One of the three essential elements of any construction contract
is a complete description of the work that the contractor is
required to do. In most construction contracts, this is
accomplished by providing the contractor with detailed construction
drawings and specifications. Often, however, disputes arise as a
result of the information contained in construction drawings and
specifications being incomplete or ambiguous.
Even when specifications are complete and there is no ambiguity
as to what the contractor is required to do and the contractor
follows the specifications provided to it to the letter, disputes
can arise if the end product doesn't perform as expected or
required. This happens when the specification fails to properly
detail the steps required to be taken to do the work in the
Performance specifications, however, avoid the problems that can
arise from a faulty or defective specification as performance
specifications describe the results that the contractor is to
achieve as opposed to the methodology to be used to construct the
work to achieve those results.
Building codes often use performance specifications to dictate
the results to be achieved in the construction of a building. For
instance, the Alberta Building Code provides that a building
envelope is to be constructed so that it is water
tight1. Obviously if this type of specification is used,
it is up to the contractor doing the work to determine how the
result is to be achieved, which transfers the design responsibility
to the contractor for that element of the work.
While there is merit in using performance specifications, it is
not appropriate to do so in every situation. The nature of the work
and the sophistication of the party performing the work must be
considered first. It is not appropriate to use performance
specifications if it is intended to incorporate a new design or
methodology for achieving the desired result or if the work to be
done is not the usual type of work performed by the contractor. In
these circumstances, it is best to set out explicit directions on
how to do the work in the specifications.
Performance specifications, however, are appropriate and most
often used when the contractor has specific expertise in doing the
work. For instance, speciality equipment manufacturers are often
required to provide equipment that meets the purchaser's
performance requirement for the equipment being purchased.
Likewise, speciality trade contractors, even without knowing it,
are actually doing work according to a performance specification.
The electrician hired to wire a new house under construction is
seldom provided with any specifications for the work it is to do.
It is up to the electrician to ensure that he wires the house in
accordance with the applicable code and so that it provides the
electrical outlets and lighting usually required by a homeowner. It
is only when the homeowner requires something specific or different
than the norm that a performance specification will be
The use of performance specifications is very useful in defining
what a contractor is to provide but care must be exercised to
determine if and when it is appropriate to use performance
1 Alberta Building Code, subsection 188.8.131.52
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