8.1 General. A contract specification is a written detailed, precise description of the work to be done; it constitutes a part of the overall contract to describe the quality of materials, mode of construction, and the amount of work. The purposes of the specification are:

a) To obtain a specific desired product

b) To ensure quality materials and workmanship

c) To ensure completion of work

d) To avoid delays and disputes

e) To obtain minimum or reasonable costs

f) To make the contract available to as many qualified bidders as possible

g) To avoid costly change orders and claims

h) To meet safety, environmental, and legal requirements

Construction specifications provide a description of the desired work in such detail that a product other than that desired may not result. Because painting frequently comprises only a small part of construction work, it frequently receives only limited attention so that it is inadequate to fill the desired goals.

Construction specifications are further complicated by the fact that they comprise legal documents and thus must meet legal as well as technical requirements. Deficiencies in paint or other construction specifications permit bidders to interpret incompletely described requirements to their advantage, and to provide lesser work or cheaper materials. These in turn, give rise to disputes and litigation. Thus, it is extremely important that specifications be prepared systematically, thoroughly, and legally.

8.2 Background. At one time, it was a common practice to use old painting specifications over and over again without attempting to update them. Changes to meet new needs frequently were made by "cutting and pasting." This did not permit the use of new technology, address new requirements, or correct errors in earlier documents.

Another common practice was to have coating suppliers prepare specifications for painting, particularly for small jobs. As might be expected, the supplier’s products were required by the document. Today, specifications are usually prepared by architect-engineers who specialize in this work. They have the background, and the standards and other criteria documents at their disposal, to prepare an engineering document for a specific job in a professional manner that is technically correct (complete and without error), clear (unambiguous), and concise (no longer than absolutely necessary).

The specification writer must be able to describe the important details while visualizing the desired final products of the work. The different requirements and phases of the work must be presented in logical, sequential steps to permit the work to be accomplished efficiently. Poorly or incompletely written specifications can result in the following bidding problems: bids from unqualified contractors, fewer bids from qualified contractors, or unrealistically high or low bids.

8.3 The CSI Format. A systematic format for construction

specifications is necessary to include important items. It also makes it easier for those preparing bids or executing the contract to accomplish their work, because the requirements can be found in the same part of the document, as in previous documents from the firm. The format of the Construction Specification Institute (CSI) is used by the Federal and many State governments, as well as private industry. It divides construction work into 16 divisions by the building trade involved with the work. Finishes are always in Division 9 and paints and protective coatings in Section 09900 of Division 9. Sections have five digit numbers. Each CSI section is divided into three basic parts:













8.3.1 General Information Part. The general information part

of the CSI format includes the following sections:

a) Summary or Introduction

b) References

c) Definitions

d) Submittals

e) Quality Assurance

f) Delivery, Storage, and Handling

g) Site Conditions Summary Section. A Summary or Introduction section at the start may present the scope and purpose of the work. Care must be taken here to avoid any repetition of work described elsewhere in the document, because any variations in description can result in problems of interpretation. Thus, many specification writers prefer to use only the title of the specification to introduce the document. Reference Section. The reference section, sometimes called "Applicable Documents," includes a listing of documents used in the specification and no others. Others included only for general information may be interpreted as requirements. Listed references form a part of the specification to the extent indicated.

a) Industry specifications and standards, such as those of the SSPC, are preferred to Government standards for equivalent products or processes. Their issuing organization, number, and latest issue are normally listed. Unless otherwise indicated, the issue in effect on the day of invitation for bids applies. Where alternative standards occur, the normal order of precedence is:

(1) Industry documents

(2) Commercial item descriptions (CIDs)

(3) Federal documents

(4) Military documents

b) This should not be confused with the order in which they are normally sequenced in the specification reference listing – alphabetically, by organization name, or by document category name. For example:

