Drawings or Specifictions? Which has precedence? Share your stories.


We wanted to hear or read rather about any interesting stories the architectural community may have with regard to the age old debate over drawing and specification conflicts.

For instance, have you had a contractor, ignore the conflicts between dwgs. and specs and construct from one or the other based on available information?

Or has every contractor you ever dealt with called your office when they were confused?


Our only experience has been with the contractor assuming they knew what we wanted and then persuading us that they did what was best once we arrived on-site for observation. Though it worked out that one time, it could have been considerably worse had we disapproved.

Mar 7, 12 4:44 pm

CM situations can be interesting - those where the CM (not a constructor, not at risk) assigns bid packages' responsibilities by spec section: If it ain't covered by spec, it doesn't matter if it's drawn. You don't get it!

Mar 7, 12 7:39 pm

We always had a note in the General Conditions stating that in the case of conflicts between drawings and specs the specs prevailed.

Mar 7, 12 9:12 pm

As Donna notes, it is typical for the precedence to be addressed in the General Conditions.  I think language along the lines of  "the most stringent requirement governs) is a good practice as it prevents change orders - you can always relieve the contractor of the higher requirement there aren't any real consequences.

Mar 7, 12 10:54 pm

Yes, I've frequently seen the "most stringent" requirement too, as Janosh says.


This conversation is helpful but boring.  Rusty Shackleford, where are you?! Come regale us with tales of specifications reading thusly: 

Let every eye negotiate for itself

And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch

Against whose charms faith melteth in blood

Mar 8, 12 9:11 am

Or has every contractor you ever dealt with called your office when they were confused?

Amusing.   My general impression of contractors is that they just do whatever they want.  Not much confusion there.  And certainly no calling the architect's office.

Architect's cost me money, yo!

Mar 8, 12 10:11 am

I've had contractors call for clarifications.  It's something like this:

'hi.  i was thinking this other shade of white would match better.  do you mind if we use that color instead?  by the way, we changed your column spacing last month when we were pouring foundations.  we were able to get rid of few columns that way to bring the building back in budget.  the owner was ok with that.  i figured you wouldn't mind.  it shouldn't make and difference, so i didn't want to bother you.'

Mar 8, 12 10:22 am

I just met with a friend who has a company which focuses on writing specs for architects.  He said when lawyers get involved, they go right to the specs.  Reason is this is the format they are used to and understand (written documents).

Mar 8, 12 11:52 am

my favorite spec passage ever: the use of salamanders will not be permitted. 

Mar 8, 12 11:59 am

A salamander being a portable propane heater, of course!

Mar 8, 12 1:58 pm

The short answer is: in the case of inconsistencies between the drawings and the specs, the case which is most advantageous to the contractor is the one which will be built and/or litigated.

On a related note, the same rule applies to scaled vs. called-out dimensions (which, perversely, is why it can be a good idea not to put scale indications or markers on drawings).

Mar 8, 12 2:12 pm

Problem solved, one "scaled salamander" coming up!

Mar 8, 12 2:20 pm

Specs, unless GC stipulates otherwise - though I'm not sure how happy the lawyers would get if you had drawings overrule specs.

Mar 8, 12 2:34 pm

Really, drawings are never meant to be "scaled" for dimensions not expressly provided. (Strictly speaking, a a request for Information should be issued by Contractor if necessary to determine a dimension which cannot be derived from numerical information shown.)

Since we're getting all Shakespearean, I think the traditional "Great Chain of Being" for contract documents runs as follows (in ascending order of precedence): Small scale drawings, large scale drawings, notes and specifications.

One idealized objective in the production of CD's is to avoid repetition of information (so that when something is changed, it need be changed in one location only), and to build information into the set following a logical progression of graphic symbology through detailed written annotation. Again, ideally, the system of notes should account for the tendency for errors of omission of information in drawing production. Whatever the system, the rules should be established clearly in General Conditions documents.

Example best practice: Don't use the term "new" or "(N)", but only call out "existing" or "(E)" items. The stated rule for use of the drawing set would be that all construction is new unless noted otherwise...(That way, an Owner would never be charged by the Contractor for the accidental omission of an "N" on the part of the Architect.)

