In the beginning of time, architects frantically scribbled notes all over their drawings to make sure they got what they wanted. They ran out to sites and waved their arms wildly describing their intentions, picking through the construction site to make sure the materials were the right quality. It was chaos. Then, in 1948, came CSI. The Construction Specifications Institute specialized in writing specifications in conjunction with drawings. They categorized all building materials into sixteen categories, bringing peace and harmony to the universe once again.
Your architect is likely thinking in terms of these sixteen divisions, and using language specific to these divisions. As an individual who works with Architects from time to time, here is a 16-part glimpse into your architect’s mind, which will assist you during those new construction, building or renovation meetings.
Since the exploration of the mind can be an extensive process, we’re spitting the “mind” in two, so to speak. Check back in two weeks for a continuation of this article.
To help you sift through the brain, I’ve placed in bold key definitions/concepts that I think you need to know. Also included in this article are my opinions and tips on important things you need to consider as a member of a new construction/renovation team.
Division 1 – General Conditions
When involved in new construction or renovation, the first part of your specifications includes information for the contractor regarding what is expected of her in preparing the bid or price for your project. It also may include the contract or other contractual information she will be expected to sign if she gets the job. This information, along with Division 1 of the specifications, is commonly called the “front end”. Division 1, General Conditions or General Requirements tells the contractor what, in addition to the site work and building project, will be expected of him. Information on temporary facilities (portable toilets, heat, signage), allowances (lump sum amounts to be added to the contract to cover usually unknown conditions or materials), alternates (parts of the project to potentially be either added or deleted, and therefore bid separately), general quality requirements, and testing requirements to assure quality, is outlined along with other requirements.
Jobsite safety is completely the responsibility of the contractor. Neither the owner nor the architect is in a position to supervise the site in such a way. In fact, architects simply observe to avoid becoming involved in duties outside their purview, not to mention area of expertise.
The submittal procedure is also described. Submittals, called shop drawings when there is a graphic portion of the submittal, are interpretations of the contract documents by the contractor. The process should work like this:
1. The contractor hires a subcontractor, for example a cabinetmaker. The cabinetmaker will being fabricating and installing the casework (cabinetry) in your building.
2. The cabinetmaker takes the architectural drawings and produces shop drawings showing the casework elevations (front on drawings) and details showing the construction. If he is using pre-manufactured units, he acquires information from the manufacturer showing the quality of construction. Also, he will send cut-sheets (manufacturer information) on the drawer pulls, door handles, hinges, etc. The cabinetmaker takes all this information and sends it to the contractor.
3. The contractor checks this information, and if it is compliant with the specifications and drawings, sends them to the architect.
4. The architect checks the submittal, and if approved, sends them back to contractor for fabrication. If the submittal is not correct, the architect asks for corrections or a re-submittal.
This is the last chance for you and your architect to catch any mistakes, and it is not unusual for owners to participate in this process on certain important items. If you’d like to review the caulking submittal, you can, but your time may be better spent perusing the casework shops.
Division 2 – Site Work
Your site is your biggest unknown. A geotechnical survey can help you improve your odds. A geotechnical survey will, based on soil borings, tell your structural engineer how to design the building’s footings based on the compressive strength of the soil. It may also identify subsurface conditions you need to know about – rock, large cavities, underground rivers, and families of gophers. It is not unheard of for an appropriate number of borings to be taken, analyzed, and not reveal serious conditions that you’ll wish you knew about. It’s not possible (nor, more importantly, is it fair) to have your architect or contractor pay for these problems. You can lock in pricing at the time of bidding for adding or removing additional soil should the need arise.
Trenching and footings, demolition, utility work, trees, paving, curbs, and those pebbly trashcans with sand in top are all part of site work. Footers are not the same as footings, by the way. “Footer” in this context is not a word at all, and since it is commonly used, will allow you plenty of opportunity to chuckle quietly to yourself.
Division 3 – Concrete
Concrete is made by combining Portland cement, aggregate (fine and course rock), and water. Concrete is therefore not cement. Additives to concrete are common, and can change its color, make it cure (harden) slower or faster, or make it stronger. It can be poured and stamped to look like pavers, usually in conjunction with color additives.
Most concrete is reinforced these days. This increases its tensile strength, which essentially means that it will be less likely to crack and fail. Rebar, or reinforcing bar, is used for this. Rebar is steel, and to keep it from rusting, you need enough coverage. Coverage is the amount of concrete over the rebar to protect it from the elements.
Precast concrete is concrete poured into forms off-site at a plant. Its environment is controlled and the forms the concrete is poured into can be vibrated to virtually eliminate air bubbles. Poured-in-place concrete, conversely is poured on site and can look a little rougher.
Division 4 – Masonry
If you can stack it up, it will probably be covered in the masonry section. In fact, glass block is specified here, not under division 8 – Doors and Windows, where other glass is found. The most common masonry products are brick and CMU (concrete masonry units), which is often called concrete block. CMU is concrete poured into forms and steamed cured. This gray colored block is sometimes called cinder block. Cinder block is actually concrete block with cinders used as the aggregate. This is not the type of block commonly used in construction today. CMU comes in a variety of colors and textures and has gained popularity in some locations as a substitute for brick.