(1) American Society for Testing and Materials


(2) Commercial item descriptions

(3) Federal specifications

(4) Steel Structures Painting Council (SSPC)

c) Within each of the above categories, individual documents are listed numerically. As with other items, references should be used as little as possible in the body of the specification to minimize error. Where alternative standards or practices are available, only one of them should be used. Definition Section. An understanding of terms used in painting operations may vary widely in different geographical locations and even between different people in the same location. Definitions for such words may prevent costly disputes over different interpretations. Submittals Section. Specification submittals are documents or samples to be provided by the contractor to the contracting officer. They are provided to ensure that specific requirements will be met.

a) Submittals on painting contracts may include:


Wet samples of



Drawdown films

of coatings


Blast-cleaned reference panels


Laboratory test



Certificates of



Product data sheets


Supplier’s instructions


Supplier’s field reports


Shop drawings



b) Complete laboratory testing of paint for conformance to specification can be very expensive and thus is not often done except where very large areas are coated or where the coating provides a critical function. More often, the contracting officer accepts certificates of conformance. These are basically statements that a previous representative batch of the same formulation have met specification requirements, and a few quick laboratory tests (standard quality control (QC) tests) by the supplier indicate that the present batch does also. Sometimes, analytical results from an earlier batch are required along with the certificate. When qualified products lists, for Federal or military specifications, or suggested supplier lists, for commercial item descriptions, are available, the listed suppliers should be utilized.

c) For large or critical batches of paint, factory – witnessed manufacture or testing is sometimes done. These and first article tests can be very expensive and so should be used only where the expense is justified.

d) Sometimes, authenticated wet samples of coating are retained for later testing, should early failure occur. They are normally retained for only 1 year, the normal warranty period.

The specification should also permit field sampling of coatings being applied. This may prevent unnecessary thinning or substitution of products.

e) The data sheets and instructions of suppliers may be used to define under what conditions and under what acceptable procedures the product can be successfully applied to produce a quality film. If SSPC PA 1, Shop, Field, and Maintenance Painting, or a written description of the work requirements are included in the specification, the order of priority of these documents should be stated, should some differences occur.

f) At one time, many specifications stated that an undercoat should be allowed to thoroughly cure before topcoating. However, complete curing of thermosetting undercoats may present problems of adhesion of finish coats.

g) Warranties should also be received as a submittal. Some products such as textured coatings for masonry structures are commonly warranted for 15 years. Such warranties are normally limited to such conditions as flaking, blistering, or peeling. They do not usually include fading or chalking in sunlight.

h) Inspection, safety, or work sequence and scheduling plans may be required in order to obtain information on how each of these aspects will be handled. An inspection plan will show how each of the inspection requirements will be met. SSPC has examples of these plans and reporting forms. Information of the sequencing and execution of the work will be important where they affect other operations. Quality Assurance Section. The quality assurance section includes those items not covered elsewhere in the general information or execution parts that are necessary to ensure that quality work will be obtained from the contractor.

a) They may include the following:

(1) Qualifications

(2) Certifications

(3) Field sampling

(4) Regulatory requirements

(5) Preconstruction conference

b) Qualification or certification statements may be requested to establish the capabilities of the contractors and his employees. This is particularly necessary, if capabilities with high pressures from airless spray or other safety hazards require special certification. The sSpC Painting Contractor Certification Program will ensure the capability of completing the work in a satisfactory manner and time. Additional certification may be required if asbestos fibers or lead-based paint complicate the work. It is desirable to include a clause permitting the contracting officer to procure at any time a sample of the paint being applied. Local air pollution personnel usually have this authority.

c) The contractor must be familiar with prevailing regulations. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) for paints, solvents, and other materials to be used should also be submitted and kept available on-site. In addition, coating manufacturer’s technical data sheets should also be on-site and available.

