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Guide to Sourcing for Construction Specs With a Distributor

6 minutes read

Construction specifications -- Worker Using Digital Tablet To Show Final Building Plans

In commercial construction planning, there are plenty of cooks in the kitchen. But the construction specifications are the guide and standard of quality you’ll have to meet for the project. For the person paying you, they’re also a set of rails to keep budget, scheduling, safety, and standards in check. 

All parties have their own recipe for success – but for your purposes, yours is the one that matters most. Below we’ll discuss: A) things to look for when receiving construction specs, and B) how a distributor can take some of the work off your plate.

Basics of Working With Construction Specs

In a way, construction specifications serve as a second blueprint, outlining the necessary products, materials, and workmanship standards for the project. 

It takes a village to raise a building. You might receive construction specs from any of a variety of stakeholders – designer, architect, engineer, spec writer, and so on. Who’s influencing your material and product requirements may depend on project details, performance criteria, schedule, and location. 

The type of construction specification you receive – and who you get it from – may influence the vantage point you’re given. Your distribution partner can be a resource to help you through this to ensure your work makes all parties happy.

What to Watch for When Evaluating Construction Specs

Sometimes the chain of command works just fine. Other times it may feel like you’re reading a dishwasher installation manual when you’re actually trying to assemble your son’s crib.

The pitfalls of vaguely written specifications are pains you might’ve experienced in the past:

  • Project delays
  • Hidden costs
  • Quality drops 
  • Operational issues post-construction

Disputes and chaos are the end result, potentially undermining the original design goals, as well as your relationship with other parties involved.

Most often, the root issue is that the instructions don’t align with what’s best for today. With multiple subcontractors on the project, sometimes product A won’t be compatible with product B in a later step.

A common example is in waterproofing, a super-specialized field. You may open the documents and discover specs that don’t address the intricate details and needs of building envelopes. The spec for an above-grade waterproofing product might not play well with the existing below-grade material from another manufacturer. Then you’re left to deal with liquids that won’t stick to sheets, or some other compatibility roadblock.

Another familiar tripping point is the lack of a recommendation for a specific product. You might receive a laundry list of ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) movement requirements, but no tool for execution.

Other common causes of subpar specifications include:

  • Repetitive copy-pasting of recs that poorly fit the current project’s needs
  • Reliance on outdated info – including products that no longer exist!
  • Discrepancies between project drawings & specs
  • Inconsistencies across guidelines & codes

Lead Time Issues

Context may matter to you, but some of it may be lost in translation on the specifier’s side. From a procurement or application standpoint, your results may suffer if the product:

  • Isn’t sold through distribution
  • Comes from the West Coast
  • Is otherwise difficult to source 
  • Performs poorly vs. a newer/better alternative

Construction-specifications_Man-on-phone-looking-at-watchThis speaks to a larger problem. There's been a lot of consolidation lately in the construction product manufacturing space. That means product lines get “rationalized” (put out to pasture).

Where the Distributor Comes In

The more complete the contract, the more accurately your company can complete a build and less questions arise beforehand. Think about it – have you ever been angry that a specifier provided too much context?

As a neutral participant, distributors can add that crucial context as you’re putting together your bid or solving for performance-based specification. Here’s how you’ll benefit:

Product Knowledge

Material selection and application is arguably the backbone of specification. Product choices impact your ability to match the designer’s goals for durability, functionality, and meeting codes and standards.

A distributor that employs technical product experts can offer necessary clarity for material qualities, availability, application methods, and testing criteria. 

Efficient Sourcing

There’s no replacement for experience.

Longtime distributors come baked-in with knowledge of what page and paragraph important details are on. In other words, they can almost instantly ID the product for which a spec was written. This partner can also interpret complex or vague aspects of construction specifications, reducing the risk of using the wrong material.

Because it keeps an industry-wide eye on market availability and pricing, a distributor can also make cost-effective recommendations, balancing quality, delivery date, and budget.

The vendor’s probably seen a hundred products come and go because of acquisitions, mergers, and consolidations. (In fact, distributors usually know about product phase-outs before designers and other specifiers do.) The distributor can cross-reference your performance specs with what it sells. Sometimes it’ll even know what the contractor’s favorite product line is, and steer you toward a mutually successful result. 

Customized Proposals

If an alternate product seems more appropriate, the distributor can help prepare submittal and shop drawing packages that demonstrate the alternative or equal product’s viability. This increases the likelihood that the architect will approve your alternative.

Distribution partners often have access to a wide range of specialized products. You’d be surprised how often they’ll recommend alternatives that are less expensive, more labor efficient, or better suited to the project (or both).

Real-World Solutions

With technical support staff that have been on many customer visits, a distributor has a strong ability to evaluate job site challenges and material-to-material compatibility. A good distributor won’t recommend the best product on paper; it’ll point you to the one that’s suitable and compliant for your specific job.

You can also seek out construction product training to sharpen your own skills. Manufacturers commonly offer training, though if you’re lucky you can find a product-savvy distributor that does so in-house. Ultimately, any remaining gaps in your team’s knowledge are places where a great distributor can guide you to the finish line.

Turning Spec Challenges Into Success Stories

At some point, we all receive a spec that doesn’t mesh with our instincts. You might need, say, a self-adhered flashing, but the recommended type might not work as well at your site as a liquid flashing would.

Unless you work it out, delays and inflated costs can follow. Whether fair or not, your side might take the blame.

A competent distributor plays a critical role in helping subcontractors navigate the “kitchen” before it gets too hot. Your reseller should be much more than that – it should also serve as a valuable collaborator, offering expertise and resources for successful job completion. Together you can turn lemons into lemonade, meeting requirements in quality, speed, and budget.