This week we were introduced to the process of reading and writing specifications for construction. My first reaction when I first opened a Master Spec document that was filled out was “who actually reads this thing.” This dense, long, detailed, and confusingly written document is not what I would call light reading by any stretch of the word. The best part, is that I was looking at the specifications for interior paint. I didn’t know you could specify much more than gloss type and color before examining this document.

After opening a couple more Master Spec documents I started to notice some trends and pick out the essential information for different stages of the procurement and construction process. I imagine that after some time one is able to pick out specific details fairly quickly, because each Master Spec is formatted and organized in the same manner. I also imagine that the general contractor can send out the parts of the specifications that detail handling and execution of the materials to the appropriate subcontractors, so the GC is mainly concerned with procuring the correct materials.

For homework, I was tasked with writing the specification document for a simple glass of water. This was much more of a challenge than I expected. I had to take something seemingly very simple, but write out all the details, so that someone else could deliver to me exactly what I wanted. I also needed to balance describing exactly what I wanted, and leaving enough room for the ‘contractor’ to deliver the specified quality for the best price. I ended up describing how much water I wanted the glass to hold, and maximum and minimum diameters for the mouth (since I don’t want to drink out of a pipet or a saucer…), but left most of the aesthetics to the procurement office.

The exercise was interesting and made me think about materials in a different way. I hope that the first Master Spec for a material is the hardest, because there are so many options. Once you know what kinds of minimum standards are acceptable, large parts can probably be reused project to project.