d) A preconstruction conference and site visit of contracting officer and contractor personnel should be held before the work begins. At this time, any differences of opinion or uncertainties should be resolved. Any agreements reached that affect the specification should be written down and signed by both parties so that it becomes a part of the contract. Any differences not resolved may result in costly change orders. Delivery, Storage, Handling, and Disposal. Information must be provided on acceptable methods of delivery, storage, and handling. Packaging and shipping procedures must be in accordance with prevailing regulations. There must also be suitable arrangements for acceptance and storage of materials on the job site. Storage must provide for protection of materials from deterioration, as well as conformance to prevailing safety and environmental regulations. Spill kits must be present and procedures established to clean up spills, and any hazardous waste generated must be stored and disposed of in accordance with local regulations. Site Conditions. The site conditions must be completely and correctly defined. Variations from the description of the site conditions generally cause costly changes in the specification. They may concern the size or scope of the work, the extent of corrosion or coating deterioration, the construction or coating materials, or other things that affect the work to be done. Some specification writers do not examine the job site but rely on drawings on file that may not be current. Additions significantly increasing the level of effort may have occurred since the drawing was made. The Federal Government does not require inspection of the job site before bidding, because it might be unduly costly to bidders located in other geographical areas. Thus, bidding may not be as precise as if the site were inspected. In fact, some bidders deliberately do not inspect the work site in hope of finding variations that would bring additional money to them.

Another common error is to underestimate the amount of loose, deteriorated coating that must be removed in maintenance painting. Loose paint is generally not well defined. The best definition is probably paint that can be removed with a dull putty knife.

Recently, a number of contracts have been awarded that involve the removal of paint containing lead, chromium, asbestos, or some other toxic material. Such paints must be identified as containing hazardous material before the contract is advertised.

8.3.2 Products Part. The products part of a specification

includes requirements for materials to be used. This may include abrasives and other cleaning materials and thinners, as well as coating materials. Historically, materials with proven performance and low life-cycle costs were usually chosen. Now, most heavily populated areas require lead – and chromate-free coatings that are low in VOCs. These are frequently more difficult to apply than earlier formulations, have had very little field testing, and thus may provide shorter term protection.

Paint products are always best procured using a specification or a specific brand name, if this is permitted and if the product has data showing good field performance. Many

Government agencies cannot purchase a sole source product, unless it can be shown to be uniquely differentiated from other products. Sometimes, a qualified products list can be used or suggested suppliers of coatings for a particular specification, for which good performance data are available. Specifying "Brand X or equal" is dangerous, because there is no specific definition of "equal" or procedure to determine such equality. Also dangerous is to describe a product by its composition and/or performance. These are sometimes done to procure a particular product without calling out its name. Standard colors available in the particular specification or commercial product should be specified. FED-STD-595 provides a large number of color chips for which many specification coatings are available. A fandeck of these chips is also available from the General Services Administration (GSA). It is better to use these standards than to refer to a particular supplier’s color code or name.

Whatever the method of specifying products, it is always best to require that products for a multiple-coat system be procured from the same supplier, who recommends their use together. This will avoid compatibility problems and limit any liability to one supplier.

8.3.3 Execution Part. The execution part of the

specification describes the use of the materials in the products part. Because painting may be only a small part of a construction project, it must be coordinated with the other sections. This will permit surface preparation and coating application under suitable conditions and without delays or other interference.

Much information of the execution of a specification may be found in drawings that form a part of the specification.

To prevent problems resulting from variations between descriptions in the drawings and the body of the specification, requirements in the body should be stated as preempting those in drawings. They should not repeat requirements in the body of the contract to avoid differences. Work Conditions. This portion of the execution part describes the weather conditions under which work is permitted.

If priming of steel is delayed by the weather or other reason, it will be necessary to reblast the steel to remove any flash rusting that has occurred during the delay.

The air temperature at the time of coating application should be in the supplier’s listed acceptable range. The temperature should be at least 5 degrees above the dew point, and rising, to prevent moisture from condensing on the surface of the wet paint film. The specification should state how frequently temperature and dew point measurements should be taken.

