Those Pesky Spec Preliminaries

Monday, April 6th, 2015
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Spec Preliminaries
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Spec preliminaries are required to tie the documented builder’s work together. 

Some prelim items are easy to document, but some can be difficult and, when done poorly, can lead to on-site confusion and misinterpretation.

These ‘pesky preliminaries’ commonly include provisional allowances, owner supplied items, nominated subcontractors, work by others, and authority approvals.

Provisional Allowances

Provisional allowances include prime costs and provisional sums. These terms must be used with care as they are defined differently from different sources, the different definitions are often incomplete, and people add their own historic interpretation to the terms.

Consequently, I choose not to use the terms ‘prime cost’ or ‘provisional sum,’ opting to use the single term ‘provisional allowance’ and define each allowance exactly in the prelims.

For example, it may be documented to “Allow $abc to supply and fix floor tiles.” If this is all that is documented, then there is plenty of room for misinterpretation.

This misinterpretation could come from questions such as: how is GST handled, does supply include responsibility for ordering and paying invoices, does “fix” include maintaining and protecting the tiles until practical completion, what size and type are the tiles (which can affect the labour needed)?

Also, what about documenting an allowance for supply only of floor tiles?

Again, simply writing “Allow $xyz for supply of floor tiles” is too loose in my opinion. “Supply” needs to be defined exactly.

When documenting, I define “supply” as “Instigate, administer, supervise, co-ordinate, order, program, pay fees/costs, purchase, site deliver/un-load, store/protect, clean/maintain.”

Anything less may leave a gap for misinterpretation.

It also needs to be documented that the builder is to fix the tiles (and do all the related work that comes with fixing tiles) and that is to be included that in their tender price, which is extra to the provisional “supply” amount.

Owner Supplied Items

Sometimes the owner wants to be involved and supply some items to site. This can be problematic.

An owner supplying materials to a construction site interrupts the builder, who needs to allow for some delay and inconvenience of a magnitude proportional to the amount of owner supplied materials.

Owner supplied materials also can affect warranties, as the builder may not know the quality of the materials.

Also, what if the materials supplied are damaged? I always specify that upon delivery, the materials are to be inspected by the builder. Any damaged materials found at that point are the responsibility of the owner. Of course, you should expect delays with this.

I also specify the owner is responsible for unloading of their supplied materials to a point on-site nominated by the builder.

Nominated Subcontractors

The big problem when nominating a subcontractor for the builder to enter into a subcontract is that the two parties may previously have had bad business relations and will not work together.

It can be best to tender for a nominated subcontract at the same time as the head contract tender, and identify from the outset to the nominated subcontract tenderers who the head contract tenderers are, and vice versa.

It must be specified that the head contractor is to fully be responsible for the nominated subcontractor (via a normal subcontract agreement).

The full scope of the nominated subcontract work is to be documented in the head contract so no double up of or (conversely) gap in scope of related work occurs.

Work by Others

The head contractor needs to document who outside of the builder’s responsibility will be doing work on their building site, and exactly what that work is.

It needs to be documented that the head contractor allows for ‘work by others’ access and amenities and any other thing specific to their work.

Work timings for ‘work by others’ also need to be documented (to a degree) and coordinated.

Authority Approvals

This is an item that I nearly always see documented insufficiently.

The head contract tenderer needs to know what approvals the designer or owner is responsible for (including paying authority and consultant fees) and what they will be responsible for.

The existence of a project development (or town planning) approval can be a big cause for misinterpretation of responsibilities.

Development (or town planning) approval conditions usually list a whole multitude of things to be done to make the project comply with local regulations.

Some of these conditions are clearly the builder’s responsibility (like dust control), some are clearly the owner’s responsibility, but many conditions could be done by either party. Some individual conditions even contain multiple responsibilities to be shared between designer, owner, and builder.

The easiest way I know to make it clear in the building contract who is responsible for what, is to actually mark-up with a pen, on a hard-copy of the development (or town planning) approval conditions, exactly who is responsible for what.

Then, it is important to make that mark-up a contract document. It can be scanned as an electronic document.

Preliminaries are like any item to be documented. Do it inadequately and on-site problems will arise.

It is challenging to get really tight documentation and nigh on impossible to have perfect documentation.

One error can be a nuisance, then subsequent errors can start to erode the contractual relationship. Before you know it, you have a fight on your hands and no client will refer you on, let alone come back for repeat projects, if a contract has been marred by dispute.

Your choice of specification is critical in alleviating avenues for error.

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