In practice, the larger, more professional builders (of larger scale projects) understand and follow these kinds of requirements, whereas smaller builders do not. In the general population of residential contractors, I would have very low expectation of conformance to such standards, because decisions are usually made by a site-superintendent who probably came up through one of the trades, and is unaware of the fine points of contract administration....



Mar 8, 12 2:49 pm

Hi, new member here.

We just came across a situation where an electrical engineer rejected a transformer we submitted.  They said it had to be copper windings / coils and we had submitted aluminum.  We went to our vendor and they said there was no mention of copper in the SPECS.  And they were correct.  However, the engineer came back and pointed out a general DRAWING NOTE that wasn't even on the same sheet as the Power Riser, Panelboards or Transformer Schedule.  The note said transformers must have copper windings, aluminum not allowed.  And they are sticking to it and not authorizing the cost increase.  Lame.  I bet they will fix that issue on their spec pages.

Dec 13, 18 12:51 pm

Were you given the information or not? Two different scenarios here.


I am going to say we had the information at bid time, yes. It was all on the drawings. And that is where the engineer is correct. It's just a note that we (me / I) didn't notice or give any thought to because our vendor would be reading the specs, etc. So there lies the question and subject of this thread.... SPECS or DRAWINGS? If it was in the specs, our vendor or the manufacturers rep would have seen it OR eaten the up-charge.

Non Sequitur

General notes apply to everyone hence, you should have read them. Were they not provided to you in the bid docs? Why did you assume AL was ok when it was not listed as an acceptable in the specs? This is why we have an RFI process. You'll likely be eating the cost of this one.

Non Sequitur

Electric, the answer is both drawings and specs are important and should be read together. Ignoring one or the other is not a good defense. I see this all the time with our M&E trades and never has a p.eng gone back and issued a CCN because the bidder did not read the drawings.


Why do you want aluminum? Copper is generally a better at electrical conductivity. The big reason for aluminum over copper is weight and cheapness and if you are using aluminum electrical wires. This might be worth reading: and also these: ----- Because Aluminum expands and can potentially be a fire risk and that copper is better overall for electrical, your Electrical Engineer is smart for specifying copper. It is one thing to use aluminum pins for integrated circuits, it is another thing for purposes like the electrical transformer coils, he was smarter for using copper over aluminum. Your EE's a higher qualified professional and his or her specification supersedes you because when it comes to electrical he or she is the highest qualified professional in the room even higher than any architect. I worked with electronics engineering stuff in the distant past, I understand the issues. You are talking about a transformer coil. It gets inherently hot and not just electrically hot. If you did not properly space the coils to account for expansion & contraction and properly seal the transformer from ANY moisture corrosion environment imaginable, yet have proper means for heat transfer emission, aluminum coils can pose a grave risk. For your application in ANY electrical transformer, it should be copper windings.

Non Sequitur

Ricky, I seriously doubt they actually want AL. This is a classic case of contractor under bid the job and is trying to weasle in some extra fees.


While coordination is a serious issue, it should have been a given that you should NEVER EVER EVER EVER use Aluminum for electrical wiring. It maybe fine for low voltage, low current electronics but not with AC or higher voltage stuff in residential or commercial situations. While it technically (as far as carry the electrical current) could be used in residential wiring and had been used in the past, it had been a major cause for electrical fires and have been over the years regulated out of practice via codes.


N.S., I try to make comments based on what is said but I can see what you getting at. To me, specifying copper is the best direction for the application. When I did PCB stuff, aluminum is pretty much limited to the pins of ICs and some components but the PCB traces were typically copper because of the FP4 (phenolic fiberglass) sheets being copper cladded. Generally, it is not worth cheapening out in electrical.

This is a classic case of Rick not knowing enough to intelligently comment but running his keyboard anyway. Rick is commenting on aluminum vs. copper wiring. Electric is talking about aluminum vs. copper windings in transformers. There's a difference.


