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Control Specifications

I have been in the commercial controls industry for 30 years. I could not agree more with your point of saying what you mean and meaning what you say (“Control Specifications: Ask for What You Need; Enforce What You Ask For,” Control Freaks, January 2005). I have been on the application-engineering side of the business and have had to wrestle and referee among owners, specifiers, salespeople, contractors, etc. to come up with a design that nobody is happy with, but everyone grudgingly accepts — all because those people did not do their jobs.

The owners aren't sure what they need, so they hire consultants. The consultants do not specify the job in detail because they know that the price will be too high and the owners (their customers) will not be happy. The general and mechanical contractors don't mind as long as they can convince the controls contractor to do whatever is required with a promise to “make it up on a future job.” So the specifications are just vague enough to be interpreted whatever way is best at the moment, and everything flows downhill to the lowest contractor on the chain. This results in salespeople having to “cover” themselves with dollars earmarked for “miscellaneous” or “risk factors.”

I always have believed that the quotes with these miscellaneous and risk-factor costs probably are roughly equivalent to what the cost would have been had the specifications been detailed and the bidders known up front that the consultants had the backbone to enforce them.

I am glad to see someone finally has gotten it right. Keep up the good work!
Jim Skinner
York International Controls Group
York, Pa.

Author's response:

I agree with your assessment of miscellaneous and risk-factor costs. It all can be kind of discouraging at times. But I continue to believe we can fix it somehow. A lot of times, I think things are along the lines of good people doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons and all the wrong things for all the right reasons. So, if we can just rearrange the rights and wrongs in that sentence and help folks see that this all can be pretty fun and fascinating, there may be hope. And while they are not in the majority, I do know of others who feel as we feel and are trying to act on it.
David A. Sellers, PE
Portland Energy Conservation Inc.
Portland, Ore.

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