Performance Specifications in Construction

Construction performance specifications may lead to a higher quality project.
Construction performance specifications may lead to a higher quality project. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Performance specifications in construction refers to the objectives or standards an architect, engineer or project owner desires for particular project. Specifications may include items related to actual performance, performance based on certain specifications and warranties. Performance specifications focus on the final product the contractor delivers to the project owner, including materials, quality of workmanship and other matters controlled by the contractor.

General and Unique Specifications

Most fields have general specifications that members are expected to follow during construction. Organizations such as the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) issue these guidelines. Other entities such as the American Welding Society, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials or National Electrical Contractors Association list unique specifications for construction trades or facilities. The standards usually reflect local policy conditions, regulations and other factors.

Contractor's Judgment

Some performance specifications require the contractor to exercise professional judgment when drawings, specifications or building codes may not suffice. For instance, excavation of a site must cover an area that allows “adequate” space for inspections, the proper operation of equipment and machinery and other construction-related activities. Each contractor may interpret “adequate” differently. In comparison, standards that require design tolerances within plus or minus six inches require a measurement. The final design of the structure or the layout of the site may make a six-inch tolerance unsuitable. Performance specification requires an understanding between the contractor, designer and project owner that the contractors need the flexibility to interpret certain wordings such as “adequate.” Pre-specifying most or all operations may lead to unintended inaccuracies.

Required Performance

Construction performance specification has evolved to where instead of stipulating the construction procedures, the specification addresses the quality of the finished structure. The contractor has the leeway to determine the methods employed to obtain the desired results. For example, conventional roadwork specifications gave precise instructions for the makeup of the asphalt used to construct the road, the temperature of the composition and the procedures for compaction of the material. Today, the contract may specify the performance of the pavement against water penetration, permanence or strength. The contractor would have the flexibility to get the job done.

Pros and Cons of Performance Specifications

Performance specification gives the contractor latitude for creativity. This approach facilities the development of new practices and technologies. It allows “free” competition. This approach works for all kinds of projects. The contractor, not the engineer or architect, is responsible for the technical aspect of the projects. However, performance specification does not put the contractor on an equal basis during the bid process. Also, enforcement becomes more challenging and requires clear definition of all criteria.

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