Specifications / by Josh Brincko

Specifying materials and products for your project is a very time intensive exercise since there’s hundreds or thousands of them that must be chosen, and they must work together, meet code requirements, be available, and capable of working with the practices of the chosen craftsmen. It is very time consuming to put together a spec list for a project. We do have good templates from previous projects that help save a ton of time for many of the selections, however many products will vary as certain items are discontinued, codes change, and client preferences change. 

There’s two reasons to put together a spec list. One reason is to enable the builder to check product pricing to formulate a budget, so the builder doesn’t need to either guess at what you want or just leave an “allowance” for what you will be allowed to spend on that item during construction when you eventually select the actual product.

So why not just spec all items up front? It’s a very time consuming exercise for the architect to help you select every single product, and it’s even more time consuming for a builder to call around to source those product at the best prices. Could you imagine calling a grocery store to get prices on your grocery list before actually going in to buy the groceries? Now imagine a grocery list with thousands of items and calling several grocery stores to get competitive pricing and also because the same store doesn’t sell all the stuff you need. As you can imagine, this would be a huge task. Lump that together with waiting for busy plumbers, electricians, and concrete crews to run their numbers on their labor to get back to your builder with their quote. 

Let’s say you do spend the time (money) to price everything, and then the project must change for some permit reason, design preference, or some other budgetary factor. Then all those item totals and product prices must be updated. This requires starting over, essentially. Then, by the time you start construction,  some products will have lead times that are too long, some are discontinued, some are out of stock, and some prices have gone up due to hurricanes, wild fires, tariff wars, an electrician getting a better deal on a different product line, or whatever else may happen. This means re-specifying again. More time, more money. 

I have found it is best to specify some products ahead of time, but to leave many of the decisions for during construction when you have the most current information available for you to make the most informed decision. That way, you can choose products that are available, for an acceptable current price, at the preferred vendors of the craftsmen doing the work. This is the most efficient way of specifying products to eliminate costly administrative time. 

This does leave ambiguity though, since not all the products are chosen ahead of time. This requires leaving reasonable placeholders in the budget to serve as an allowance to keep close to the budget. This also requires trust that your design team and builder are guiding you with reasonable estimates along the way.  

The second reason we need specifications completed is simply to provide the builder with the info needed to build the project. Construction is a very fast-paced, time-sensitive process. Providing the builder with the info they need at the time they need it is essential to prevent costly delays and costly slowdowns in the work when the builders must shift gears to different parts of the project scope. This shifting while waiting on decisions is inefficient for the builder, and too much time is spent figuring out how to effectively work around other areas of the project while not hindering the areas pending decisions. 

Choosing products to create specs for your project can be fun. Many of these items are the things you can see and touch, so they have a large impact on the outcome of the project. Door knobs, drawer pulls, tile, grout color, paint color, etc are just a few of the many items that have such a big impact.