Spray painting should also be restricted during times of moderate to heavy winds. Painting at such times may not only produce unsatisfactory films of coating but also result in overspray onto automobiles or other structures in the area. Surface Preparation. It is always best to describe the desired prepared surface condition, using standards such as SSPC SP 6, if available, rather than telling the contractor how to prepare the surface. It is inappropriate to specify both the desired condition and how to achieve it. These requirements may cause legal problems if the surface cannot be obtained using the directions specified. For example, it is much more effective to require a "SSPC SP 10, Near-White Blast Cleaning" without specifying how the blaster achieves it. However, if the specification calls for abrasive blasting of steel at 90 to 100 psi using a venturi nozzle held 8 inches from the surface, then there can be no requirement for a particular degree of cleanliness other than that which is achieved when the specific directions are followed.

Care must also be taken to use only standard terms such as "brush-off blast cleaning" which is defined in SSPC SP 7 rather than "brush blast," "sweep blast," "shower blast," or some other undefined term. Also avoid other vague terms such as "heavy abrasive blasting" that are subject to interpretation. Coating Application. Normally, painters are permitted to apply their materials by brush, roller, or spray, unless the material can only be applied satisfactorily by one or two of these methods. Thus, zinc-rich coatings should be applied by spray using an agitated pot and following the instructions of the coating supplier. SSPC PA 1 may be referenced as an industrial standard for shop and field painting. Local transfer efficiency requirements may prevent the use of some types of spray application (e. g., airless or conventional air spray).

Currently, requirements for transfer-efficient methods of application are limited to shop work. Any thinning of paints should be limited to thinner and the amount recommended by the supplier. It should also be within the limits set by local air pollution authorities. Inspection. In the inspection section, inspection requirements should be listed. By referring to standard test procedures, details of both the procedures and their requirements can be found. Thus, SSPC PA 2, Measurement of Dry Paint Thicknesses With Magnetic Gages, will indicate how many thickness measurements must be made on each 100 square feet of coated steel surface. If referencing SSPC PA 2, then do not reference ASTM D 1186, Nondestructive Measurement of Dry Film Thickness of Nonmagnetic Coatings Applied to a Ferrous Base. Slight differences in these standards can cause problems.

Occasionally, the contractor and the representative of the contracting officer informally agree on a surface preparation standard for inspection. Often, this is a protected area of steel, or a reference panel, that has been blast cleaned to an acceptable level. Such agreements should be put down in writing and signed by both parties. It then becomes an amendment to the specification and can resolve any disputes that may arise concerning the agreement.

8.4 Language to be Used in Specification. In order to meet

the goal of preparing a correct, clear, and concise specification, the language of the document must be such as to describe exactly what is desired. The contractor is required to provide the product described in the specification, not necessarily what is desired. In order to do this, the specification writer must be very precise with his language.

This following recommendations will help:

a) Use short, specific words (avoid vague terms)

b) Use short sentences

c) Put the action words up front

d) Use strong verbs

e) Use the imperative mood

f) Do not repeat descriptions or requirements

8.4.1 Concise Words. Words in the specification should be

relatively short, specific, and readily understood. Avoid words that are ambiguous, vague, or otherwise not readily understood. Such expressions as "high-performance coatings" and "quality workmanship" are too vague to be used.

a) Short sentences are more readily understood than longer ones. Also, the action words (subject and verb) should go up front. Thus, don’t write, "After the steel has been properly

cleaned and after the weather conditions have been verified to be acceptable, apply one coat of the specified primer." Instead, write, "Apply one coat of the specified primer after. . ."

b) Strong verbs such as "blast," "clean," and "prime" are more precise than weaker verbs such as "make," "build," and "establish." They are also more easily understood. Use of the imperative mood is preferred, because it is more concise and more easily understood. Thus, "Blast clean to an SSPC SP 10 surface" is better than, "The surface shall be blast cleaned to an SSPC SP 10," or, "The contractor shall clean the surface to an SSPC SP 10."

c) No information in the specification should be repeated in a second place because of the greater possibility of errors or because slight differences in description may receive different interpretations.

8.5 Construction Criteria Base. The Construction Criteria

Base (CCB) is a compact disc system containing the complete texts of thousands of documents needed for the design and construction of buildings and civil works, together with built-in software for automatic accessing and processing the information. The CCB can be obtained from the National Institute of Building Sciences,

1201 L Street, N. W., Washington, DC 20005.