SpecNote System for House Design

SpecNote System for House Design

There are lots of “house designers” and even some Architects that typically do Not include specifications in their documents for a house design.   In this firm’s opinion, that is not wise.  Read on to find out why…


Drawings are supposed to indicate how tall, how wide and how deep and in general, identify what the components are in the graphic depictions of your house project and WHERE they are located in 3 Dimensional space.  Also, their dimensions: how large or small they are.  Unfortunately, there is not enough room on a drawing to adequately list all the complete  ‘WHAT” features of products, materials and their characteristics and manufacturers and other aspects, like delivery procedures, warranty information and the like.  So, to keep your drawings easier to read, you develop a method of noting your drawings with abbreviations and in some more advanced firms, like the HOME ARCHITECTS ®, specification-linked numbered drawing notes, which are very short, but which relate to full descriptions elsewhere in the documents.

SpecNote System
Notice how the numbered notes allow the Architect to include more descriptions in a smaller space. For instance: see the brown SpecNote: 06400-dd-330. It may be found in the Numbered Drawing Note column on the sheet (see other image in this article, below) in Division 6 notes.  Click on this image above to see this more clearly and larger.


So how does that work?  What are Numbered Drawing Notes?  And how do these Numbered Drawing Notes “link” to the Specifications, and exactly what are Specifications, anyway and why are they a good idea in a set of project documents?


All good questions.



Specifications are the words and in some cases, images that describe the WHAT of the materials, components and items, systems and other aspects of your project, including, in some cases, the bidding procedures and quality standards for the various items used in the project.


To NOT have specifications means one or two things:

1.) you will either Not have the quality or other characteristics of your house indicated for the builder, and/or

2.) the person creating the design will try to cover as much of this as they can directly on the drawings, meaning that they will become very cluttered and hard to read and in no way can possibly fit, so they will be incomplete.


The problem with trying to put all this kind of information directly on the drawing graphic sheets is that you end up copying and duplicating verbose lines of text that seldom adequately  describe the materials and systems to be used in the project in order for the project to be accomplished in a quality manner.


For instance: To describe all the features of a particular fireplace will take several paragraphs: the make, model, fire type, combustion air source, whether or not it will have fire gasketed glass doors for energy conservation, color, material options, appearance, two sides or one-sided, recirculating inner ductwork with forced air fan connected to a thermostatic control, minimum placement tolerances to combustible materials… ALL of these things will take some text to explain, not too mention the flue, chimney, spark arrestor and other features.

Simply leaving ALL of this up the Contractor opens the Owner up to all sorts of possibilities, none of which are good: what if the features desired are not provided.  The Contractor could say: “Hey, I didn’t see any specs on that, so I provided the cheapest one I could find, which was a used one from my old house…”

That would be a shocking thing to discover, but without proper specifications indicating the features, how would you control that?   Lots of notes on the drawings?  And every time this fireplace appears in the drawings, you duplicate those voluminous notes?  Why not say it once, say it right, in the specifications?

And if you have done that, then how to you make sure that all the excellent information there in the Specifications is understood to applies to that particular fireplace shown on the Drawings?


The SpecNote ™ System


Architects have wrestled with this problems for hundreds of years.  In the 1980’s CAD (Computer Aided Drawing) came about and revolutionized how Architects produced their projects.  Most Architectural and Engineering firms adopted this approach for about 30 years, well into the early part of the 21st Century, perhaps through 2010 or so.  Now days, an even larger revolution is taking place, called 3D/BIM, which stand for three-dimensional Building Information Modeling.  Software now exists that many Architects are studying and are in the process of implementing.  It is far more complicated that CAD.  But this is a subject for another online article.

SpecNote System
The SpecNote TM System by the HOME ARCHITECTS. Notice how the drawing note on the lower left of the image is 6-402. Look in the Numbered Drawing Notes column and find its corresponding note definition under Divsion 6. Also notice the brown Specification Linkage Notes in the note column. They link directly to their corresponding Specification paragraphs in the Specifications.  Click on this image above to see this more clearly and larger.


The main issue is: Architects today use computers primarily to produce their designs.  Computers allow Architects to access their specifications and drawings.  The key here is to have a notation system that will directly link the Specifications to the Drawings, or rather, the Drawings to the Specifications.


The HOME ARCHITECTS ® Senior Staff Architect, Rand Soellner, ArCH/NCARB, used to design large commercial projects like airports, high schools, industrial projects and others.  He developed a method of using Drawing Notes, like many Architects, but with one noticeable difference: He started using Numbers for the drawing key notes.  This is a very important difference.  Why?


Specifications are grouped into various Design and Construction Industry recognized sections.  Soellner used the then CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) 16 Division standard, then expanded it to 17 divisions (adding low-voltage systems for computers, security systems and the tele-communications).  So, he grouped his drawing sheet notes on the right side of each drawing sheet, and divided this column of notes into 17 sections, with each division numbered and labeled:
and so on, through the entire list of divisions.


