Specifications: Views from the Commercial Flooring Contractor
The specification provides the detailed description of the required materials, dimensions, quality standards, and installation methods for a proposed commercial interior project. Considering the number of trades and products the specification documents must guide to fulfill the client brief, this seems impossible to execute using just the project manual and drawings. Commercial flooring specifications are especially challenging as they directly impact every person who might use the space with aesthetic, performance, wellness and safety benefits.
Manufacturers’ representatives traditionally carried most of the responsibility to support interior design professionals in their specification and selection efforts for commercial flooring. Some major changes have occurred in the last few decades, and despite the massive consolidation of hundreds of flooring manufacturers, the product solutions available to the marketplace have exploded. Choice adds overwhelming complexity to the interior designer’s workload and professional liability.
For the professional interior designer, there is another option that spans the gap between creative design and manufacturing capabilities. They can align themselves with a professional flooring specifier that has the technical knowhow to navigate the unique variables to pre-plan and execute a successful commercial flooring project. These roles add value to the collaborative process; linking manufacturing capability, the interior designer, fabrication and installation and the needs of the end user.
Early Collaboration in New Construction
Specifications used to be one of the last elements included before a written package was issued for bidding. At one point, the decision to write a prescriptive specification or a performance specification led us down predictable paths. Traditional shop drawings and the finish submittal samples were methods used to further clarify the elements needed to bring the interiors to life.
Most of these traditional methods, effective to get the details confirmed and support approvals, are being sacrificed or compromised as construction schedules compress. Technology tools, such as building information modeling (BIM), are driving the expectation for high-speed approvals. Multiple stakeholders, immediately brought together by the technology platforms, are eliminating the deliberation and explanation that would occur in person. The cascading impacts of changes during the construction process continue to result in conflicts, errors and omissions. The symptoms of high-pressure decision making ultimately impact the client and put the interior designer’s reputation at risk, exposing them to liability.
Grant Petruzelli, President, Universal Metro, Orange, Calif.
“We always ask clients to involve our firm in the specification process. In that effort, we strive to be ‘flooring advisors’ industry experts offering a unique perspective from years of translating construction specifications into finished projects. The goal is to come away with written specifications that eliminate the omissions and negative consequences we have seen impact clients over the years.
“Our perspective, early in the process, is that we can help protect the intent of the design and mitigate unplanned compromise in the middle of the project, when the clock is ticking for everyone. If we are proactive and involved early–before the documents are created–we can guide the designer with a balanced view across multiple product types, bias-free and focused on the unique needs of the project, from phasing requirements to realistic budgets.
“We may also have insight into the end user or the general contractor’s work style. If we believe an end user will have difficulty managing multiple maintenance procedures for a mix of flooring finishes, we will share our recommendations and engineer an appropriate solution. In addition, because we understand the work styles of the general contractors and other trades in our market, we can add value by suggesting language that clarifies scope, protects flooring contractors from unforeseen conditions, and ultimately, reduces the risks posed to a successfully installed finish, post-installation.
“Our effort to qualify the design intention, while balancing the needs of both the end user and the general contractor, provides all parties with a broader and clearer perspective–one that is achievable to execute in both estimation and installation. These insights help the designer deliver a better project and greatly enhance the end user’s satisfaction with their buildings.”
The Sum of the Parts is Greatness
The main floor selection will drive the overall look and feel of the space, but the interface between the floor, wall, and other interior elements are where the execution of the partnership between the professional commercial flooring specifier and the interior designer can deliver inspirational spaces. In addition, flooring products require significant effort to modify their form to make them usable in the space. These modifications cannot be explained away as the installation process. What is happening on the job site is a combination of site management, fabrication, installation, and floor protection until the end user occupies the space. Daily decisions must be made at high speed as compromises between conflicting trade work and significant schedule changes are made on site that impact interior finishes.
Some of the document tools are driven by necessity through regulatory compliance, financial record keeping, and risk management. Other documents support the execution of the project. Contract documents, drawings, and the specifications all must come together deliver a rally point for the project teams to communicate. That is where the interaction between a professional interior designer, the manufacturer’s representatives, and a professional commercial flooring contractor specification representative makes the biggest difference.
