Where to Find Residential Construction Specifications

Gina writes: I am a self taught decorator who has recently been asked to assemble a specification book for an architect on a project he is working on. I need a template for this information, any suggestions?

Steve Bliss of BuildingAdvisor.com responds: I suggest you start by reading the section on specifications if you haven’t already.

A widely software package widely used by architects is MasterSpec.  It is probably overkill for your project, but it will cover all the bases and you can edit the items as needed. Their “Small Project” package might fit your needs.

A more basic software package called SpecWriter is oriented more toward residential construction. It may provide the sort of template you need, but the specs fall short of setting quality standards. For example, “1/2 in. drywall, smooth finish” does not provide a working definition of what qualifies as a “smooth finish.” Both software packages provide free online demo’s.

The closest thing to a comprehensive spec guide that I know of  is the Residential Construction Quality Guidelines, published by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) and available now as a free download.  These are minimum quality standards, but address most of the important issues, and provide a good starting point for developing your own specifications.

To assemble your own specs, you’ll need to do a bit of research on each item specified. These are typically available from product manufacturers (if the architect has named specific products), or from trade associations representing the type of product. How detailed the specs should be, and what quality level to specify, depends on the type of project and budget. One approach is to select a specific product, such as a Velux VS operable skylight and write “Velux VS skylight or equivalent which meets U.S. EnergyStar guidelines.”

There is an art to writing good specifications that provide useful guidance for materials and workmanship without going overboard. Some items, like interior doors, can be adequate covered in a few lines, while other more technical materials with little margin for error,  like thin-set ceramic tile, deserve a more thorough treatment.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to be in the position of spec’ing a job that I didn’t design. Sounds like a potential can of worms.

Read more on where to get Residential Construction Specifications.

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