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Last time, in "The importance of being earnest", we looked at the importance of using correct standard numbers when citing reference standards. Continuing in that vein, let's look at the use of defined terms, specifically furnish, install, and provide. As I note in the article, I haven't had problems with contractors interpreting these terms, but I can't get the architects in my office to use the correctly!  - Sheldon



Curmudgeon's Corner

by Sheldon Wolfe



Furnish, install, or provide?

A couple of months ago, in "Your slip is Most architects, I believe, define the terms furnish (or supply),  install, and provide, and sometimes those definitions appear in an  owner’s general conditions. When defined, they are part of the  contract documents, and requirements using them are  enforceable based on those definitions. In practice, perhaps  because the definitions are nearly ubiquitous, I have had few  problems with interpretation by contractors, or with enforcement.


Oddly, it’s architects who seem to have the most trouble  understanding and using these definitions, even though the  definitions originate in the architect’s own office. In casual

conversation, it’s common to use furnish and provide interchangeably. This should be no surprise, as the  first definition of furnish is either provide or supply in every definition I found, and definitions for provide  usually are make available, supply, or cause to be present, all of which also define furnish.


When used in casual conversation outside the office, there usually is no problem, as no further precision is  needed, and we aren’t concerned about installation. However, when used in casual conversation in the  architect’s office, or in conversation between architect and owner, there is at least a potential problem.


If a specifier, or an architect who cares about such things, is involved in the conversation, it’s likely that the  precise definition will become part of the discussion, and the related contract documents will use the  correct definitions. But without the involvement of such a person, it’s quite possible that the contract  documents will use the wrong, or conflicting, definitions.


A similar problem exists with references meant to indicate either who is furnishing or who is providing  something, for example, by owner or by contractor. I have seen countless references of this sort, and each  time asked what the intent was. The responses have been inconsistent, sometimes meaning furnished by  and other times meaning provided by.


To further complicate the issue, I have seen increasing use of the term vendor. In the context of the  construction contract, there typically are two or three defined entities: The owner, the architect, and the  constructor (contractor, CM, or design-builder). Everything must be furnished, or installed, or furnished and  installed, by either the owner or the constructor. In my experience, a “vendor” is most often a company  that works directly for the owner, either furnishing materials for installation by the constructor, or  furnishing and installing materials for the owner. In either case, an additional term is not required; a vendor  works either for the owner or for the constructor, and a vendor who works for the constructor is a  subcontractor.

In casual conversation, incorrect use of defined terms may be an inconvenience, but when defined terms  are used imprecisely in conversation with a client, whether in formal or informal communication, incorrect  interpretation is almost inevitable.


To eliminate these problems, consider elimination of the term provide, instead, using the slightly longer,  but unmistakable furnish and install. Some would argue this is not necessary, and I agree. In balance,  though, the advantage of clarity and the elimination of the need to continually discuss the speaker’s intent  can outweigh the simplicity and elegance of using provide.


How often have these definitions led to problems for you?



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


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