Better Relationships, Better Specifications

By Ron Baer

The relationship between an architect and a contractor is not always smooth, but in the end they need to work as partners. After a few successful projects, perhaps the intermediate relationship problems can be nearly eliminated and the teamwork can be established early in a project. In this way, the masonry contractor has familiarity with the architect’s design concepts and the architect has the benefit of the masonry contractor’s hands-on experience in creating specifications for the job.

No architectural team has expertise in all trades, so they tend to accept guidance from sources perceived to have expertise — manufacturers, distributors and tradesmen. Since manufacturers typically are more active in writing specifications — and more dependent on their product being specified in jobs — their products and methods are often utilized even when the contractor is aware of better-performing or more efficient products, methods or systems. It’s often easier to avoid conflict and go along with the written specification than to seek a variance. However, the team of contractor and architect can create specifications for a better finished product.

Masonry cleaning is one of those areas where there might be conflict. What are the cleaning issues into which a trusted masonry contractor might have input? Like the chemical manufacturers, he is concerned about preserving the appearance of the project and the safety of those on the site. In addition, he is concerned about the efficiency of the work and meeting the project’s economic goals. The contractor also knows which chemical her people prefer. She knows the most effective, safest way to apply the chemical.

Tom Cummer from Cummer Masonry, a nationally certified contractor, suggests not that specifications for masonry cleaning be eliminated, but that the specifications be functional instead of prohibitive. For example, rather than specifying that the product be applied by hand or with a garden sprayer, specify the maximum pressure for chemical application. In addition, rather than specify that a pressure washer shall not be used, specify the maximum pressure allowed. Cummer suggests, “I know that most state ‘no pressure washer,’ but that does not make sense, as a garden hose has assisted pressure. They should state up to how much pressure can be used at a certain cone size.”

Al Slattery of Al Slattery Masonry, Inc. says that he would specify a more uniform and controlled process than the one generally suggested by the chemical manufacturers. If you have a “consistent amount of chemical used and water temperature, it is much easier to keep from burning a wall because of having water and chemical in hand at all times.” Also, when he uses the equipment and products he knows best, he can anticipate problems and meet deadlines.

Another specification invaluable to both the architect and the masonry contractor is to require a sample wall. It should be large enough to display the variation in color of the natural materials and the appearance standard for the final wall. It also should be washed using the same method and products as the final project. The finished faces of the project should be compared to the approved sample, which includes the selected range of unit textures, sizes and colors.

Working as a team, the architect and masonry contractor can create specifications to deliver a high-quality project, on schedule, and consistent with the vision and purpose the project owner expects.

Ron Baer is president of Kem-O-Kleen, manufacturer of patented and industry-leading masonry cleaning equipment for over 45 years.