Block and brick is often combined into cavity wall construction. The concrete block of a cavity wall is often called “back-up”, or the “bearing wythe”, a wythe being a layer of a wall. It is bearing when the weight of the structure sits on it. It does all the work. The cavity of the cavity wall is made up of air, one of nature’s best insulators, and is partially filled with rigid insulation, because man doesn’t trust nature. Finally, the outside wythe is the brick, or face brick. The brick is tied to the back-up with ties. These ties need to be of good quality and installed well, because, at 4″ thick and a whole building high, it doesn’t do very well on its own. It is just a veneer, or decorative face on your building and supports only its own weight.
Stone and mortar are also covered in Division 4.
Division 5 – Metals
Everything from structural steel to pipe bollards and handrails is covered in Division 5. Structural steel forms the steel frame of your structure. I-beams have all but given way to wide flange beams, which are more H shaped. The flange – the top and bottom of the I – are simply wider. Tube steel is also common, and is usually in the form of round tubes or square tubes. A 4″ round tube is so efficient, it could easily hold your house up all by itself, if it only had better balance. Of course, I haven’t seen your house; so don’t hold me to this.
A pipe bollard is concrete-filled tube steel that sticks up out of the ground to about belly-button height. Bollards are excellent for allowing foot traffic while stopping vehicular traffic. Bollards can be made of other materials too, but decorative bollards are usually primarily a visual barrier to complement or replace a curb. They would probably not withstand a car driving over it, but neither does a curb. Bollards provide a nice high visual barrier to law-biding motorists.
Division 6 – Wood and Plastics
“Just one word, my boy. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.” Mr. McGuire, who made this famous advice to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate would have been proud to see plastics listed with wood. This seemingly odd pairing makes more sense when you consider the frequent use of P-lam (plastic laminate) with wood cabinets. Or the ease with which wood can be faked with plastic. It’s a shame, but plastic is in some cases more efficient than wood, but nothing can match the warmth and texture of real wood.
Wood, like so many of us, is strong but imperfect. The imperfections in wood compromise its strength and limit its use. In order to make it stronger, it can be cut into slivers, inspected for these imperfections, and the best pieces saved. The pieces are then glued back together with very strong glue to make glue-lam member. Glue laminated members have the advantage of the strongest qualities of wood, the look of wood, and a limit on length based only on practicality.
Rough carpentry, like the wood 2×4 studs in your walls, as well as architectural millwork, like moldings around your doors and ceilings, are all included in Division 6.
Division 7 – Thermal and Moisture Protection
Here’s where you’ll find your roof. Owners care an awful lot about roof systems, and not just because it’s holding the walls down. Any roof that keeps the water off your head is a success, but there are some other important things to consider. Your roof needs to be ventilated. The space under your roof material needs to breath to keep it from getting too hot. Good ventilation will also prevent your roof space from getting too warm in the winter, melting the snow on your roof, and turning it to ice.
To allow ventilation, your architect may use louvers, ridge vents, and ventilated soffit. The soffit is the underside of the roof overhang, and it is important that the insulation on the inside not block the ventilation in the soffit. This important detail should be checked on the drawings as well as in the field to assure good ventilation.
Division 7 also includes waterproofing systems, insulation, flashing (membrane installed in the wall to allow moisture to exit the wall), and caulking.
Division 8 – Doors and Windows
Would you let anyone fenestrate your building? You do when you let your architect put openings in it. Fenestrations are usually window openings and, if your architect uses this word, he is eager to impress you. Don’t be. Anyone can do it. Windows, doors, glass and glazing are all covered in this division.
Skylights are also covered. A skylight is a hole in your roof. Sure, this might sound like a good idea, but it can be a problem if not detailed well. Truthfully, skylights have come a long way, but there are other ways to bring in light from above. A clerestory is a raised portion of a roof to let light in. Windows at the perimeter of a clerestory are installed vertically, just like the one over your kitchen sink. That’s a detail we know works. And if someone offers you a roof window, don’t be fooled. It’s a sloped-roof skylight you can open.
Door hardware is also part of Division 8. Lots of terminology gets thrown around here, leaving plenty of room for confusion. For example, the hinges on your doors may be call butt hinges. In fact you may just get a pair of butts for your door. Similarly, flush bolts are not misfiled from the plumbing section; it a bolt that goes into a hole in the floor. “Panic hardware” may be a term you hear, which, while sounding somewhat alarmist, is a marked improvement over the “crash bar” of which it is comprised. This type of hardware, allowing exit even when the door is locked from the other side, is now called “exit hardware,” which has calmed us all down considerably.
Closing for Part 1:
Congratulations! You’re half way through the brain of your architect. Check back in two weeks and we’ll continue this fascinating tour!
Submitted by Ted Sottong, AIA, who is a principal in the firm of Noelker & Hull Associates, Inc.