Tanya Jones, Director of Sales, Bonitz, Greenville, S.C.
“One of the greatest challenges that our designer’s face, especially in this fast-paced environment, is the level of finishing details that link the products together in a space. A flooring specification is often vague, but the actual results achieved can be dramatically better when we are consulted. We guide the expectations for workmanship quality and obscure product details that enhance the success of the project.
“For example, a designer could spend hours researching the best products and approach to handle the interface between a door frame detail and the flooring material. They have a choice to spend the time on that detail that may not be recognized by the client, in billable hours, or call our design and project specialists. In most scenarios, we can give the designer the product solution and the specification we are confident can be executed in the field. Our team’s experience working through these challenges in real time makes us experts on these esoteric topics.
“Ideally, if we get the call before the project starts, we can collaborate, address and prevent the productivity and schedule delays that can lead to compromising the project. Our team often gets calls from the manufacturer’s representatives looking for support on design challenges and details they cannot resolve independently. They may be looking for advice on anything from subfloor changes, stair conditions or managing control joints and columns. Those issues have a dramatic impact on the performance and appearance of their products, and we manage those things every day.
“We enjoy being the solutionist for our designers and guiding them through those challenges. We have the ability to support a full range of products from the floor to the ceiling and best understand an appropriate solution that yields the best result for the end use customer.”
Creative Problem Solving Protects the Client from Compromise
Specifications often used to be one of the last items written before a package was issued for bidding, but this has changed with the deployment of BIM. This technology makes changes and revisions to the construction drawings and documents effortless, but the physical world must follow the changes. The expectations for easy change and limitless revisions presented by our technology driven consumer culture are making their way into the world of construction.
Traditional change order processes, restocking fees, and missed production dates are foreign to end users trained by the great consumer companies operating on the internet. Transparent pricing, stock visibility, and easy “free shipping/free returns” are not something the commercial flooring industry has mastered. This is another area where the commercial flooring specifier can support the interior designer.
Specification writing should begin very early in a project including a review with the client about their goals for the project. Unfortunately, in the time it takes for the specifications to develop into purchase orders and project execution, the marketplace changes. Products are discontinued, manufacturers acquire each other, tariffs change budgets, and production challenges may force deviation from the original selections.
Kathi Kennedy, Product Specialist, Howard’s Rug, San Diego
“In my role, I can provide a wealth of information to my designer clients. As part of my professional expertise, I have toured many of the production facilities in the flooring business. You can get a view of the marketplace by visiting the trade events, such as Neocon, Coverings, or Surfaces, but to really understand the capabilities of our industry you must visit the production facilities.
“I have toured many types of facilities including soft surface, resilient, accessories, and even adhesives and underlayments. Most designers do not have the time or opportunity to do that type of research. I have made it part of the value I provide to understand what the designer is trying to accomplish and match up the capabilities I have seen in person at each manufacturer.
“Not every manufacturer does the best job of translating their unique capabilities through their field representatives. I feel I have developed a balanced view of each company and understand where they can really shine on a project. I have an ensemble that I can call upon to deliver just the right element in every project and meet the budget.
“A very important part of our responsibility to the designer is to make sure that they receive realistic installed pricing for their budgets. Often, the cost of material the designer receives from the manufacturer does not include essential costs such as freight, delivery, installation, dealer mark-up and tax. If these costs are not taken into consideration, the project ends up being over budget or materials being valued engineered compromising the client’s originals goals and occupants experience within the space.
“I can guide the designer to make selections early or consider another product if I know a manufacturer is having a challenge in production or the cost of the material does not fit within the budget. This saves them a lot of stress and embarrassment with the client if something they specify is delayed, discontinued or over budget. I have a much broader view than they can gain on their own or can be achieved only through the manufacturer’s representatives.”
The result for the client, in this special collaboration between professionals, is a better balance in project execution demands and the budget. In today’s digital age the interaction the between people is often taken for granted. The industry applauds another modeling software or visualization tool, but all those technologies are designed to enhance the communication at the root of high value projects for the client. The professional flooring contractor continues to evolve and add value by supporting the professionals overwhelmed with the options and responsibilities of the specification process.