General specifications of work quality are available in numerous fields and are issued in publications of organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), or the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Distinct specifications are formalized for particular types of construction activities, such as welding standards issued by the American Welding Society, or for particular facility types, such as the Standard Specifications for Highway Bridges issued by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). These general specifications must be modified to reflect local conditions, policies, available materials, local regulations and other special circumstances.
Construction specifications normally consist of a series of instructions or prohibitions for specific operations. For example, the following passage illustrates a typical specification, in this case for excavation for structures:
Conform to elevations and dimensions shown on plan within a tolerance of plus or minus 0.10 foot, and extending a sufficient distance from footings and foundations to permit placing and removal of concrete formwork, installation of services, other construction, and for inspection. In excavating for footings and foundations, take care not to disturb bottom of excavation. Excavate by hand to final grade just before concrete reinforcement is placed. Trim bottoms to required lines and grades to leave solid base to receive concrete.
This set of specifications requires judgment in application since some items are not precisely specified. For example, excavation must extend a “sufficient” distance to permit inspection and other activities. Obviously, the term “sufficient” in this case may be subject to varying interpretations. In contrast, a specification that tolerances are within plus or minus a tenth of a foot is subject to direct measurement. However, specific requirements of the facility or characteristics of the site may make the standard tolerance of a tenth of a foot inappropriate. Writing specifications typically requires a trade-off between assuming reasonable behavior on the part of all the parties concerned in interpreting words such as “sufficient” versus the effort and possible inaccuracy in pre-specifying all operations.
In recent years, performance specifications have been developed for many construction operations. Rather than specifying the required construction process, these specifications refer to the required performance or quality of the finished facility. The exact method by which this performance is obtained is left to the construction contractor. For example, traditional specifications for asphalt pavement specified the composition of the asphalt material, the asphalt temperature during paving, and compacting procedures. In contrast, a performance specification for asphalt would detail the desired performance of the pavement with respect to impermeability, strength, etc. How the desired performance level was attained would be up to the paving contractor. In some cases, the payment for asphalt paving might increase with better quality of asphalt beyond some minimum level of performance.