Design-specifications have had a tradition and sometimes contemptuous past in the world of fire protection design.
Sometimes called “design-build spec”, “performance-specification”, “delegated design”, “deferred submittal documents”, “scope drawings”, or “design-spec”, these all mean relatively the same thing; the engineer is not providing a working submittal of how a fire suppression system should end up in the field.
Back in 2008 advocacy groups from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and National Institute for Certification of Engineering Technologies (NICET) adopted a joint position on the role of the Engineer and the Engineering Technician as they relate to fire protection systems. A summary and full-length document are here.
The position statement does a good job of identifying the relationship between engineering documents and a working shop drawing submittal. It maintains that the role of the Engineer is to support the proper protection of the public’s health and safety. A licensed Engineer is required to understand a broad sense of fire protection beyond just suppression, and also has specific state requirements for licensing and authorization.
While the position statement does a good job of identifying roles and defining the relationship between an engineer and a technician, real-world experience says that many “design-build specifications” fall short on good practice.
I’ll save my frustrations on the lack of quality engineering documents for another day (it is not a regional issue). There is a ton to explore on that topic.
I will however offer up what I like to use as a practical checklist for design-build specifications. Not all owners want to pay consultants to flush out all the details of a system. I get it. But if an owner is paying for anything at all, then the documents should address basic requirements and cost-impacting elements of design.
If a set of plans just outlines an area and says “per NFPA 13”, then someone isn’t doing it right.
This cheatsheet is a collection of the items I’m looking for when I help contractors bid jobs. It’s a shortcut to all of the items that have a design and cost-impact to a job.
If you, as a consulting engineer, address every single one of these items clearly and within code, then pat yourself on the back my friend, you are a gift.
If your documents don’t address each of these items (yes, including flow test information), consider making it a part of your regular practice. None of the items on this list are major time consumers, but by accounting for them you’ll allow better bidding from contractors and much less contention after bids are due.
Please, please: don’t loft up vague project requirements to contractors and hope for the best. Invest in being a knowledgeable and quality practitioner of this great industry. It'll more than pay itself back to you.
What are your thoughts? What type of bid documents are you used to seeing? Join the conversation and comment here.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.