Writing specifications are a necessary part of running a design practice, providing all that micro detail that can never be shown on the drawings or in the materials schedules.

The theory is that between the drawings, schedules and the spec, there is all the information needed for the builder to build the building to minute detail without question.

Spec writing has long been regarded as a burden and consequentially often specs do not get the attention they require, or worse still, get no attention at all and never get done, especially on smaller projects. Having no specification is the ultimate short version spec and is for the risk takers.

Step up one notch in professionalism and designers can use a so called short version spec, produced by some master specification producers. Certainly better than no spec, short version specs fill that void where designers want some of the protection offered by having a specification, but don’t want to have no spec and don’t want to have a full version spec.

So why not have a full version spec? There are several reasons that are commonly given.

One reason is that a full version spec can be more expensive and time consuming to produce depending on the master spec used. Another reason, often found on the smaller projects such as houses, is that the designer is afraid the small-time builder they approach will panic and load up the pricing when they see a spec. The irony is that using a full version spec reduces on-site variations and disputes, so the cost can actually be less than using a short version spec.

For the designer, finding a builder who has worked with specifications before and is comfortable with them should be a priority. Also, a spec incorporated by the builder into the subcontracts, affords the builder the same protection the spec provides the designer and their client.

On the surface, using short version specs is understandable. Full version specs have traditionally been seen as being more difficult and time consuming than they’re worth. New advances however, in common sense have led to at least one master specification producer proving this does not have to be the case. Nevertheless, writing a full version spec is commonly perceived as a burden.

Designers need to apply a little extra thought into the process of deciding to use a short version spec. This includes realizing that the building of a small project, say a house, uses virtually all the trades used in the construction of a giant project.

As well, the majority of the work of each trade is carried out the same way in all different size projects. For example, tiling is laid the same way, plasterboard is put up the same way, and this goes for nearly all the trades and materials. Sure some things are different. For example, a big job can use some pretty advanced concrete construction methods and superstructure framing systems. These things peculiar to large projects actually don’t have to affect the specification too much as they are detailed by the structural consultant.

The basic reality is, whether you have 10 square metres of tiling or 1,000 square metres of tiling, whether you have four plasterboard walls and a ceiling or you have 500 of them, the spec content pretty much should be identical. The size of the project, while generally producing a proportionate number of drawings, generally should not drastically affect the size of the specification.

So what is the deal with master specification producers promoting the selling of short version master specifications? Obviously, certain parts of the market want short version specs because of the erroneous perception, especially these days, that full version specs are difficult and time consuming to produce, and the misconception that they increase the cost of constructing small jobs. Designers have the choice to not provide full protection for themselves and their clients, but are the master specification producers promoting on-site problems and disputes by providing less than full master specs? It is very difficult to argue that a short version master gives full protection when its producer also makes a full version master.

In the construction industry, there are generally three master specification producers: ArchiAssist, Natspec and Specpack. Only one of these producers makes only a full version, easy-to-use master on the grounds that providing less is a liability. Having the three master specification producers means there is competition which is generally good. Designers have more choice but they also need to research and also think things through for their own and their clients protection. The competition among the master specification producers has resulted in more and better choices. Couple that with a little common sense and we should expect to see better use of that essential document, the project specification.