Testing in the Specs
Manage risks and reduce costs with detailed considerations for mock-up and QA testing
The Bottom Line:
Project specifications that do not address the potential for failure of a mock-up or QC test can leave trades, suppliers and manufacturers in unsettled or potentially adverse positions.
Early thought toward field testing specifications may seem minor, but it provides the best opportunity to avoid the cost and relationship harm that can result when failures occur.
Project specifications are tools just as important as any hammer, saw or driver. But as important as they may be to building a project, specifications are equally important risk management and money-saving tools. Careful attention to specifying proper components and their interactions is essential to quality building practices and identifying what happens when systems conflict.
A strong example is found in mock-up and quality assessment testing. Field testing specification details vary widely. They can range from generic specifications simply based on the number of units for testing, to detailed and phased assessments with prescribed methods and means. Each may have its place, but a quick exercise in picking apart some details of a field-testing specification can show how good specifications can realize positive cost and risk returns.
Start with what is being tested. Mock-up and field-testing protocols typically focus on completed assemblies. But those assemblies include multiple elements—cladding, joinery, sealants, the glazing system itself and more. It is often easiest to review all elements in a single test. And where the testing results in a pass, that approach works well.
But what if a failure occurs? Project specifications that do not address the potential for failure of a mock-up or QC test can leave trades, suppliers and manufacturers in unsettled or potentially adverse positions. Where testing specifications do not call for a sequenced and isolated regimen, the forensic benefits of testing can be lost. This means a failure results, not only in a loss of time due to the failure, but the added delay and cost required to find the responsible element or system.
The number of units to be tested is also an essential specification. The typical “representative sample” tends to prove too vague to realize value or savings. Field-testing specifications that fail to provide detailed testing identifiers for number and configuration types often leave gaps in quality reviews that can eliminate the benefit of the monies paid to test in the first place.
So too for timing. A single mock-up of one configuration at the start of a project may be informative, but also not reflective of what happens in the field during the push to meet project deadlines. Specifications that do not provide for testing throughout the project, in phases or exposures, place a lot of faith in that single event to ensure quality throughout an entire job.
A plan for failures
Perhaps most important, seldom do specifications address failures and remediation. Despite best intentions, barriers are immediately erected when a mock-up or field-test fails. Unless the specifications establish a process for forensic investigation and cost sharing, the risk of delay and lack of cooperation grows uncontrolled. The failure to specify post-failure testing cost responsibility can equally drive the parties apart and toward their respective lawyers.
Before going farther, it is important to acknowledge that no one here is being unrealistic. Not every job requires detailed project specifications addressing field-testing protocol. Project specifications also cannot account for every circumstance or potential issue. Where they are present, however, careful assessment of specifications will play an important role in the risk management of any project.
That management starts with a careful review. Looking to what is included is important, but so too is identifying what might be missing. Project or system needs may warrant testing that is more or less rigid. This is not a situation where second-guessing the drafter is needed. Rather, experience is a valuable teacher, and asking about testing can not only ensure early thought goes into the proper testing approach, but also make a better trade partner.
Getting buy-in to the testing specification from all necessary parties is also essential. Manufacturers and suppliers often require notice before testing of their products as a condition to maintain warranty or later product support. Provide that notice early. Pre-project notice of specifications can not only protect later remedies; it also provides the chance to rely on the expertise of those whose systems are going to be used. Early involvement can often identify issues before they happen and avoid later specification and testing conflicts.
Finally, a careful review of the testing specification allows for the identification of contract issues. Terms that identify responsibility for complying with specifications should be carefully considered to ensure they are not too broad. Further, costs for field testing, consultants and remediation should be specifically spelled out in the underlying agreement as well. Consider having a form contractual addendum that addresses field-testing responsibility as an easy way to be prepared to respond to a builder’s preprinted form agreements.
Like any good tool, specifications are only useful with careful consideration into how and when they are used. Early thought toward field-testing specifications may seem minor, but it provides the best opportunity to avoid the cost and relationship harm that can result when failures occur.