Why are 3 part specifications so wordy?

Why are 3 part specifications so wordy?

CSI 3 part specifications

Why are 3-part specifications so wordy? 


You’re not alone if you’ve become accustomed to reviewing 20+ page 3-part specifications on construction projects. 


Most project specifications encompass years of lessons learned, wording updates from past projects gone wrong, and revisions after encountering a terrible contractor at the job site.  


But are all those words and excessive pages of text making your specifications easier to edit? More enforceable? 


No, the exact opposite is true in most cases. 


So, let’s explore why 3-part specifications have gotten eoverly wordy throughout the years. 


Master Specification Systems

First up, the master specification system the architectural firm subscribes to developer their office specifications.  


Depending on the master specification system used, each offers slightly different articles and titles based on an established CSI SectionFormat proforma. The wording is consistent, and the content is copyrighted in most cases. 


Terms like “basis of design, the contractor shall, in strict accordance” are used throughout the documents, adding to the specification’s length.  Combined with a paragraph for each requirement, these specifications can easily add up the number of pages per section. 


So, the next time you review a specification section with 20+ pages on paint, try to why the specification has so many pages.  Look for a copyright notice, as this is most likely the culprit.


Projects Gone Wrong

If you’ve seen wording like “Contractor shall strictly follow the installation instructions, meet warranty requirements, and follow job site conditions” throughout a specification, chances are that the design professional has seen a few projects go bad.


The ultimate roofing warranty would probably look like this; “Roofing: Watertight.” Add anything to this statement, and you detract from it. For 20 years? You had it for eternity. – Wayne Watson. 


The desire to add more wording to specifications is influenced by the fear of being sued and the belief that quality specifications require more words.


The mistaken belief is that having lots of words protects us from a contractor making mistakes.  I call these statements “👻 gotchas.” There is no way to include enough words to protect yourself from a bad contractor; they will always find something to challenge.


Also, another determinantal result of trying to stay ahead of trade contractors on the next project is that you start to specify construction means and methods instead of just including simple, enforceable statements. 


Don’t tell contractors how to do their job; tell them your expectations for the final product. The manufacturer already knows what “gotchas” to avoid and has covered them in their installation instructions.


Legacy specifying

If you are new to construction, let me tell you a thing or two about habits. The construction industry is full of rituals and practices that are hard to break.  


This is also true with specification text you see from project to project without realizing it.


What text is that? Here are a few to think about: 

  • Section Includes 
  • Reference Standards 
  • Related Sections 
  • Sustainability Credits
  • Installation instructions 


Section Includes

Section includes front-loads the reader on what is to be expected in the document.  Without it, you would have to rely on the section number and title, which tells you what the section includes.  This redundancy isn’t really needed, and I think we can forgo adding a list of items that are already specified in the specification


Related Sections

This section of the specification front-loads the user on what scopes of work are related to the specification.  But keeping the related sections up to date is a task in itself.  Not to mention related sections could add up to a half page in each specification.


What’s the importance of related sections?  It’s a quick view list of what related scopes a contractor should review.  Beyond adding to the length of the specifications, related sections will case you these stresses:


    • Have you ever had an argument with a trade contractor on a scope of work and gotten the response, “that work wasn’t a related section.”
    • Construction managers and owners’ representatives have related sections on their hit list.  Combing through the specifications to simply point out related section numbers and titles that are not included in a particular project.


Maybe it’s time to just remove this information?    


Reference Standards

Before the internet, 3-part specifications included a list of reference standards.  To look them up at the job site, you would need a library of books and a costly subscription.


Nowadays, reference standards, titles, and related technical documents are a few clicks away, and the information is easily accessible.  


Reference standards list can easily take half a page; in the end, it’s just a “reference” to front-load the reader on what to expect in the document.


Sustainability Credits

A recent survey by the American Institute of Architects identified that 79% of Architects in 2020 want to specify more sustainable materials than they do today (97% among millennials).


As we continue to specify more sustainable products, we need to rethink how sustainability systems are specified.


In the beginning, sustainability consultants required a design team to include each sustainability credit thought-out a specification section.  Credits and green documentation usually amount to an entire page or two of text.  


Is there a better way to specify sustainability systems?

In a recent blog, we shed light on simplifying the process of specifying sustainability systems.  


WELLLEEDCollaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)LBL, and other sustainability systems is like a scavenger hunt for construction teams. 


Specify the sustainability system, and let the Contractor work their magic on locating the products.  This way, you don’t waste time specifying the perfect sustainable product and later see all that work go down the drain with a substitution request.


It’s time to use a more modern approach to specifying sustainability systems and eliminating the additional text. 


Installation Instructions

In developed markets like the United States and Canada, construction product manufacturers offer standard installation instructions, checklists, technical manuals, videos, details, and certified installer programs


There is no need to become overly wordy about installation requirements. Don’t worry; you’ll get plenty of information during the submittals process.


If you are concerned with installation details, specify a copy of the manufacturer’s instructions to be onsite during construction and utilize certified installer programs.  Specify an on-site mock-up by a certified installer (or quality assurance program) and manufacturer meetings prior to the installation. 



Shorter and easily understood specifications make us less likely to be involved in litigation.  Don’t tell contractors how to do their job; tell them your expectations for the final product.


Why? Because contractors will know what to estimate, expect, and how to install the product correctly. Leading to less litigation.