Specify materials carefully for project success: Part 1

Electrical specifiers hold the key to a project’s long-term success by sharing their knowledge and defending their specifications. Part 1 of this two-part series focuses on the reasons specifications exist and why defending them makes good sense.

By Steve Voelzke, President, Robroy Industries Conduit Division/Corrosion College November 10, 2014
Let’s start with a true story from the field. During a routine project inspection of a new facility being built on a large independent school district campus in Texas, the owner uncovered an interesting issue. He conducted the inspection after the underground polyvinyl (PVC)-coated galvanized conduit had been covered with dirt and all that remained were the stub ups from the elbows extruding from the ground. Upon further inspection there appeared to be wet paint on the outside of the PVC coating. The owner ran his finger over the threads and on the inside edge found the paint to be tacky. Thinking this was strange, he shined his flashlight into the elbow and discovered the internal color was different than the one specified. The PVC was not the brand that had been specified but had been painted to look like it was. It was not a good day for the contractor who had to dig it up and start over—with the correct PVC-coated conduit. 
Specifications—such as those from MasterSpec—exist for good reasons, and defending them makes good sense.
Contrary to this true story, most of the time those involved in electrical construction projects—including owners, end users, specifiers, distributors, and contractors—begin with the best intentions for the long-term success of the project. However, no matter how well planned a project is at the start, the project team likely will encounter speed bumps along the way. Changes, increased costs, logistic variables, or other obstacles contribute to construction delays and can often make the actual specification a secondary consideration to be addressed later in the lifecycle. This is unfortunate because too often it becomes easy to stray from the original plan, which can lead to increased risks of product failures, liabilities, and unnecessary future costs.
Most of the time, adhering to the original written specification is in the owners’ best interest for the long-term success of the installed solution. Changes are often made by people who don’t know the important reasons a product was specified in the first place. Thus, it is a bad practice to allow those who were not involved in the specification process to choose products based on their convenience or benefit and not those of the owner. What might seem like a simple adjustment can lead to greater challenges in the future. 
At the time specifications are written, the owner and specifier should collectively understand the important reasons behind each decision because the cost-efficiency of the project and long-term intentions hinge on these initial decisions. This is the first step to ensure that original specifications are followed. Specifiers spend significant time researching the best options for each component of an electrical system and make decisions based on their extensive knowledge of what works for certain applications and what tends to fail over time. Specifiers are best suited to inform others of the reasons the chosen products are essential to a project’s success. 
Also keep in mind that the manufacturer also is a valuable resource when developing effective specifications. With this understanding established early in the process, the inclusion of the manufacturer’s name and product in the specification becomes critical. This leads to the second step in staying on track with original specifications—consulting the manufacturer. Contact with the manufacturer must be established early in the design and throughout the project cycle to prevent challenges during the supply chain or installation process, especially when products require special instructions or certifications. 
Part 2 of this series will explain why specifiers should take a lesson from the rock band Van Halen and how specifiers can defend their specifications to drastically reduce chances of failure.

Steve Voelzke, president of the Robroy Industries Conduit Division, has more than 25 years of experience in electrical industry, including successfully starting up and operating one of the largest automation and control integrator firms in North America.