Actually, EA, the winding in transformers are electrical wires forming a coil. Often, for protection purposes, they are insulated by a polymer film coating. Sometimes, they are called magnet wires. Have you ever made a transformer? The issue be it wires going from panel to outlets to even the wire coil or windings as they are called to the transformer's core (and I'm not talking about the transforming robots in the cartoon or movie series). One key issue is heat. Electrical current and heat. When you are dealing with high heat. When you load the wires (yes, windings are wires in themselves), they tend to heat up. Sometimes, these transformers are in use environments where corrosion can occur. Here's the difference. While both copper and aluminum will corrode and they both technically expand and contract with heat. There is a difference. Aluminum will expand and contract more. Potentially enough that the coating will fail. Another factor is copper's corrosion coating is electrically conductive so electricity will flow. Aluminum corrosion does not conduct electricity and in turn can result in overheating and potential failure that can result in an electrical fire. The polymer film maybe limited to the extent of how much heat it can handle before it fails. With tightly wound wiring and high voltage and current load can result in a short circuit. Short circuiting can be a trigger for electrical fire even in a transformer. While there are measures one can do to prevent these issues but it is still something that one needs to do right. As for copper, it will generally perform better.


To All,

Non Sequitur

to all what? don't leave us hanging!


oh no, right after I accidently entered "To All," I EDITED my post and wrote a paragraph. I guess I didn't save it and i exited. I can re-create it later.... Or it posted elsewhere but I doubt it.

Non Sequitur

there is a max time limit when editing comments... and hitting enter messes things up.


Non Sequitur says "there is a max time limit when editing comments... and hitting enter messes things up." Oh man, thanks for that info. That's probably what happened. I'll try to remember that in the future. This time I am typing in a word doc and I'll just copy/paste it to the forum, hopefully ;). SO, some of what I was saying the other day was in reference to the ALUMINUM wire comments. Keep in mind, I don't pretend to know everything or even a lot. But I have been in the electrical industry since 1983. Aluminum wire is used ALL OF THE TIME in residential and commercial work. Probably more so these days with the super high cost of copper. In reference to RickB-


In reference to RickB-Astoria comments, The problem with aluminum wire that was used (mostly) in residential work in the 70s was that it was small conductors, #14, #12, #10 for 15, 20 and 30 amp circuits. Not good, not at all but it took a little while for that to be figured out. But larger conductors are just fine and it's used ALL OF THE TIME in homes for furnaces, ranges, service conductors, subpanel feeders, etc. And in commercial work it's all over the place. The project I am working on a bid for right now allows Aluminum for #3 and larger so that's like 75 Amps and larger. I just realize that half or more of what I am saying is crazy to even point out because the products are available for a reason. They are perfectly legal and safe for use. As for THIS comment from Non Sequitur " I seriously doubt they actually want AL. This is a classic case of contractor under bid the job and is trying to weasle (SIC) in some extra fees." Of course I don't think that's cool at all to say. We've been at this for almost 100 years. But what IS COOL is that our vendor went to the manufacturer for a favor and got a reduction on the fee to go to copper windings AND the vendor absorbed the rest of the costs. We were lucky but that also comes from good relationships.


Again, Keep in mind, I don't pretend to know everything or even a lot. But I have been in the electrical industry since 1983. 7 years working with tools during a 4 year apprenticeship. Soon after the boss saw my grades from school, he asked me to join the office and learn estimating and management of projects from inside. So that's like 28 years. I applied to get a Masters soon after finishing school but I was 6 months short on field experience so the State told me to re-apply in the near future. But as I was learning new things in the office, I decided I didn't need a License as I wasn't planning to be a business owner, etc. Dumb Dumb, yes. I could really use it now but that's another story.


Fine. BTW: It wasn't a problem in commercial because often they used copper electrical. The little difference in price in the overall product's BOM is not that big of a deal.



Dec 13, 18 1:05 pm

Drawings and Specifications are complementary. Any discrepancies are to be resolved through the RFI process.

Dec 13, 18 1:57 pm

Funny thing I've noticed, board games run into this issue all the time when they have rules and then specific instructions on game boards or cards. They solve it differently, though, usually specifying one or the other overrules.

I'm shocked that no one pointed out the correct answer years ago which is that there shouldn't be a debate as neither specs nor drawings are intended to take precedence one over the other. The contract documents are complementary. What is required by one shall be binding as if required by all. If there is a discrepancy in the contract documents, the appropriate action would be to submit a RFI asking for clarification or interpretation.

As for Electric's issue regarding the transformer ... as both the drawings and the specs are contract documents, you should review both completely and not rely on one or the other alone. The engineer should also have better coordinated their documents and put information where it would commonly be located, not in some random note as a CYA ... but that doesn't absolve you of the responsibility for understanding what is in the complete set of contract documents. If you had, you'd have noticed the requirement and priced your work accordingly.

