Product Specification Bloopers

Posted On: 
Jan 17, 2018
Product Specification Bloopers

“As construction specifiers we are trained to understand that the specifications are one-half of the contract documents for a project, and that they may show up in a court of law where juries can easily read the specifications but not necessarily the drawings. Consequently, we learn early in our careers that our documents must be clear, concise, easily understood by non-design professionals, and fully enforceable,” says Craig K. Haney, FCSI, CCS, founder of IntroSpec.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) publishes an entire manual on specification writing principles and practices, and even offers various certifications where we can demonstrate our knowledge and expertise. After years of experience and many “gotchas”, we also learn that you really cannot write enough to protect yourself from a bad contractor, but we do our best.

“One of the greatest developments in specification writing during my career has been the arrival of computers and word processing software that make our task infinitely easier, allowing us to spend more time researching products and coordinating the specifications with the drawings. Since all word processors now include spelling checkers, we should never have errors in our documents, right? Well, sort of….,” says Mr. Haney.

Over the years, Mr. Haney has encountered many instances of “right spelling, wrong word”. These words sailed right through the spelling checker but had a huge impact on the meaning of the document. Some of these were by Mr. Haney, others were by associates. Here are a few of the more interesting ones from specification expert Hr. Haney.

  • I was once specifying asphalt paving with a gravel base and required that the contractor “Spread a 4 inch layer of course aggregate over the sub-base.” Subtle, but “coarse” is the correct spelling.
  • We can only imagine the trouble my assistant would have caused if this one had happened in today’s environment; he specified that the bathroom toilet stalls be equipped with “grab bras”. OK, same number of letters.
  • When specifying the removal of excess form oil from wood forms before the concrete is placed, I once required that the form oil be removed with “rage” instead of “rags.” When the contractor asked if I really intended to enforce this I said, yes, and please call me so I can watch.
  • My absolute favorite was a requirement that I included in a specification for the installation of tongue-and-groove wood flooring. Installers were known to beat on the tongue edge of wood strip flooring with a hammer to seat it in the groove edge of the adjacent board, thereby smashing the tongue and preventing it from seating fully. Wanting a perfect installation, I included a requirement that the installers “Place a scrap piece of flooring over the tongue edge to hammer on.” So far, so good. Then I added “Do not hammer on tongue”. Perhaps “tongue edge” would have been a better choice of words, but when I thought about some of the installers I had worked with, maybe a caution to avoid hammering on one’s tongue was actually good advice.

“Automation has made us much more complacent, and I can only hope that we still spend time proofreading our documents before we issue them to ensure that our intended meaning is what ended up in print,” says Mr. Haney. What funny bloopers have transpired on your projects?

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank