Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  February 2004

The New Division 27 – Will Specs be our Master?

Division 27 of CSI's MasterFormat 04 presents many opportunities, but may also open the door to new problems.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

Drawings and specifications are central to what consultants do during the design phase of an AV system. They complement each other and become the basis for contract documents that bind the contractor and general contractor or owner to the terms of the contract. In essence, these contracts call for the contractor to provide an AV system as designed and specified and the owner is required to pay for it. This would be the fundamental idea behind a contract whether it’s design-build or design-bid-build.

This year, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) will be implementing their new specifications outline which is being called MasterFormat™ 04. It will be a major departure from the traditional 16 division / 5 digit scheme that we have been using for the past decade or so. You may have heard about these revisions over the past couple of years as there were lots of trade-related issues, particularly surrounding the electrical sections. In June 2002 I wrote a Consultant Connections column on the subject when the draft documents put pro AV systems under Division 25. Later drafts moved the Communications Division, as it is titled, to 69, then 26, and finally to Division 27 which should be the ultimate location for AV, data/telecom and a few other low voltage technologies. Conventional high voltage electrical systems will be under Division 26.

Industry Input

In early 2002, there was a group of pro AV consultants and integrators that met to provide recommendations to the CSI Expansion Task Team concerning the outline for the AV-related sections. We spent two intense days reviewing the draft outline at that time and found that though different consultants had different ways of constructing their specifications, there were many similarities that allowed us to come to a consensus on a recommendation for the pro AV sections.

The recommendations we developed allowed for variations in how designers now write their specifications while also attempting to address the way the new outline consolidates basic materials and methods for a variety of diverse technologies. The latter issue is one that could still be a potential problem when various technology consultants are working on the same project.

One example of the conflicts that can develop are the differences between basic requirements of data networking structured cabling and dedicated pro AV cabling. Though pro AV system do incorporate the use of some structured cabling elements such as Cat 6 and fiber cabling, the basic materials and methods for this cabling may not be appropriate for high definition SDI cable. Additionally, a pro AV installation may include Cat 6 cabling with runs longer than data networking structured cabling specifications would allow which could put this in conflict with an overall basic materials and methods section for Division 27.

This type of issue can readily be avoided if the same knowledgeable consultant writes all the specifications for the related technologies under Division 27, but there will continue to be a variety of consultants each writing specifications for their particular subsystem, potentially without the coordination between sections that the new outline format would require. How is an architect with little or no low voltage technology training to manage these potential issues? The solution lies with the architect (getting more education), the consultants (understanding the new specifications and coordinating their work with others) and the division outline itself (accommodating multiple technological systems to be specified without conflicting requirements). This last item is one that still needs to be addressed.

The final document is now in the process of final editing by CSI to create the official MasterSpec outline to be published later this year. The outline for the pro AV sections has changed significantly since the recommendations that were made in 2002, and have reverted to more potentially conflicting and confusing section headings. The current information is available on the CSI website, www.csinet.org, though you may need to navigate through to the pages that contain all of the previous drafts to get the full current text.

What Next?

For the past two years or so, the CSI Task Team has been concentrating on the specifications outline without attention to the text that would flesh out the specifications. Though minor changes may be possible at this point, the outline may not change too much from the latest draft, which I think will be a problem for diverse technology-rich projects if the format is followed as it is. Though many projects allow some leeway in how the specifications are written and organized, there may be situations where a corporate or government owner may require the use of the new format without much flexibility. This, I fear, will create problems for architects, general contractors, pro AV contractors and pro AV consultants alike.

Perhaps more disturbing is the next step in the MasterFormat™ revision process—the development of the MASTERSPEC®, a commercial product by Arcom (at www.arcomnet.com). This is a set of pre-written specification templates with an “edit-by-deletion” structure that works well for traditional bricks-and-mortar building systems and furnishings, but is not workable in any generic way for pro AV systems and related technology systems such as broadcast television and production systems.

In many of the traditional building trades, the basic components are easily applied to the edit-by-deletion structure where there are a few products that can fit a certain function under a particular specifications section. Gypsum board, steel studs, ceiling materials, piping, toilets, and air handlers are tried-and-true products and are a part of systems with a maturity level that allows for this kind of templated specification. Even some of the technology systems, such as building automation systems for example, can be successfully templated primarily because they can be specified and provided as a single manufacturer solution in many cases.

No so with pro AV systems. Even though pro AV specifications are written somewhat differently by different designers, one common aspect is that there are sometimes more than a hundred diverse products and manufacturers to be specified under one or two specification sections that comprise a pro AV system design. The integration of these products into racks and into the building need to be done as a part of a cohesive package that address the sometimes esoteric audio, acoustic, video, lighting, control and networking issues that are the essence of pro AV systems.

It is vital that both pro AV consultants and integrators be involved in the development of the new MASTERSPEC® AV specification sections, and it may be that given the current state of the AV industry’s development, no specification template is better than any template for the pro AV sections of Division 27. And whatever constructive changes that can be made to the MasterFormat™ revisions should be made. There are efforts in the industry now to develop best practices that could help contribute to some specifications development, but that process will take more time to provide solid and useful information for specifications. In the meantime we should make our concerns known to CSI, Arcom, NSCA and ICIA who are the major players who have been involved in the MasterFormat™ revision process. Contact your organization now!

Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)

Arcom

National Association of Systems Contractors

InfoComm (ICIA / InfoComm)

 

 

 
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