

The Flexbase app allows you to:

  • Streamline all construction documents, including specs
  • Manage your cash flow
  • Get paid faster
  • Send invoices
  • Receive payments
  • Generate compliance documents
  • Borrow working capital
  • And more

Our software is easy to use, and the best part is that you don’t pay until you get paid. There are no subscriptions and no licenses, and costs start at .5% per payout you receive.

Get started today with your free demo.


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8 min
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