How to write specifications for a construction project


During the early stages of a construction project, it’s crucial to assimilate as much information about the project as possible and communicate it clearly with your contractors and stakeholders later in the game. Specifications will help you detail all of the work entailed in a project so that everyone is on the same page.

To write specifications for a construction project, you’ll need to follow the MasterFormat guidelines, which include divisions for:

  1. General Requirements.
  2. Facility Construction.
  3. Facility Services.
  4. Site and Infrastructure.
  5. Process Equipment.

So, let’s go into the details. We’ll take a look at all of the divisions that you’ll need to use to write your construction specifications and help you organize them.

What Are Construction Specifications, and How Do You Use Them?

Construction specifications detail what materials you’re going to use in a project, the work included in the job, and how the installation should go. And you can get help from an engineer, architect, or a third-party tool to write and use them properly.

The specs should give contractors all of the information they need to complete the job while meeting all of the client’s requirements.

But because the specifications are highly detailed, they can be challenging to write and understand unless you’re an engineer. That’s why the Construction Specifications Institute offers a program called Master Format. It automatically helps you format specifications.

Using Master Format to write your specifications can help you organize everything correctly so that everyone, from clients to contractors to engineers, can understand the plan.

Before you get started, you may also want to learn more about the three major types of specifications:

  1. Prescriptive Specifications. Prescriptive specs outline the general materials needed, how to install them, and the codes that the project workers must comply with.
  2. Performance Specifications. Performance specifications focus on the project’s intended result but don’t have too much detail about the methods you’ll use during construction. These specs are better for projects with an undefined scope.
  3. Proprietary Specifications. Proprietary specs are only useful when you need a particular material for the project. For example, if your client already has red oak floorboards and wants to use them, you might want to write proprietary specs. Also, if you add to an existing structure and want the new design to match the old one, these specs are the way to go.

Choosing from one of these categories is essential if you want to cover all of your bases. If the contractor executes the plan incorrectly due to a fault in the specs, you’re legally liable for any problems that arise. So, when writing specifications, it’s crucial to include as much detail as possible.

How To Use Divisions in Construction Specifications

Construction specifications always have 50 divisions. These divisions are divided into sections. The sections detail the materials to be used and the desired methods for the installation process.

The main divisions divide up the information using codes, which you’ll need to look up if you’re unfamiliar with them. Each code matches a specific requirement for construction, making the plan easy to understand for the entire administrative team.

Also, if you want to learn more about divisions and the codes that correspond to them, click here to visit the ARCAT website. ARCAT will give you the codes and regulations for each component of your specifications, making it easy for architects, engineers, and contractors to understand what you want from the project.

Depending on the type of specs you decide to use, you may want to tailor the layout to your project. In addition, you may not need to use all of these divisions in your specs. Still, it’s best to include each heading in your specs and write “Not Used” by the heading to clarify what procedures the contractors and workers should follow.

Let’s go through the division structure that every specification document needs. I’ll also talk about some of the most common subsections to give you an idea of how to format your specs.

00: Bid Scope

Your first page will include the scope for the bids that you’ll receive from potential contractors. This scope consists of the materials you want the contractors to bid on, such as specific windows the client wants, wood types for flooring, or other necessary materials for the project.

Using the bid scope, contractors will know what materials they should give you an estimate for and what they should procure when they sign onto your project.

01: General Requirements

Next, you’ll describe the work you expect to be done. This division includes many sections and will inform contractors on their responsibilities, the methods of construction, and what materials they’re accountable for.

The general requirements division is one of the most critical sections of your specs since it’ll introduce the project to contractors and architects, who’ll use the outline during construction.

Description of the Work

The first section describes the work. It includes subheadings for:

  1. The scope (where, when, and how workers will execute the project).
  2. A list of materials the contractor should provide.
  3. A list of the contractor’s responsibilities.
  4. What non-contractor parties should do and materials the client or stakeholders should supply.
  5. Detailed bidding procedures, listing the requirements for bidding on the work.
  6. Copyrights and confidential information about the project.
  7. Guarantees and warranties that list the terms of payment for contractors and safety liabilities.

Project Management and Administration

The project management and administration section includes detailed information about bidding procedures for contractors. It also outlines the types of meetings that administrators, contractors, and sub-contractors must attend before and during the project.

This section usually includes:

  1. Instructions to the General Contractor.
  2. Bid submission.
  3. Sub-contractor Quotations.
  4. Final Inspection.
  5. Pre-construction meeting.
  6. Site Mobilization meeting.
  7. Progress meetings.

Project Coordination

Next, include a section about how you, the administrative team, and the contractors will communicate. You could also specify the types of software you expect the contractors to use, and who’s responsible for verifying measurements, materials, and other items before installation.

Submittal Procedures

The submittal procedures outline how a contractor should submit information to you, the client, the architect, or another stakeholder. It’ll tell the contractors how and when they should send you updates on progress, pictures of completed tasks, or material samples.

Generally, the subsections include:

  1. Submittals for Review.
  2. Submittals for Information.
  3. Number of Copies of Submittals.
  4. Submittal Procedure.

Quality Requirements

Next, you’ll need to list the quality requirements you want your contractors to adhere to. This list will include safety requirements, the quality of materials they should procure, and other information about the specific standards you’ll hold the construction team to.

Some common standards to list include those of:

  1. IBC: International Building Code.
  2. NCMA: National Concrete Masonry Association.
  3. NBS: National Bureau of Standards.

Your list will be very long if you have an extensive project. You may need to complete the other divisions and come back to this one later if you’re unsure what to include. After defining your project services and features, determine the regulations and add the issuer of the rule to this list.

Owner-Furnished Components

The owner-furnished components section outlines the condition of materials that are already at the job site. It lists safety hazards like condemned structures, asbestos, and land development issues, as well as the specifications of any other developments on-site. It also mentions all of the building materials and machinery that the owner will provide.

Closing Procedures

Last but not least, the General Requirements includes a section on the closeout requirements for contractors. It lists:

  1. Project Record Documents.
  2. Operations and Maintenance Data.
  3. Warranties and Bonds.

These procedures tell contractors what documents they’ll submit at the end of the project and whom they’ll submit them to. It also tells contractors when they should submit the closing information, such as safety inspection results, permits, receipts from material costs, and other documents.

Divisions of Facility Construction

After writing division one, specify the materials the contractor should use in construction. Under each division, identify all of the steps the workers will need to take while building. The Coded divisions are as follows:

Divisions of Facility Services

The facility services subgroup of divisions includes:

Divisions of Site and Infrastructure

The site and infrastructure divisions deal with the water, electric, gas, and other features of your project not directly installed in your new building. This subgroup addresses all of your project components that are supplied or connected to city planning, too. So you’ll need to take extra care to follow and designate safety regulations in these divisions.

This subgroup includes the following divisions: 

Divisions of Process Equipment Subgroup

Finally, after you have outlined what your project needs to succeed, you can start the Process Equipment divisions, which specify the types of equipment you will use during construction and how contractors and workers should use it for the job. These divisions include:

Final Thoughts

Plenty of work goes into writing specifications for a construction project. However, if you know the general format, you only need to fill in the blanks with the corresponding details. If you’re new to specifying building products, you can also reference ARCAT, which is free and easy to use.