This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
In order to build intelligently and with profit, it is essential - after the scheme has been developed on the draivings - that the materials and their qualities be so selected and designated that there can be no misunderstanding relative thereto, on the part of either the Owner or the Builder, and that only such materials be required as the former is prepared to pay for.
The province of a "Specification" is to supplement the drawings, setting forth those points in the proposed work which cannot be readily expressed by diagram (and figures). It may therefore be said that its principal object is to define the general conditions under which the work is to be done, and describe the quality of the materials to be used.
Its literary side should be considered, so that it will be a continuous description of the matter, dealing fully with each subject or each part of the work in proper sequence, and, after so dealing, never reiterating the requirements either in whole or in part. Short sentences referring first to one subject and then to another of doubtful relationship, should never be allowed.
Before a specification is begun, its limits are fixed by the drawings; on them the scheme is illustrated fully, the material indicated in a general way, and all sizes shown. It is the imperative duty of the specification writer,
(1) To acquaint himself most carefully with all that is illustrated by the drawings;
(2) To determine all that is not.
Having settled in his mind this second point, he has the province and the limits of his work before him; for, as above stated, it is the province of the specification to set forth those points which cannot be explained by the drawings. A most careful study of the drawings, therefore, is necessary in order to see every point in the proposed scheme which they do not cover - which points must be covered in the specification.
To attempt to enforce requirements already fully shown by the drawings, by calling attention to them again in the specification, while it adds nothing in the way of obligation, has the effect of casting doubt on those requirements which are not thus doubly set forth.
A careful consideration, then, of the province of the specification will show that its functions are to define the relations between the different parties, the conditions under which the work is to be done, and the materials used in execution. These are the points which have everything to do with the cost of the work. In building, as in most other items, the form and shape have less to do with the cost than have the conditions under which the work is done and the materials required therefor.
Specifications should never impose conditions which can involve the contractor in any unnecessary trouble or expense. They should aim so to modify all conditions that there will always be a feeling on the part of the contractor that there is a co-operation with him to produce the desired result without unnecessary expense or inconvenience. The result desired should always be apparent in the wording of the specification; the means of obtaining that result should - except in rare cases - be left to the contractor, who is alone responsible for such result.
The payments on the contract, while so arranged as to protect the owner fully against over-payment, should be arranged in such a way as to require the use of a minimum amount of capital on the part of the contractor, and to render it possible for him, if his capital is limited, to discount all his bills and pay his labor promptly. This co-operation is all for the interest of the owner, as it is evident that a much larger lumber, and often a much better class of men, will figure on work when such a spirit prevails than when specifications seem to point to a domineering spirit.
Sometimes it is imagined, that, unless the conditions are set forth with some degree of harshness, the owner will feel that sufficient protection to his interests has not been provided, etc.; but, before the completion of the work, he will probably see in the smoothness with which the work progresses that the tact of his architect has saved him much annoyance and a considerable sum of money.
The same spirit should govern in regard to the materials required; and, whereas in the above the spirit of tact (the business spirit) must govern, in the matter of material on the other hand, technical knowledge may be shown. By this, it is not intended that the technical knowledge should be exercised to find out and require what under a general analysis would be called the best materials of each kind, but rather those materials which in this particular case will be sufficient at the minimum cost.
It is probable that with the beginner, as oftentimes with many others, the matter of how far the money can be made to go will be the first problem - whether, for example, for $5,000 results which ordinarily require $6,000 can be obtained. To meet this demand, it is evident that the specification writer must use his technical knowledge to determine what are the cheapest and poorest materials he can satisfactorily use to accomplish the result. The old expression, "the best is the cheapest," is often used as a cloak for ignorance of how to use anything but the most expensive.
"Standard specifications," which require "standard materials," put in by "standard methods," have done their part most fully to discourage owners, contractors, and finally architects. The same judgment used in buying supplies of life that will satisfy requirements, should be used in buying building material; and success in buying depends on knowing how poor, as well as how good, to buy.