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.
The specification presents the general conditions under which the work indicated by the drawings is to be executed. It calls for the kind and quality of labor and materials desired, and contains all the written instructions and descriptions that may be needed to indicate fully to the bidders just what is required to be furnished.
Specifications must be written in language perfectly intelligible to all persons connected with the work; and special care should be exercised, as they, together with the contract drawings, form the basis of the final agreement or bargain between the Owner of the proposed building and the Builder, which agreement is called the "contract."
The building to be erected is described by the Architect in two ways - namely, by drawings and by a written description (the specification). The same experience and ability that enable him to make the drawings, will be required in giving the verbal statements necessary to express what cannot be fully shown in the design. The purpose of the specification is to state the character of the work and material, as distinguished from the sizes and quantities shown in the drawings. The importance of the specification is shown in the fact that it takes precedence over the drawings in case of discrepancy.
The term "specification" is used sometimes, though not commonly among builders, as a legal expression to mean the plans, specification, and contract, which are the essential documents in connection with the erection of a building.
It is advisable to block out a memorandum specification indicating very generally the points which will be completely covered in the finished copy, and to do this at the time the sketches are made, which indicate in a general way the scheme to be followed later in the contract drawings. On them a close estimate of cost can be made, and the necessary modifications incorporated to bring the cost of the work to the required sum. In the final writing, however, this memorandum should be used only for reference, as an effort to copy any part bodily into the completed work is apt to introduce matter not desired, or to cause the omission of essential matter not considered at the time the memorandum was made.
As a general rule the specification should give the quality and kind of material used, and the method of workmanship, leaving the quantities and sizes to be obtained from the plans. If this method is carefully followed, it makes the checking up more simple in completing the plans. Changes in quantities and dimensions can be made on the plans, while changes in material are looked for in the specification.
If the method of writing the specifications very completely, with a few small-scale drawings, is followed, much more will have to be written, especially in regard to the sizes and quantities of mouldings, dimensions of expensive material, etc. Drawings at a scale of 1/8 inch to a foot will require more explanation than 1/4-inch scale plans, unless 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch scale details accompany the small-scale drawings. Such information, for example, as the size of wooden mouldings, or the number of inches required in section for a copper gutter, can be stated in the specification.
Reference should be made to everything required for the building, unless it is of such a nature that the drawings leave nothing to describe or require; but any description of work which is fully set forth on the drawings, is out of place.
The specification should be correct and complete, and should be written by a person who fully understands, and who is in thorough sympathy with, the design.
The specification, while setting forth most clearly the points under consideration, should not be longer than is absolutely necessary to convey the intended ideas; there should be no repetitions of requirements.
The materials to be specified for general use, should be stated first in this way: "All - not otherwise specified, to be."
This not only saves much repetition, but also gives a definite, stated material for minor places that otherwise would require long and tedious listing.
Accurate specifications save money to the Owner; but if too verbose, they may scare the bidder, and cause unnecessarily high estimates.
A simple description, giving as briefly as possible the correct idea to the builder, is likely to achieve a better result than a long treatise on what is recognized as good workmanship and material by any workman capable of undertaking the contract at all.
Words should be used in their most common sense, and if an expression indicates only a trade term for a certain locality, it should be so stated. "First quality," as a trade term, for example, may not mean the best in the market; "Extra No. 1" shingles are not so good as "Extra;" "6-cut" stone work may show many "stuns" which would not appear if "Good 6-cut" were called for. If the Architect is not fully informed on these points, he should study more carefully the grades of materials being put into buildings, and how they appear on buildings where they have stood for some time. Visits to supply-houses, mills, shops, and stone yards, will repay the time spent.
Such expressions as "best," "proper," "sufficient," etc., are capable of being interpreted in very different ways according to the point of view of a good or a poor workman.
It is often necessary, in order to save superfluous lettering on the drawings, and also because of lack of space, to use abbreviations in indicating material, etc. As these abbreviations differ in various localities; it is always necessary to insert in the specification a "legend" or list of abbreviations used and their meaning.
Each requirement should be so carefully written that there can be only one interpretation, leaving no doubt as to its true intent. If the specifier hopes to get better work through some hidden meaning in the specification, he is doomed to disappointment; for the more expensive interpretation will be used by the Contractor in making up his bid; and later, when the work is required, the Contractor may plead that, on account of the uncertainty of meaning, he should not be required to furnish any part without extra compensation. Make the specification fair and honest, for it is the basis on which the Architect will stand as arbitrator during the progress of the work.