First of all, if you know what the specs say, you may be more respected by the contractor and the guys in the field. If your specifications are good, and you and the contractor both know what they say, the specs can be a foundation for mutual trust and respect, between architect and contractor.
Also, Division 01 is where all your protections are – everything that tells the contractor how to do the things he needs to do, such as procedures for submittals. These specifications for procedures protect your time, (and therefore your firm’s profit) because they tell the contractor how to do things in such a way that your review will be most efficient.
It’s best if you, as the design professional doing construction contract administration, know what’s in the technical sections, so that as stuff goes up in the field, you know what to expect, and you know when something’s not quite right, or you know enough about it to be able to ask an intelligent, informed question, to figure out what’s going on.
Think about it - you are administering the construction contract. The project manual makes up about half of the contract documents, which make up the contract that you’re administering during construction contract administration!
You just have to read them. Don’t bother reading random specs, though. Read the specs that your spec writer produces when you issue DD on your project. Start there, with the easy outline spec – it’s just one part, instead of the longer 3-part format used at CD’s.
Then, read the specs that your spec writer produces when you issue progress CD sets. These will be 3-part specifications. If part 1 is confusing, skip it. Read parts 2 and 3. Then come back to part 1 when you’re comfortable with 2 and 3. If parts 2 and 3 aren’t making sense to you, ask your spec writer about it. You may have a coordination problem or something. Part 1, General, contains the administrative and procedural requirements that are specific to that section. (Remember, Division 01 contains administrative and procedural requirements that apply to all the technical spec sections.) Part 2 is products. Part 3 is installation or execution. It’s easy! Don’t get paralyzed by the stuff you don’t understand. Skim over it, and get to the stuff you do understand, and read that carefully. You’ll be on your way to understanding specs better!
In the profession of architecture, we can never learn everything we need to know by being taught by someone – a professor in school, a boss, a colleague. So much of what we learn, we have to learn through experience. If you can’t make heads or tails of your specs on one project, don’t give up forever – read and try to understand them on your next project.
Photo above by Liz O'Sullivan. Cracked polished concrete finish floor, Northern California.