Why architectural specifications are important? Do contractors actually read them?

Marc Sawyer
4 min readNov 25, 2021

I noticed over the years that most contractors don’t read the architectural specifications for a project before they start the actual work. Why? It doesn’t make sense to me, but then again it might be because they don’t understand their importance. I wanted to share with you some of the benefits of having detailed specs — and why it might be worth your time to learn more about them!

An architectural specification is a document that describes the requirements of a project. They can include anything from technical, functional, and aesthetic requirements to budget, references, timelines, and more. It’s important for you as the designer or architect to have a list of specifications so they know what they’re going to produce. Without the specifications, you have no idea if what you designed is actually going to be built correctly.

It has been my experience that these days, most contractors don’t read the architectural specifications before they start working on a project. Most times, they only skim the list of materials and then get started. The problem with this approach is that it can delay projects, cause extra expenses for unforeseen changes, and end up creating issues down the road.

Let me give you some examples:

You design a custom home using specific structural beams in each room of your house because of the design requirements… but when your contractor starts building your home he decides to change out all of those beams for standard LVL’s without consulting you. Later to find out they need to be exposed beams. Now you’re stuck wrapping them. Maybe not the look you wanted.

Maybe you specify a particular finish on a light fixture in the bathroom ceiling. The contractor hangs the fixture with a finish similar to the finishes of the fixtures elsewhere. What now? If you had specs calling this out you can point to them. If not you might be out of luck.

Contractors might not read the specifications you write because they don’t want to take the time, which could mean that they’re planning on doing things the way they always have and are not really interested in following your design. If they were to read the specifications, it’s possible that these contractors would not have enough knowledge or expertise on how to correctly complete what you’re asking of them.

There are so many different types of materials used in construction, and specifications must be written for every single type of material and assembly. Without a combination of accurate architectural drawings and specifications, a contractor might make a mistake with an order. If this happens, the correct specifications could help guarantee a positive result for the project.

The benefits of having detailed architectural specifications are numerous. When an architect or designer specifies a material, they need to give information about the type, weight, color, size, and any other special requirements on the surface of the material. This ensures that suppliers know exactly what they need to provide for a project and designers have what they require when on site. When on-site, detailed specifications also ensure that contractors have a more accurate idea of what is expected from them in terms of quality and quantities so there is less wastage and better quality control procedures.

It’s not just about materials — architects and designers also have to specify how a building will be built so this should also be included in their architectural specifications too. For example, the type of foundation and the appropriate concrete strength, and any additional details that may be required such as:

  • The required accuracy of the slab level
  • The slab finish
  • The slab underlay material
  • Protection of below slab plumbing
  • The list goes on…

When specifying you determine the quality of the project. The level of standards the work must adhere to. It might be one of the most important, yet least appreciated parts of the work we do.

Architectural specifications are the backbone of a job well done. From how materials should be specified to what type of foundation is needed, architects and designers must specify everything they need for their project before it begins if they want to avoid costly mistakes or miscommunications with contractors on site. With such a wide array of different materials used in construction today, it can be difficult for some people to understand why this process matters so much but by taking the time and providing detailed specs at every stage you may save yourself from unnecessary headaches down the line!

Photo by Monstera from Pexels



Marc Sawyer

I’m an Architect. My favorite thing to do is create stories through architectural design. Founder of Whitewash Studio architecture firm in Atlanta, GA.