Citing Reference Standards in Specifications

Construction specifications use reference documents extensively for two primary reasons:

  • Referencing an external document eliminates the need to repeat its requirements in the specification documents. Many reference documents are quite extensive and a specification on that subject would be quite deficient without including the equivalent of its provisions.
  • By referencing documents that are well-known in the industry or sector, the specifier can convey requirements more quickly and succinctly. Qualified readers recognize the standard and already know what it says.

It's hard to say which of these reasons is more compelling because the practice is so well established that most people, both readers and writers of specifications, accept the practice as normal.

When citing a reference standard in the specification it is important to know what the standard says.  For instance, there are two main types of reference standards:

  • A standard that defines minimum requirements for a product, usually referred to as a standard "specification".
  • A standard that defines a method or methods of testing a product, usually without defining any minimum results.

There are also many hybrid types of standards:

  • Standard specifications that also include the relevant test methods rather than referring to other documents for the test methods.
  • Standard test methods that include minimum results "unless otherwise stated" (in the project specification).

There are also installation standards, which define such things as which product to install where, preparing of substrates, and installation tolerances.  Each installation standard is unique, as it applies to a specific category of products applied in a certain way. 

SpecLink-E cites standards in these ways:

  • Standard Specification for a Products:  "[Product X]:  Comply with [Standard Y]." or "[Product X]:  Provide a product complying with [Standard Y]."
  • Test Method:  "[Product Property X]:  [Value with Unit of Measure], [minimum/maximum], when tested in accordance with [Standard Y]."
  • Installation Standard:  "Install [Product X] in accordance with [Standard Y]."

Which Standards Apply?

Obviously, you can look in the relevant SpecLink or PerSpective section to see which standards apply to that work result or product category. But what if you need to prepare a new section? The following are recommended places to look for relevant standards, in order of efficiency:

  • The applicable building code, fire safety code, etc. Codes also reference voluntary standards, for the same reasons, so if your code does reference one that standard has the force of law.
  • The ICC Model Codes. These do not have the force of law but may be more comprehensive than your local code. Also, ICC is careful to reference only truly acceptable standards.
  • Our NGO List. Do a word search in that page for a relevant organization, then search their publications web site for relevant documents.
  • Association Listings:  At the bottom of each MasterFormat page in the 4specs index are trade associations that are applicable to that product group.  Manufacturer Listings:  4specs has indexed thousands of building product manufacturer web sites by MasterFormat. Find the product category, then review what the manufacturers say about which quality standards their products meet.
  • ASTM's Standards store. ASTM has the largest collection of standards on all types of subjects, and their store is very easy to search.
  • Google. Google, despite its reputation, is not very efficient for this type of search. Its principal problem is that it finds things that are stated as not being something as well as those that are.
  • If all else fails, phone a manufacturer and ask what standards apply. Some manufacturers are strangely reluctant to publish this information, even though they do test their products to meet them.