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Curmudgeon's Corner

by Sheldon Wolfe



Rules of thumb

A huge problem that continues to grow is that we have too much information. When American architects formed AIA, 150 years ago, construction was much simpler; mechanical systems hadn't changed much since the Romans used them 2,000 years ago. Since then, countless new materials and processes have been introduced.


Drafter at work; from WikipediaLife was simple for architects of those early years, much of their time being spent detailing ornamentation. In 1905, a local university building of 112,000 square feet was built using a steel frame, with brick, marble, granite, and terra cotta. The construction documents comprised 58 drawing sheets and a 51 page project manual. By today's standard practice, hundreds of pages of drawings and a project manual of at least two volumes.


We all know that, at least in theory, today's designers must understand and comply with a growing collection of building codes, local regulations, and zoning requirements; they must keep abreast of the latest in building materials; and they must know what's in the standards published by many organizations. No easy task, this - in fact, it's impossible - so we focus on the big things and hope for the best. To keep things moving, we must carry in our heads the really important stuff, the rules of thumb. Following is a collection of such rules I have offered to young professionals for many years.


What to draw. If it comes in a box, don’t waste time detailing it. Do spend time showing how it fits in. Example: Don’t draw detailed sections of windows, with all of the pieces that make up the sash and frame; do make sure to detail how the window fits in the opening and how it is flashed.


Draw only what is needed; but draw everything that is needed. This takes a little thought, but helps the drawings get done right the first time. And, it helps the bidders, who don’t have to wade through a lot of information that isn’t necessary to find what it is we really want.


Where does the information go? People who work at the site don’t even carry specs, let alone read them. Put the information they need on the drawings, and everything else in the specs.


Defined terms. If defined in the contract documents, the terms furnish, install, and provide can have distinct meanings. While the difference between furnish and install is fairly obvious, the common definition of provide is not, so avoid problems by using furnish and install rather than provide. In a single-prime contract, there is only one contractor, but there may be many subcontractors.


Drawing notes. General drawing notes often repeat, and often contradict, each other, as well as the project manual. Eliminate redundant notes. Use the same term for a given product throughout; use the same term that appears in the specifications. Used too often, "Unless noted otherwise" suggests you don't know what's in your own documents; how can the contractor be expected to know? Why preface some notes with the word “Note”? Ask yourself what each note means. Example: “Fill with concrete and paint.” Notes such as “fasten securely” and “see specs” are unnecessary. Don't use brand names. There is no need to say "Provide countertop" or "Install trim"; just indicate what the product is.


Assignment of work. That's part of the contractor's job.



I have a spelling checker, it came with my PC.

It plainly marks four my revue, mistakes I cannot sea.

I've run this poem threw it, I'm sure your please two no;

Its letter perfect in it's weigh, My checker tolled me sew.


© 2015, Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC


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The Inland Empire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute