February 2007

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Specifying Integrated Technology Systems in a Fragmented World
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Steve Jobs, 2003

  Jim Sinopoli

  Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD
Managing Principal
Sinopoli and Associates

Author of "Smart Buildings"

How do integrated technology systems get installed in new buildings? They are installed when they are designed into the buildings. The design of building technology systems is communicated to the installing contractor and others through specifications and drawings, which together are referred to as the “construction documents”. Here’s an overview of construction documents and the reasons they are critical to manufacturers, contractors and designers of integrated building systems.

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Construction documents for integrated building systems are prepared by a designer or engineer and are used to coordinate the design with other professionals, used by the contractor to install the systems, and eventually used or archived by the owner or the facility manager. The construction documents delineate the design detail and the requirements for the installation. The contractor is legally bound to install the systems as per the construction documents, that is, the plans and specifications.

Construction documents are binding legal documents. They identify the responsibilities of the contractor, the interrelationships between the contractors and other parties involved in the construction, and the contractor’s rights. In some cases (i.e. fire alarm systems) the construction documents are used to obtain government permits for system installation.

It is important to note that construction specifications are different than a manufacturer’s product specifications. A manufacturer’s specification for, say a video surveillance camera, is different than a construction specification for a video surveillance system. The construction specifications will describe the work and the required result, quality, installation practices, materials, coordination, documentation, etc. of the work. The designer’s responsibility in preparing the specifications is to be clear, to the point and technically sound. If a specification uses words such as “any”, “all”, or phrases such as “as required” or “as appropriate”, it is not conveying specific information to the contractor.

Construction documents have been standardized for ease of use to reduce errors and to facilitate coordination. The written specifications have divisions for every building discipline (civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.). They use something akin to a “Dewey decimal system” that is used in libraries with the specifications having standard titles, a master list of numbers, and a standardized page format. Major divisions of the specifications are further divided into sections.

One of the most popular formats for construction specifications is the MasterFormat produced and trademarked by the Construction Specifications Institute and primarily used in North America. European and Asian entities have very similar standardized formats.

There is an effort to review and revise the MasterFormat about every 7 years to reflect new design and construction requirements. For example, the previous version of the MasterFormat had 16 divisions, but scant mention of technology. This spurred the use of the “Division 17” for most anything that did not fit into the other specification divisions. Technology was one of the factors considered in the latest revision of the MasterFormat, which was released in 2004.

The MasterFormat has a “Procurement and Contracting Requirements” and a “Specifications” group. The Specification group has the following subgroups:

It is the Facility Services subgroup where the designs of integrated systems reside. This subgroup has seven Divisions, three of which are related to building technology systems:

• Division 25 - Integrated Automation
This covers building automation systems including facility equipment, conveying equipment, fire-suppression systems, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. The section addresses the instrumentation and terminal devices for these systems as well as the network equipment such as network devices, gateways, control and monitoring equipment, local control units, and software. In addition, the division deals with system operation, maintenance, sequence of operation, schedules, cabling and cable pathways, commissioning and as well as the integration with the other related Divisions, such as Communications, and Systems Electronic Safety and Security Systems.

• Division 27 – Communications
This division basically covers the traditional IT items (structured cable, data and voice systems) as well as AV and specialty communications systems. It also deals with inside and outside cable and cable pathways, telecommunications services, and gets as granular as printers, virus protection software, disaster recovery and even virtual reality equipment. This is also the division that covers a wide range of specialty systems such as nurse call, sound masking, RFID, intercom and paging systems, digital signage, clocks, point-of-sale, etc.

• Division 28 – Electronic Safety and Security
This is essentially the life safety division where access control, video surveillance, intrusion detection, detection of radiation, fuel, refrigerant and gas, and fire alarm detection reside.

Each of the sections within a division is presented or written in three parts:

GENERAL – This part lays out the administrative and procedural requirements of the contractor on the job.

PRODUCTS - This part lists the equipment, materials and products required for the system and job.

EXECUTION – This part describes how the products and equipment are to be installed, post installation requirements, documentation, etc.

The complete CSI MasterFormat 2004 Titles and Numbers can be obtained at CSI MasterFormat 2004.

The other half of the construction documents is the drawings, an integral component in order to convey the design intent of the systems. The drawings show locations, relationships, dimensions, detail, etc. The design drawings are also organized and standardized. Drawings or a drawing set are typically organized by discipline (civil, structural, electrical, telecommunications, etc.), and then further by type of drawings (plan, elevation, section, etc.) Note that drawings may also be prepared during construction by the contractor; these are call shop drawings and are used to show how equipment may be fabricated or installed.

Standard Naming Convention for Construction Drawings

Drawing Series Identifier





Hazardous Materials






Civil Works














Fire Protection














Other Disciplines


Contractor/Shop Drawings



Manufacturers of integrated building system products need to understand how their products can be specified on a job. In addition they need to provide information regarding their products in a MasterFormat format rather than the traditional product slick – this indicates that the manufacturer understands the process, and also makes it easier for the designer to specify the product. Contractors, especially those in IT who may be use to purchase orders with an itemized list of equipment, need to understand the contractual environment of new construction and the way their products will be identified, specified and installed.

Understanding construction documents and the roles of the designer and contractor is important if the benefits of the integrated building systems are to be realized in more buildings.

For more information about smart buildings, systems design services, or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email me at info@smart-buildings.com

About the Author

For over 25 years, Mr. Sinopoli has worked extensively on projects involving the configuration and optimization of building technology systems and networks. Mr. Sinopoli has spoken on numerous occasions at conferences and seminars focusing on high technology issues and has received the international “Harry J. Pfister” award from the Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI).

Mr. Sinopoli has experience in the healthcare, corporate, education, manufacturing, finance, construction and government industry sectors. His clients have included Fortune 100 corporations, the US Postal Service, the US Air Force, major K-12 school districts throughout the county, statewide university systems, airports and ports, the Internal Revenue System, large private and public hospitals, technology companies, and nationwide developers. His international experience includes projects in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa.

Mr. Sinopoli's educational credits include a B.S. in Engineering from Purdue University and a M.A. in Applied Science and Management from Governor's State University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and a Registered Communications Distribution Designer. He recently authored a book titled “Smart Buildings”.


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