Dec 13, 18 2:03 pm

Glad to see the responses that came in above while I was writing my comment. It is still a shame that it took 5 years and a resurrected thread to get this clarified.

Non Sequitur

I have to deal with this situation on.every.single.project. People just don't read and when I need something critical that otherwise typically falls in my p.eng's generic spec... our office will issue our own spec section with the architectural goodies highlighted. It's missed 100% of the time... even when we draw special attention to it.  Hey guys & galls, don't forget that we included finishing details in X & Y... 

 Recent(ish) example: Oh, mr. plumber, you did not know that the fire-rated gypsum board access hatches were specified as such and instead thought you'd place your shitty painted metal doors all over my nice atrium? Sorry, we specified the nice ones and they run 20x the cost of your flimsy metal ones. Have fun.


The issue I've had to deal with is when the architect or engineer places something of high cost in an obscure place which gets missed during the GMP process. While we can try to force the issue later and cite the above contractual reality, the contractor turns to the owner and tells them the "extra" cost. They then point out it was "buried" and the owner, wanting to avoid the cost increase, gives the contractor what they want. Bottom line: know what things cost (roughly) and don't put high value items in places where a normal contractor won't think to look.

I'm going to amend your "bottom line" to simplify it for the designers that don't want to bother with cost ... "Don't put items in places where a normal contractor won't think to look.

Spec information belongs in the specs. Drawing information belongs in the drawings. Means and methods belong to the contractor.


Thank you for this Everyday. I literally have your bolded words on a post-it permanently taped to my monitor.  It has saved me in so many situations.  Although, it is my understanding that this only applies to AIA contracts...

Even though we arduously attempt to keep clean specs and drawing, I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't seem to matter where you put the information because the contractor will never look at your documents anyway.

Not necessarily. I think EJCDC documents will be similar to AIA with regard to this, but I can't say for certain. Consensus Docs does stipulate in their default contracts that specs take precedence over drawings where there are discrepancies between the two, but they still include language stating that contract documents are complementary and that the constructor shall perform the work even if it is shown in one and not the other. Basically establishing that omission of something in one is not a discrepancy. Even with AIA documents, if the lawyers start putting things in trying to establish an order of precedence they may make things more complicated. AIA has published information stating that if an order of precedence must be included, that drawings and specs should have the same priority ... i.e. one is not more important than the other. Finally, if the owner writes their own General Conditions, all bets are off. Although I've seen similar language to the AIA's in most owner's custom General Conditions, if not, we are usually good about getting it added.


Ideally, you specify in the specification and you refer to those specifications in the drawings. In other words, ideally, you don't have discrepancies.


Rick, that's a nice idea, but rarely works in practice. The ridiculous version of that is a leader with a keynote that simply writes the spec #, no text. The contractor, upon seeing the drawings, jacks their fee because they now need to look literally everything up in a book as they're doing a general pricing exercise. Sure, they should do it, but that won't end up with anyone making a profit.


We’ve started doing keynotes and notes together on the same drawing “081000 - New door.” And it’s great for some contractors. Others have asked me why every note has a 6 digit number in front after realizing it wasn’t a reference to a detail.




The issue here is that it’s not always a situation of “what a dumb contractor they never read the drawings.” Most architects never read their own general notes and specs. So what happens is they issue a hodge podge of copy / paste nonsense. Contractors are trying to put together an all inclusive price from a set of drawings they’ve never seen before. I dare you to walk over to a coworkers set, sit down and say you know every note and spec of their project in 2-3 days. If you want contractors to do certain things, you need to make clear documents.


And add into that general notes start talking about trash requirements from some random jurisdiction or intumescent paint on a job with no steel, SKIP next section.

^ Exactly. Reams of boilerplate and CYA, with an occasional land mine. Some architects do this intentionally to use later as a way to cover up their own incompetence. No wonder contractors think poorly of architects.

Our job is to make it easy to get things built, not as difficult as humanly possible. My practice is to put everything on the drawings and make them as clear as possible. This is another area where actual construction experience is critical. 


