Since we started publishing ARW in 2006 I have been very consistent in one point: specifications need to be comprehensive so that they do not lend themselves to contractor interpretation. The reason for this sentiment is that in the past 25 years I have witnessed — or should I say, I have been an expert witness — in dozens of legal cases where the specification was open to the contractors’ interpretation. As you can probably surmise, this rarely ends well for anybody but the lawyers.
The latest case study in this scenario involves an exterior sealant project on a pre-cast concrete high rise building in the Midwest. The architect was hired by the owner to review previously completed exterior building studies, complete their own investigation of the building and design a series of remedies that would stop moisture infiltration into the building. The previous building studies indicated that moisture infiltration was due to openings at sealant joints at pre-cast panels and windows. The architect relied on these findings and never completed a separate investigation of the building.
Specifications and drawings were completed that indicated new sealant was required at all building joints. The contractor bid the project, completed the sealant application and was paid for the work. A month after project close-out, leaks developed at corner windows. The contractor reviewed the leaks and stated that corner tape was required and that they had not completed these joints because they were part of the structural window frame and did not require sealant. The contractor’s claim was that the existing sealant at these points was improperly applied.
The owner agreed that “corner tape” was probably the correct remedy and told the contractor they could progress with this work, but no extra fee would be paid. This is where the dance started: Step one — contractor: This was not in the specification. Step two — owner: We told the architect to correct all exterior issues. Two steps up, now one step back — architect: spec and drawings state to seal all building joints.
The drawings did state that all building joints should be sealed, but illustrations showed arrows pointing to all building joints except the corner window frames.
Time for the dip in the dance: All parties agree corner tape should be applied. The owner is willing to pay the contractor extra for material but objects to paying rigging costs and labor for joints that were supposed to be sealed. Shouldn’t this have been in the contract?
Now we dance again. Step one — contractor: This was not in the specification. Step two — owner: We told the architect to correct all exterior issues. Two steps up, now one step back: architect: Spec and drawings state to seal all building joints.
Before the next dip the lawyers may cut in.
This would not have happened with a comprehensive specification. So I will say again in 2013: specifications need to be comprehensive so that they do not lend themselves to contractor interpretation.