MasterFormat 2004: Preventing Costly and Time-Consuming Project Afterthoughts

The first article in this series on CSI's MasterFormat 2004 (CSE 01/05, p. 23) provided an overview of this specifying resource. This month's installment focuses on two systems that have seen dramatic changes under the new format: communications and fire suppression. Perhaps no other building systems are as important—or have evolved so quickly—as the communications networks for voic...

By Greg Ceton, Technical Project Manager, Construction Specifications Institute, Alexandria, Va. March 1, 2005

The first article in this series on CSI’s MasterFormat 2004 (CSE 01/05, p. 23) provided an overview of this specifying resource. This month’s installment focuses on two systems that have seen dramatic changes under the new format: communications and fire suppression.

Perhaps no other building systems are as important—or have evolved so quickly—as the communications networks for voice, data and video. The occupants of any commercial or institutional building would struggle mightily without these networks.

Just as critically important to building occupants are the fire-suppression systems. As both technologies grow increasingly complex—and at an accelerating pace—their construction specifications must be far more comprehensive and detailed. Fortunately, MasterFormat 2004 provides the means.

Published last November, this newest version of the MasterFormat standard for organizing building specifications and other project information has been greatly expanded to accommodate significant advances in construction technologies and materials—and owners’ evolving priorities.

Perhaps most noteworthy, MasterFormat now encompasses the entire facility life cycle and focuses on work results. It also includes a much wider range of categories, including building operations and maintenance, as well as heavy civil and process engineering construction. But our focus here is wire and cable distribution.

Improving specs

Wiring in modern buildings is as much about data and communications as it is about power delivery. That reality must be fully addressed through the specifications during a facility’s design. If not, the risks to a project’s schedule and cost include:

  • Tearing down walls to install cabling and pathways—and then rebuilding.

  • Adding closets, even whole rooms, that are not in the plans to house switches, servers, etc.

  • Expanding the HVAC system to handle additional heat such systems generate.

  • Paying express delivery for large amounts of wire, cable and other materials to minimize delays.

  • Paying construction crews overtime to install such systems to keep the project on schedule.

  • Paying for change orders with higher-interest money from a credit line; if the work had been fully specified in the original plans, the cost would have been covered by a lower-interest mortgage.

  • Paying additional money to install voice, data or video after construction.

Alleviating problems

To alleviate such problems, MasterFormat 2004 fosters far more comprehensive and detailed specifications for a facility’s electronic and wiring systems by greatly expanding the number of sections available in this area. Rather than squeeze all these topics into Division 16, Electrical, as was the case in the past, the 2004 edition has four divisions for all potential applications of new electronic technology:

  • Integrated Automation (Division 25)

  • Electrical (Division 26)

  • Communications (Division 27)

  • Electronic Safety and Security (Division 28)

Division 27 provides a wealth of organizational slots for specifications about communications, including some aspects previous editions didn’t cover at all or covered with far less detail. For example, consider data communication. In the 1995 edition, all data communication was addressed in a single section of the Electrical division. But in the 2004 Edition, the new communications division has six Level 2 sections:

  • Data Communications (Section 27 20 00)

  • Data Communications Network Equipment (27 21 00)

  • Data Communications Hardware (27 22 00)

  • Data Communications Peripheral Data Equipment (27 24 00)

  • Data Communications Software (27 25 00)

  • Data Communications Programming and Integration Services (27 26 00)

And under each Level 2 section, there are additional Level 3 subsections that provide for even more detailed specifications for increasingly complex communications technologies. For example, under Data Communications Network Equipment (27 21 00), Level 3 sections include:

  • Data Communications Firewalls (27 21 13)

  • Data Communications Routers, CSU/DSU, Multiplexers, Codecs and Modems (27 21 16)

  • Data Communications Network Management (27 21 19)

  • Data Communications Switches and Hubs (27 21 23)

  • Data Communications Wireless Access Points (27 21 33)

By consolidating and deepening the structure for specifications in the communications area, MasterFormat 2004 can aid specifying engineers immeasurably in fully addressing the dichotomy of wiring for power delivery and wiring for data and communications, which has been an expensive and time-consuming afterthought for too many projects.

Better fire suppression specs

Like communications, fire suppression finally comes into its own in MasterFormat 2004. Division 21 (Fire Suppression) consolidates what previous MasterFormat editions spread among three divisions: Fire extinguishers were in Division 10 (Specialties); fire suppression was part of Division 13 (Special Construction); and fire-protection piping was in Division 15 (Mechanical).

And as in the previous example for communications, MasterFormat 2004 adds many more organizational “slots” in its standalone fire-suppression division. This revision makes it possible for specifiers to create more detailed, better organized and more meaningful specs.

To give one an idea of the breadth and depth of the fire-suppression specifications MasterFormat 2004 edition makes possible, here’s a sampling of Level 2 section numbers and titles from Division 21:

  • Operation and Maintenance of Fire Suppression (21 01 00)

  • Common Work Results for Fire Suppression (21 05 00)

  • Schedules for Fire Suppression (21 06 00)

  • Fire-Suppression Systems Insulation (21 07 00)

  • Commissioning of Fire Suppression (21 08 00)

  • Instrumentation and Control for Fire-Suppression Systems (21 09 00)

  • Water-Based Fire-Suppression Systems (21 10 00)

  • Fire-Extinguishing Systems (21 20 00)

  • Fire Pumps (21 30 00)

  • Fire-Suppression Water Storage (21 40 00)

Users of the 1995 edition will immediately recognize one major difference between the 1995 and 2004 editions. Older editions of MasterFormat used a five-digit numbering system for subsections (10520 in Division 10, 13900 in Division 13 and so on). MasterFormat 2004, however, uses a paired, six-digit section-numbering system. This expands by more than a hundredfold the number of Level 3 subsections that can be created in each division of MasterFormat. And that’s a lot of extra space for specifiers.

Learning about MasterFormat at the CSI Show

On April 20 the CSI Show and Convention, which runs in Chicago from April 20 through 23, will hold separate MasterFormat 2004 forums for users from various disciplines, including a session for architects and engineers. It will address issues such as how the new edition enhances operations, tactics for adopting it and best practices.

The convention’s April 20 opening general session will include a panel of prominent industry figures from various design and construction disciplines discussing their specific MasterFormat implementation issues. The panel’s moderator is Dennis Hall, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, who chaired the group that developed the MasterFormat 2004 edition.

On April 23, two continuing education sessions on the new edition are “Introduction to the MasterFormat Application Guide” and “Keynoting with MasterFormat 2004 Edition.”

Also, MasterFormat 2004 Edition presentations occur each day (April 20—22) on the exhibit floor at the CSI booth (#1842).

Paid registrants attending the CSI show and the convention’s continuing education programs receive on-site a free copy of MasterFormat 2004. For more information about the convention or to register go to