"Rick, that's a nice idea, but rarely works in practice." That's why I said "ideally" because reality falls short of ideal because people just don't follow through with their ideal principles. "The contractor, upon seeing the drawings, jacks their fee because they now need to look literally everything up in a book as they're doing a general pricing exercise. Sure, they should do it, but that won't end up with anyone making a profit." That's their problem. We make a profit by charging more than it costs us in labor and material. The same rules of business applies to them. If they can't make a profit even with that, it is because they aren't charging enough as contractors. If you do a specifications book and specifications note well, it shouldn't be ridiculously hard. It is also why YOU the architect or designer NEEDS to check your plans and specifications notes so you aren't being the jackass that refers to a specification number on the plans and when you go to the specs book the entry is blank or not in the specs book at all. If the project is really simple, you can do without having a specs book and put all the specification requirements in the notes throughout the drawings on the plans. On more complex projects, this would clutter up the drawings pretty quick. If there is a problem with contractors not reviewing ALL of the documents (plans and specifications book), then you may need to run them through a taped deposition where they are asked questions and even tested if they had actually reviewed the specifications. If they did, they should know the requirements. A detailed bid should have a detailed itemization, materials lists, product lists and prices, so on and so on. Not just a bid of $________ for labor and $_______ for material or whatever. It needs to be thought out. The contractor that fulfills a detailed bid package. Another thing is you should have done a bit of that as the architect or designer so you also have an idea what it would cost and in the various areas. For you, it's an exercise in cost estimating so you can compare their real bids to your estimates. It really comes handy to have actual construction experience or have someone in your employ that actually does this for your practice that can competently provide these numbers so you have something to compare with the bidding contractors and who are the ones that are honest and who are the ones that are bullshitting. That would narrow the list down a bit. Of course, that deviates from the topic at hand on a tangent. Our job is not about making the contractor's job easier or for making them a profit. They either have what it takes or they don't. Profit making is their own business decision. We are contracted to provide our service for the client not the contractor unless the contractor IS the client.


Rick, if the documents are more clear your bid spread on a hard bid job is smaller and more accurate. This saving the client $$$$’s. On GMP which usually has more of a design build collaboration the architect needs to make the build side run smoothly if they want repeat work.


archi_dude, that's what is intended by having a thorough set of plans and specifications and not having discrepancies. We can run the numbers ourselves if we know how to do it competently. If we do, we have some basis from which to compare. I would expect some variation but that's to be expected. I wouldn't expect exact same numbers. Those who do it properly should be in the ballpark. Those who don't can be wildly off the mark. 

The contractor's (builder's) role comes after the "Architect's" (speaking broadly of Architects and building designers collectively). We are the starting point of the project's design that leads to construction. We are in that effect, the client's representative. That is essentially our job when it comes to representing the client's interest from the project's inception. 

Ultimately, it is a two way road. We strive to make the builder's job easier and the Builder's shall strive to make our job better. Our job doesn't end with the plans. It ends with the built work completion and client's satisfaction. I agree with you on the sense of working towards the construction running smoothly but they too should do their part. It's both our responsibilities to our client.


also, you need to include in your spec that the contractor will provide jelly donuts at OAC meetings.

Dec 13, 18 10:51 pm

Ah yes, the specification for perforated pastry units.

Or gelatinous filled pastry units


Have you ever answered an rfi with "the design intent was to have a working mechanical system?"  I mean, come on contractor.  Some shit you just need to figure out.

Dec 14, 18 9:39 am

I used to think that putting spec sections instead of spec descriptions on wall sections was confusing, but I now totally get why its a good way to mate the two... 

Dec 16, 18 6:52 pm

Drawings and Specifications are complimentary so if there is a conflict, the contractor ought to call you up for clarification. 

Dec 16, 18 6:54 pm

Can someone point me to the clause in AIA documents that states that specifications govern? I thought drawings and specs are complimentary.

Jan 30, 19 3:29 pm

You'll probably want to be looking in Division 1 of the specs, not in the AIA docs.


I don't think it states that in 201. I think it says that they are the same, unless somebody states otherwise.


but is it standard practice that specs govern? 

Jan 30, 19 5:24 pm

It's "Standard Practice" that the specs don't contradict the drawings.

In real life, however, this is why RFIs exist.

Jan 30, 19 6:00 pm

I understand, but someone from my office is insisting that specs govern.


The onus is on them to prove it. If it's not in your documents it's not true.

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