Plans, elevations, details, and specifications - what do they portray to the individual who is about to build? What relation are they to the venture that is to be the most thrilling and important undertaking he has yet considered? Undoubtedly this is the first time that he has come in contact with them.
He is naturally all interest, and makes a determined effort to learn to understand the plans so that he can follow more readily his architect's explanations. In this he is more or less successful so that when he receives the final blue prints he can discuss them with some intelligence. He can take the plans and point out the locations of various rooms, door openings, windows, read the different electric outlet symbols, pick out the stairways and even locate the elusive but ever important closets.
He discovers in looking over the working drawings that among the many dimensions and notes on the plans there is one on the basement plan that calls for concrete floors; that on the first floor plans another calls for oak floors and base; and that the bath on the second floor is noted to have tile walls and composition floor. He can tell from the drawings about how his house will appear, and from one of the details about what he can expect in the way of built-in bookcases and so on. All this tells him that he is to have all those items that are called for by drawing or by note, and up to this point it is quite clear to him; until suddenly he remembers that he had mentioned to his architect that he wanted the basement floors waterproofed, wide oak plank floors on the first floor, and colored tile in the bath. He looks again at those notes but they do not mention anything in detail that he can see. He decides that he must immediately consult his architect so that these omissions can be caught before the blue prints are distributed to the various contractors for their estimates. Rushing to the architect he learns that all these details have been carefully covered in the specifications. Then he remembers having heard that word mentioned several times during past interviews. He also remembers his architect having told him that the plans were all complete but a few hours more work were still required to complete the specifications. Yes, he did receive with his blue printed plans a fat roll of typed pages about letter head size.
1 Adapted from "What the Specifications Really Say," Small Home, April, 1930.
Fig. 22. - Attractive five-room cottage with floor plan (Fig. 23) which won an award in the Better Homes in America architectural competition. (Small house in Palos Verdes, Estates, Calif. H. Roy Kelley, architect, Los Angeles.)
He remembered opening this roll, carelessly glancing at a paragraph or two, and quickly deciding that this reading could wait until a later date. He thought then that it would be rather dry reading, and guessed it would probably be all right for the contractor to read it. He felt awfully sorry for the contractor though, sorry that he had to wade his way through those closely typed pages.
And the architect had just said that all the detailed information was to be found on those pages! That was news, so he did as the architect said and turned the pages of the specifications until he located the heading of "Tile." Reading a paragraph under this head he saw that the color was specified, the kind of tile that was to be used, the grade required, and also the manner in which it was to be laid. In the same way he read about his oak flooring, the widths desired, the thickness and method of installation. He turned to the heading of "Waterproofing" and discovered a full explanation of the kind of waterproofing that was going into his basement and the way it was to be applied. He read further headings and decided that it would be of interest to look into these pages more thoroughly. The more he read the more important these specifications became until finally he admitted to himself they were a very vital adjunct to his plans. And that they are without a doubt. I have had many clients who treated the specifications in just this way.
Fig. 23. - Floor plan of cottage shown in Fig. 22. (H. Roy Kelley, architect)
They are, in short, a condensed form of record of everything that goes into the job, of what the owner and architect want in the way of work to be done, of materials to be furnished, and of the grade of workmanship desired for the proposed new building. They contain information impossible to show on the drawings, and enable the contractor to estimate intelligently what materials are required and the grade that will be demanded by the architect. They tell him where he can get special articles and just what type of products he must use. He is informed that he must estimate on only what is specified, and that no substitutions will be considered except by permission of the owner through the architect's office. The specifications are part of the completed plans and enter into the contract between owner and contractor. No set of plans can be complete without them, and a thorough and intelligent specification will protect the owner throughout the work from many an unpleasant hour of dispute, and will eliminate about 98 per cent of all misunderstanding.
For example, let us assume that at the time of preparing the plans the owner had decided that he wanted walnut trim in a certain room and the specifications were so written. Six months later when the trim was actually being installed birch had been used by mistake and a dispute arose as to the correctness of the wood used. Instead of wrangling, the specifications were first consulted and all trouble avoided as they plainly called for the walnut. But supposing there had been no specifications to consult, what then? Could an amiable agreement have been reached, based on the memories of owner, architect, and contractor of a decision made six months before? Hardly. Innumerable questions of various sorts arise throughout the job, and with the specifications to guard the owner trouble will be avoided.
They protect the owner as I have outlined, and also aid the contractor, as they insure him against unreasonable demands on the part of an owner or architect. If something is forgotten, no demand can be made upon the contractor to furnish the omission, as he need furnish nothing except what has been called for. This all makes for harmony, which is really the lubricant for the job. I have supervised many jobs and in cases of misunderstanding have always resorted to the specifications as the basis of settling the dispute. Sometimes the contractor misinterprets the meaning of a paragraph, sometimes the owner becomes unreasonable in his demands, but reference to the closely typed roll of specifications always clarifies the matter. It is impossible to argue much when the point in question is clearly defined in type.
As we open the bound pages of the specifications we find we have the General Conditions to start with. These paragraphs tell the contractor that he is to familiarize himself with the plans, elevations, and specifications so that he will miss nothing, for we take no excuse later on, when he has contracted for the job, that he had not seen this or that when he prepared his estimate. (The words estimate and bid mean the same.) The contractor must base his estimate only on what we call for in the specifications and show on the drawings. This is done so that all the bids are figured on the same basis, and when bids arrive from the various contractors we can compare them fairly for prices. Were one of the contractors to substitute a product of his own thought, even though it be as good as we specified, it would be manifestly unfair to the competitors to include this item in his basic bid, especially should the substitution cost less. This difference in cost would materially aid this contractor in lowering his bid. At the same time it is our desire not to miss any opportunity of lessening the total cost of the building for the owner, so we permit a contractor to make his substitution under certain conditions. He must first refer the item to the architect, and if acceptable he may state in his bid that the substitution is an alternate and that if accepted by the owner so much must be added or deducted from his estimate. By this method we have his substitution as a separate item and it is not to be confused with the basic bid. We also have the advantage, if a saving is practicable, of taking that item into consideration.
Now just a word about extras. The word means just what it implies. Any item or product not shown or mentioned by the architect or owner naturally has not been included in the contract price, and it would be unfair and unreasonable to demand that the contractor furnish the item without additional cost. This is called an extra. Extras are sometimes due to incomplete plans or specifications and are the responsibility of the architect and on the whole inexcusable as thoroughly drawn plans and specifications will prevent them. Of course, if after the contract has been signed and the work started the owner makes changes or additions not originally shown or called for, they are legitimate extras, and must be paid for. We also have the type of contractor who is constantly on the alert for extras, but he is uncommon and of a poor rating usually. Many prospective home builders, in talking to others who have built, hear about these extras and dread their very possibility.
The high type contractor wants no extras any more than the owner or architect. No matter how fairly' the extra is figured the owner is likely to feel that he is paying too much for it even though the architect assures him that the price is correct. When the plans are complete and the specifications thorough, you have no worry with extras.
It might be well at this point to include a word about the number of bids necessary for a fair price. This of course is outside the subject of specifications but nevertheless very important. Naturally the owner can invite as many contractors to bid as he wishes, but many years of trial have proven that six bidders are sufficient. Your architect and yourself can select six high type contractors who have a reputation for honesty, reliability, and financial standing in their business, and whose buildings already erected reflect their attitude toward their work. You will find that bids from such men will be very close, as they figure on giving you a complete and honest job, and in estimating are allowing enough to include the highest type of craftsmanship. It is still true, even as in Aesop's Fables, that after all you get just what you pay for.