Sunday, December 8, 2013


Civil engineers and landscape designers, at least here in northern Illinois, rarely use MasterFormat Divisions 31 - Earthwork, 32 - Exterior Improvements, and 33 - Utilties for their specifications for the site/civil portions of building projects.  

Instead they usually write specifications as notes on their drawings using an almost pure form of reference standard specifying.   They refer to item descriptions in the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Standard Specifications for Road and Bridge Construction.  They specify their work on building projects the way they do it for prime site/civil projects, minus of course the unit-price style bidding.    

         which way?  Image by TACLUDA

They only resort to MasterFormat specs when it’s required by clients, and even then they often strip out AASHTO and ASTM standards for products and processes from master specs, and insert references to the IDOT Standard Specifications.

Why is this?  Why has CSI’s MasterFormat not been adopted by many site/civil designers?
  • One reason is that many site/civil and landscape consultants work on both prime site/civil projects and the site/civil portions of building projects, and they’re thus much more familiar with the IDOT frame of reference.
  • Ditto for site contractors.
  • Another reason is that the IDOT specs are geared to the soil conditions and available products in Illinois.
  • Specifying by reference to IDOT is actually a pretty good system, yielding clear and concise specifications and it doesn’t require the site/civil designer to have to read end edit anything besides their standard drawing notes.
  • There’s also tradition, always a powerful factor.

What does it mean for construction document consistency and quality?
  • Specifiers must:
    • Resist the project team’s temptation to regard site/civil construction docs as a standalone package. Site/civil is an integral part of most of our construction document packages even though, at my firm, it’s always done by outside consultants.
    • Read site/civil drawing notes and help the project team to resolve gaps and overlaps between site/civil specs and architectural/structural specs.
  • How can a specifier link to this type of site/civil spec in a Project Manual?  In the Project Manual Table of Contents, I usually include a note “See Civil Drawings” under Divisions 31, 32, and 33.

Orphans:  Whether for contractual reasons, or just because they don’t feel confident venturing beyond their traditional turf, site/civil designers often balk at getting involved with some of the following topics.  So as the generalist spec writer, I get to write specs for things like:
  • Ornamental fences and gates,
  • Monument signs,
  • Patio decks, especially anything with special concrete finish or unit pavers,
  • Wood framed decks and railings.
  • Soil compaction under the building as opposed to that of the remainder of the project site.
  • Security fences and gates, turnstiles, prefabricated canopies.
  • Exterior site components of access control and video surveillance systems.

I don’t see this situation changing any time soon.

What’s your experience with site/civil specs?

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