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Come together

The newly launched Model Format for Building Specifications guide saw BSRIA, CIBSE and B&ES collaborate to produce a definitive guide for building services specifications, says John Sands

The idea for the guide initially came about after BSRIA was invited to attend a B&ES regional meeting to give a short presentation on an industry issue.

During the meeting it became clear how important specifications were to constructors and how good quality specifications have such a positive impact on the project.

After a lot of discussion in the meeting, I suggested the use of a common specification layout to give a degree of consistency and the B&ES group responded very positively to that. 

In the first instance, it was recognised that a common format needs to work for both the groups involved in specifications – those who write them and those who receive them.

CIBSE was the obvious choice to represent the designers – those who prepare the specifications – so I approached Hywel Davies, the CIBSE technical director, about CIBSE becoming part of the project.

B&ES had already shown great enthusiasm for taking part, and so two small working groups were established – one from CIBSE and one form B&ES.

Once the project started, the first step was to find out what worked and, just as importantly, what didn’t work for the constructors in the specifications they currently received.

This was done by generating a questionnaire which was sent to the B&ES working group and the responses formed the basis of the first CIBSE working group meeting.

The process was then to look how best to address the needs of the constructors, in a way that was workable for the designers. 

The biggest issue, potentially, was the clash of cultures and getting the two groups to agree, but in reality that wasn’t a problem at all. There was a genuine willingness to provide a solution that resulted in better specifications – and that was very good to see.

The CIBSE working group were very open to the comments made by the B&ES group and looked hard at what they currently did to see where that could be improved.

Specification preparation

As part of the research I looked at some of the specification preparation tools on the market in the UK, and how they were structured.

What struck me was how the products were structured to suit the particular classification system being used rather than to look at how the information needs to be used and to use that as the starting point.

From that point on, we took the conscious decision to ignore what others were doing and to work on providing the best solution we could. 

Though there is plenty of scope for debate, historically, there are three key areas which can have a potentially huge impact on the success of a construction project.

Firstly, the client understanding what they want from the project – having a clear idea of what the project will achieve for them as a business – and getting this across to the designers via effective briefing.

A vital part of this is to consider how the building will be operated after handover and to make sure that this is accommodated within the design and construction.

The recent introduction of Stages 0 Strategy and 7 In use in the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 are very important in raising this issue.

Secondly, sufficient time must be allowed throughout the various phases of the project – briefing, design, construction and commissioning.

For example, it seems to be common to make back time lost in a project by reducing the commissioning period, but that is a false economy.

Thirdly, adequately plan the handover and early operation of the building. In most cases, a well-planned countdown to handover, with familiarisation, training, and documentation are all important aspects to be considered.

The format advocated in the Guide doesn’t require people to change their detailed specification content – it simply suggests a standard order to present it in.

It is hoped that the investment in time necessary to introduce the format will be repaid many times over in the improved communication provided – easier for designers to prepare and fewer queries from constructors.

In respect to the potential the guide offers, currently the most significant initiative in construction is the drive to adopt BIM on central government projects by 2016.

The BIM process involves all information about a project and not just the 3D model, and the specification has a vital role to play in communicating the project requirements.

The specification will continue to be a key project deliverable and, as such, will be identified within the new digital plan of work (dPoW) and classification system being developed as part of the UK government’s Level 2 BIM requirements.

John Sands is principal consultant - sustainable buildings group - BSRIA. Copies of Model Format for Building Services Specifications can be purchased from the BSRIA Bookshop at bsria.co.uk/bookshop, bookshop@bsria.co.uk or 01344 465529

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