15 reasons specifications in construction are essential

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In the construction industry, planners, contractors and clients set and follow specific measures and guidelines to ensure safe and accurate project completion. Adhering to these construction specifications is critical during the design and building phases to guarantee delivery of the project's objectives in line with the client's expectations. Knowing the industry requirements to complete building and engineering projects to standard can be of great benefit when preparing and consulting on all aspects of construction. In this article, we examine and list specifications in construction and provide tips to help you write them.

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What are specifications in construction?

Specifications in construction, often abbreviated as specs, are professionally written descriptions that list and quantify the details of all aspects of a construction project. The descriptions in the specifications document outline the scope of work from start to finish. They cover components of the contract such as required materials, installation methods and quality standards. The specifications are precise, project-specific measures and calculations that guide contractors to eliminate approximation and deliver exactness. Areas that construction specifications often cover include:

  • the scope of work

  • the materials required for use in the project

  • the timeline and important project milestones

  • methods of installation

  • quality of workmanship

  • testing requirements

  • national and state safety standards

Specification documents can be vital for contractors looking for supplemental information that is difficult to source using the project's blueprints or architectural drawings alone.

Related: What is construction procurement and why is it important?

Reasons construction specifications are essential

Here are some of the reasons why specifications are essential to the construction process:

  • Clarity: Specifications give clear instruction on the project's goals, performance and design.

  • Reference source: You can use specifications to reference the quality and standards that apply to the project.

  • Clear definitions: The document identifies and defines materials, measures and volumes.

  • Requirements list: Specifications identify the requirements for testing, installation and handover stages.

  • Classification listings: The document supports the handover and asset management by classifying the specifications.

  • Simplification tool: Specifications mean technical drawings and blueprints don't become overloaded with information. This makes sourcing and identifying information simpler.

  • Support documentation: The specification document supports other development documents, such as costing for materials and products in addition to workmanship, performance and quality control.

  • Legislative guide: The specifications form part of the overall contractual documentation. They can help reduce risk factors in the project and provide support in the cases where legal negotiations arise.

  • Provides assurance: Clients have access to the specifications and can view them to ensure delivery of the project they have commissioned to the agreed-upon terms.

  • Critical for the life cycle plan: In addition to being essential for the construction phase, the specifications are vital to the subsequent asset management and life cycle planning processes.

  • Information index: Specifications provide clear, concise and information-rich answers to many construction-related questions, saving the project team, client and contractor time and money.

  • Continued improvement: Upon project completion, project managers can enhance the document by including lessons they learned from the build and ways to improve efficiency and quality going forward.

  • An adaptable document: Project managers can save the team time and money by adapting and developing the specification document over time and tailoring it to the specifics of future projects.

  • Ongoing value: Specifications provides value that does not end at the design phase. The document can instruct the entire project team throughout the construction phase.

  • Auditing and handover: This information becomes part of the project audit trail and a crucial part of the handover documents, informing asset management and asset maintenance. The specifications can also benefit staff training and human resource policies.

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Who uses specifications?

Specifications are a vital component that can help construction and engineering companies coordinate with their clients, helping them to establish mutual goals, realise consistent expectations and reach agreed-upon standards for a project. At the planning stage, architects, engineers and designers can create a specifications list in addition to the technical drawings or blueprints they draft.

Contractors and their clients can view the specifications for greater understanding and increased transparency of the project. Some companies enlist professional specification writers to prepare the document for large-scale projects. Typical construction projects that can require specifications include:

  • residential projects such as apartment complexes, housing estates and townhouses

  • industrial projects such as production factories, chemical plants and manufacturing facilities

  • civil engineering projects such as aqueducts, railway systems and tunnels

  • community developments projects such as stadiums, hospitals and schools

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Importance of specifications

The thoroughness of the specifications list can determine the success of a project. There are several reasons specifications are an important part of the construction process:

Clarifying project details

In many instances, specifications that show greater attention to detail can lead to a clearer comprehension of structural requirements and the smoother completion of a project. The comprehensive construction specifications ensures that all members of the planning and construction team have access to the same data, understand all the requirements and communicate efficiently. The specifications can remain a source of reference for contractors and construction teams, eliminating confusion, improving organisation and adhering to milestones.

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Setting expectations

One of the key benefits of good specifications in construction is that they establish a clear understanding of expectations between contractor and client. When both parties have a mutual understanding of the project details, they can align their objectives and prevent delays due to misinterpretations. Specifications can help give clients a more accurate account of a project's outcome, which leads to an informed expectation of results.

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Determining pricing

Specifications provide project managers with a thorough inventory of the materials and labour required to complete a build. This information can help costing experts generate more precise pricing reports, which can lead to the delivery of more realistic estimates and quotes.

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Types of construction specifications

When preparing a service contract, it's best practice to begin specification writing as soon as possible. It's important to know the types of construction specifications to consider before starting. Three examples include:

Prescriptive

In a prescriptive specification, the required materials and installation methods appear as step-by-step directions. The prescriptive construction specifications often fall into three categories:

  • General provisions: Informs construction contractors to adhere to national building codes and standards.

  • Required products: Provides a description of the materials and resources needed for structural and performance requirements.

  • Execution procedures: Describes the ideal and preferred methods of installation and the means to evaluate the work's quality and effectiveness.

Related: What is project management for construction? (Plus types)

Performance

This type specifies the operational requirements of a project. Performance specifications inform contractors of the installed product's required capabilities and standards. The performance specification omits the step-by-step instructions and allows the contractor to decide the best methods for attaining the performance objectives.

Proprietary

The information in the proprietary specifications might list specific materials that are of a certain brand name or limited in availability. These are often related to renovation projects where you source materials to match or replace existing components.

Tips for writing specifications

To complete a comprehensive specifications document, there are certain considerations worth bearing in mind. These tips could help you successfully write construction specifications:

Be specific

Avoid being vague when writing specifications. Focus on specifics and provide as much detail as you can. When you consider every component of the project carefully, you provide an in-depth, unambiguous presentation that precisely directs the construction phase. Being meticulous at an early stage can save labour and time later.

Begin early

Begin writing your specifications as early as the project's life cycle allows. Early completion of specifications provides the opportunity to review them with all concerned parties and provides you with time to modify them based on their input. Completing this document early helps ensure stakeholders agree upon all components before construction begins.

Check language and punctuation

To avoid misinterpretation, describe all details using precise, unambiguous language. Remember to review and revise each draft to ensure the copy is clear and properly punctuated. The intention of the document is to present clear and easily understood details to all parties, ensuring mutual expectations and preventing any contention over the finer details. If you feel the language of the document requires legal examination, you may engage the help of a solicitor to review it.

Avoid repetition of requirements

List specification requirements once in the document and avoid duplicating them further on. Having requirements repeated in different words might lead to confusion or ambiguity. If you feel it's important to reiterate a point, be sure to use the same or very similar wording as you used in the first instance.

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