Sunday, January 22, 2012


Studying photographs of what’s existing helps me as a spec writer to be a proactive member of the design team, especially if the directive from the owner is to “match existing”.

Many owners of existing buildings do not have drawings or specifications for their buildings. Even if  drawings or specs of the existing construction do exist, undocumented changes may have been made during the construction process.  Many more changes may have taken place over the years as owners added, deleted or modified systems, and performed routine maintenance and replacement of building components.

That’s why it’s important to take plenty of photographs when surveying an existing building for a renovation or addition project.  You’ll want to provide a wealth of information to the design team - especially the spec writer -  so the construction documents can be done correctly, and within available fee dollars.

Many projects these days are designed and specified on a compressed time schedule. This often means that specification production must be produced simultaneously with drawing production.  When writing specs, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until all the details are drawn and the door schedule and room finish schedule are completed before starting the specs.

I have to start specs while drawings are in progress.  I have to wing it, sometimes using a healthy dash of clairvoyance.   A thorough photographic survey can help me do my job better.

Here are just a few examples of how information gleaned from photos helped me to get the specs right on recent projects.  Photos:
  • Helped establish the profile of existing metal industrial siding.
  • Showed that a pair of doors to a conference room swung out of the room, rather than in - as depicted in original drawings (hardware implications).
  • Showed that floor finish was terrazzo, and without a flash cove base.
  • Showed that existing CMU was laid in stack bond rather than in running bond.
  • Showed that door hardware finish was satin chrome or stainless steel on exterior doors, and satin bronze on interior wood doors.
  • Showed that painted piping in a mechanical room was color coded, not painted the color of the room’s walls.
  • Showed that an overhead door was a coiling door rather than a sectional door as depicted in original drawings.
  • Showed that an automatic door operator was pneumatic, showed the manufacturer's name and model number, and showed that the actuating device was a pull cord.
  • Showed what was painted, and what was not painted, in an industrial space.

Some advice for maximizing the usefulness of photographic surveys to the project design team:
  • Take only digital photos, and file them with other project reference information on your server.
  • Take multiple, overlapping, photos of each exterior elevation, and from multiple vantage points. Taking another shot from a few feet to the right for example, may reveal a louver, a downspout, a sign, or something else, which was hidden by a tree in the previous view.
  • When photographing existing roofs, document more than just the areas that look to be problems. Take several overall views.  Then take closeup photographs of every different parapet and edge condition, and every object penetrating the roof.
  • Take multiple, overlapping photos in each room.  
  • Don’t just look straight ahead.  Look up to photograph the ceilings and soffits.  Look down to photograph flooring and bases.
  • If your camera’s flash is too wimpy to illuminate a big or dark space, use a tripod or monopod to steady the camera so the auto settings don’t cause long shutter openings resulting in blurred, useless, images.
  • When photographing interior spaces, indicate the location of the photo.  Sometimes it’s obvious where the image was taken. Sometimes it’s not. If you don’t rename each photo, try preceding the photos in a room with a photo of the floor plan of that room.
  • When taking closeup shots, put an object into the view to establish scale.  Include a pen, a scale, a dollar bill, a quarter, or even your own hand.

Take lots of photos, because that’s much less costly than returning to the site for another field visit.  Your project design team, including your spec writer, will appreciate it

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