Why is this a good idea?  Because each sub-contractor working for the General Contractor knows in what Division his work is located.  For instance: an Electrician knows his work is in Division 16 ELECTRICAL.  This applies to the Specifications and the Numbered Drawing Notes.  So: any note on the Drawings with a “16” prefix means that is an Electrical note and the Electrician knows that he needs to pay attention to that.  THIS IS A HUGE ADVANCE FORWARD IN DRAWING ORGANIZATION FOR ARCHITECTS AND BUILDERS.   Up until this time, every sub-contractor would have to scour the drawings for his work and often missed things for his trade, because they were either not noted, or were mixed in with notes applicable to other trades.   Building a home or building is a very complicated thing to do.  Any drawing system that helps the various trades understand what their work is helps to coordinate the work immensely.


So: a typical Numbered Drawing Note might be something like:
“4-402   Native stone wall facing from grade level up foundation wall to underside of wood siding sill flashing level.”
And that would be the note under Division 4 MASONRY.  The “4-402” would be all that is required to be inserted into the drawing area and to point from this special note number to this area on the Drawing.   The stone mason would be looking for Division 4 notes and as soon as he saw the “4-402” note on the drawing, perhaps on the exterior Building Elevation, that mason would immediately look over to the Number Drawing Notes list on the right side of the drawing sheet and then look down for 4 MASONRY NOTES, and under that for the 4-402 note.  This greatly helps each trade to understand what is expected of them

Now then, what has this got to do with the Specifications?  Well, each Specification Section is grouped in these same major divisions, so the Mason would know to look in the Division 4 specification to find the rock to be used.  However, we can do even better than this.



Soellner began numbering his specification paragraphs in the 1980s.  He discovered that if he used these paragraph numbers for some of the items to be defined on the Drawings, that there could be a direct linkage between the Specifications and the Drawings.  This was the missing link between Specifications and Drawings!

So, he began by carefully numbering Specification paragraphs with the Specification Section number first (which are typically 5 digits), like 06400 for casework, shelving and cabinetry within the Main Division of 6 WOOD & PLASTICS.  And Soellner took this a step farther, adding a typically 3 digit suffix to the section prefix.  For instance:
06400-330 became the paragraph number to describe: “Clothes Closets- Rod, & Pine Shelves.”  This paragraph then described in detail how many shelves there was to be, depending on the height of the space in which it was located, the finish on the wood and the heights at which they would be mounted and the depth of the shelves and height and diameter of the rod and species of wood.  This paragraph number was also made a dark brown color, to distinguish it from other parts of the Specifications (useful, if the drawings are published electronically, which is the case these days, or in colored ink on white stock).


Then, on the Numbered Drawing Sheet Notes on the Drawings, this “06400-330” note appears, with just the abbreviated words of its paragraph heading, so that Contractors reading the Drawings have a general understanding of what this numbered note is all about.  And more importantly, exactly to where in the Specifications they can look to find its more detailed description!  Then, on the drawing area of the Drawing sheet, just the number “06400-330” is used in the closets, pointing to the rods and shelves used there.  All the subcontractors who provide such hardware need to do now is to look over at the Numbered Drawing Notes on the right hand side of the Drawing sheet, find Division 6 and then look under that for the abbreviated description of this note 06400-330, then look on the Specification Sheets, in Division 6, under subsection 06400 and find paragraph 06400-330 to find the complete specification for these items.


Part of the rigor of this system is that you have to have an on-going list of the Numbered Drawing Notes being used so that the project Architect team notes and the SpecNotes all coordinate and always apply to the same thing on the same project.


While this sounds tedious, this level of coordination has not been in existence on Architects’ drawings until this invention.  This is the SpecNote ™ System.   Now, it is far easier for Contractors, their subcontractors and material suppliers to find the work and components of their trades and work more efficiently and with fewer items missed.  This takes the coordination of Drawings and Specifications to a whole new higher level of quality.  Architecture has  evolved, with this and other new tools and techniques to improve the practice and quality of both residential and commercial architecture.


And the winner is the Owner-Client.  Better coordinated Drawings and Specifications means they receive better pricing, specifically giving them what they want.  And happier Contractors, because it is actually hard to miss items on such well-coordinated set of documents.


To have this level of competency on your next house design project, call:
828-269-9046  Rand@HomeArchitects.com


Perhaps now, it is starting to become obvious how the HOME ARCHITECTS ® SpecNote ™ System is helping to improve the world of residential and commercial architecture.  Larger commercial architectural companies have noticed this firm’s advanced method of Drawing Numbered Notes and are learning and comparing systems with this company to improve their own.





A final note: Specification editing is used by this particular firm as a Quality Control Checklist.  Every specification section has implications for the drawings and for the SpecNotes.  Therefore, reviewing each specification section for each job allow the HOME ARCHITECTS ® to understand where they need to add SpecNotes and also to add Specification data.  This is part of their ISO 9000 program for Quality Control.  Anything less would be unprofessional.  This firm excels at producing quality designs and quality documents and their Specifications are part of this.  Always insist that whoever produces your design work has thorough Specifications, and that they are well-coordinated with the Drawings.  Insist that an Architect prepares your designs.




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