March 2014 Newsletter

**** The 4specs Perspective

Things to Ponder About Specifiers

Liz O'Sullivan is an architect and a full-time independent specifier. Liz O'Sullivan has an interesting blog to help people to better understand the importance of specifications in commercial and institutional construction. I have excerpted these quotes from her blog and did some trimming of text to focus this newsletter. Read her original posts and consider what you know and do. These are worth reading, pondering on and passing along.

Liz also has a YouTube Video - 1 hour 17 minutes - pass it along to your product reps.
Inside the Mind of the Specifier 8 Things Product Representatives Should Know About

People who read this blog know that I'm a specifier, and therefore pretty technically-minded. But many people don't know that I haven't always been technically-minded. I migrated to the technical side of architecture from a place of relative technical weakness.

I first realized the importance of specifications when I started doing CA (construction contract administration) on the projects that I'd produced drawings for.

I often mention "building technology" in my blog posts. I've realized that I'm using a term that many people aren't familiar with.

When I use the term "building technology," I am not talking about information technology within a building. I am not talking about the software technologies used to design buildings. I'm not talking about only high-performance buildings. I am not talking about only new technologies in building systems.

Knowledge of building technology is an important part of the practice of architecture, but it's an area in which many of today's young architects are weak.

Liz referenced a blog posting by Dave Stutzman [no longer on their site] that intrigued me:

"Specifications can be written so they are "right" or so they are "not wrong." These two are very different.

"Sometimes specifiers are forced to write a "not wrong" spec."

"To produce a spec that is "right," the specifier must understand the project and the design intent."
Dave Stutzman - edited

When "not wrong" specs are further edited to be project-specific, and therefore "right," they can save time and money for the contractor, owner, and architect. "Not wrong" specs tend to push design decisions into the construction phase. Design decisions cost less money when they're made in the design phases, and specs that are "right" are issued.

Purchasing for construction projects isn't like purchasing in our personal lives.

On construction projects, the architect finds out from the owner the general idea of what is required, then the architect, through the drawings and specifications, tells the general contractor exactly what to provide. OK, so this is complicated, but it still makes sense.

Then the manufacturer, distributor, or subcontractor goes through a process which looks a bit like begging to be allowed to play, too.

"Or Equal" is the most confounding phrase in construction documents.

It means something different to everyone. Sometimes it's defined in the documents. Sometimes it's not defined in the documents, which means that the documents are relying on a generally-accepted understanding of the meaning. The problem is that "Or Equal" means different things when defined on different projects so there's really no generally-accepted understanding of the meaning.

There's an apartment building under construction near my office. The building's marketing materials tout "Green Features" such as energy-efficient windows, low-e glazing, and energy-efficient lighting. That's good, that's all good.

But for some unknown reason, the juncture of the building wrap and those energy-efficient windows has been constructed using an inexpensive and outdated technique that does not produce an air-tight seal. In other words, those window units themselves may be energy-efficient, but the parts of the building enclosure that include those windows are likely to let hot air in during the summer and let warm air out during the winter. Not energy-efficient.

The Colorado mountains were host to a tragedy last month, on April 20th. Six skiers and snowboarders triggered an avalanche that killed five of them.

Weird group dynamics often contribute to disaster. The larger the group, the less likely people are to speak up with dissenting opinions. An interesting study on data from human-triggered avalanches supports this statement in the context of avalanche danger.

Questions and feedback is always appreciated. And I thank Liz for permitting me to use her blog in this newsletter.



Colin Gilboy
Publisher - 4specs
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