Most designers find specification writing a necessary evil.
Is it even necessary?
In a limited number of cases a formal specification document is probably not needed provided the essential information is given to the contractor in some other written form.
The two types of information
The written information traditionally included in a specification is divided into two main categories –the contractual obligations commonly known as the Preliminaries and General Conditions (the quality of workmanship and materials). Essential content of the Preliminaries which are vital to most projects are the start and finish dates, insurance and health and safety requirements. There are, of course other things which may need to be agreed such as the protection of existing trees, the arrangement of stage payments for work completed or the limitation of working hours, but these matters are often partly covered in a standard form of contract such as those issued by the JCLI, JCT.
The problem is that none of these standard forms of contract is entirely appropriate for small garden projects and even when they are used, they are usually completed after negotiations have taken place and a price agreed. Vital information such as the examples given above is needed before the contractor can tender a firm price. The designer is therefore left with the need to confirm such matters in writing at the beginning of the tendering process.
The options for defining quality
Before attempting to answer the above, let us first consider the question of quality. Unlike contractual and administrative matters, quality is very much more difficult to define. One way is to specify a brand name, but this may financially restrict the contractor unnecessarily.
Another method is to refer to Standards, published by the British Standards Institute or to other standards such as the National Plant Specification. Incorporating another standard by reference is often the most comprehensive and fool-proof method. However this requires a degree of knowledge about the content of those standards, both by the designer and the contractor and this is not always available.
Thirdly, the designer may write a description of quality themselves. To do so, requires practice and the development of a concise and an unambiguous style of writing and requires an depth of knowledge and skill that only the most accomplished parishioners should attempt.
In a limited number of instances, the most direct method of controlling quality is a reference to an agreed sample. This approach can be particularly appropriate for the appearance of hard landscape features like paving or walls.
The sample may be one which is constructed on site by the contractor prior to the start of the main work, or a previously constructed project preferably by the same craftsman. The advantage of a sample is that the client can be fully involved and can understand exactly what they are getting right from the start of the contract.
The use of samples
allows the contractor and his craftsmen to contribute to the creative process and gives them a positive involvement which not only draws on the contractors’ expertise but raises the craftsmen’s commitment and morale.
Monitoring the performance of the contractor is also simplified by making a direct comparison between what is built and the agreed sample.
So not every specification for quality depends solely on a long written description, but, given that there are several possible approaches to specifying quality, all of them in the end will require a degree of written clarification.
Do you always right a specification?
Do you use a 'Model Specification' or do you write your own clauses?
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