For this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Construction Law Musings we welcome back Nick Pacella. Nick is an architect licensed in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. His practice has spanned several economic swings and he has been able to reposition the eggs in his basket to make the most of each recovery. He is currently focusing on adapting existing commercial buildings to take advantage of materials and processes that promote improved energy efficiency for both the owner and the tenants. For a more colorful rendition of projects you can visit his company’s website, www.nmparch.com.
It used to be that when you bought something (a car, a refrigerator, a television) it came with an owner’s manual that told you how to operate it, take care of it and prolong its usefulness to you. These days most of these manuals have been boiled down to a pdf on a website somewhere that you can access if and when you find the need. I understand that this is mostly in the name of saving cost (and trees) and at least the information is out there if you need it.
The relationship of the construction drawings to the written specifications is much more closely tied and yet most times there isn’t even that lonely little pdf orphaned out in cyberspace for you to hunt down and reference. Drawings, even on their best day, can only hope to tell part of the story. On their worst day they provide a hit or miss collection of thoughts that rely on the contractors good will and honesty to protect your client’s best interests.
Drawings are meant to generically represent the size, dimension, shape and relationship of the many components that make up a project. They also show details that depict the relationship of one product to another and how they join. The specifications actually tell you what those components are, who makes them, how you expect them to perform, how they are to be installed and in what finishes and textures. Without the specifications a wide range of products might satisfy the same overall image that the drawings represent. A drawing will say ‘install spray foam insulation Type 1’. The specifications will tell you it is closed cell polyurethane at 7.6 R per inch, the acceptable manufacturer(s), that a Type 1 is to be 5” thick, that it needs a required wrap to meet fire code and it should cure for a certain number of days before it is enclosed by sheet rock. Imagine putting that on the drawings the several dozen times the product occurs (sections, details, plans, etc.) and you get the actual point of using specifications: to help streamline the process. Not to mention if you want to change Type 1 to 7.5” or to open cell you only have to do it in one location, in the specifications.
Think about the project where the potential contractor has received his bid set only to see a lot of notes like “to be confirmed by the architect the field” or “as directed by the architect once the samples are received” or a generic statement that says “provide wood doors, jambs and hardware to our standards” that don’t mention that the products in question are expected to be hand laid up and lacquered sapelle with hand wrought door handles and hinges (haven’t you seen our brochure – that’s our trademark). The contractor who is familiar with what that architect is expecting has a major dilemma on their hands. Do you provide a price that gives the client what they are expecting (because they did hire this starchitect for a reason) or do you bid it like the drawings say, knowing you will be fighting for change order requests down the road, and alienating both the client and the architect. From the contractors that I have spoken, to this is too often the realty rather than the exception, particularly in residential and small commercial projects.
So why does this happen. One could postulate that it happens for the same reason architects don’t use formal contracts. I’ll let you decide whether it is the belief in the benevolence of mankind, or just sloth. Either way, you can get your butt sued and create all sorts of construction administration nightmares along the way. And given the logical outcome that you will, at some point have to go to the site and make all those decisions that you put off to get the drawings out ‘on time’, why not just do it right in the first place? Particularly since field time is much more expensive and less controllable than office time.