Minimum also implies there is no tolerance on numerical value as in the statement that: “Minimum contraction joint depth, using a conventional saw, hand tools or inserts, shall be 14 of the pavement thickness.” However, Section 4.9.1 of ACI 117-10, Specification for Tolerances for Concrete Construction and Materials, allows a tolerance of 14 inch for sawcut joint depth. So for a 6-inch-thick pavement, is the allowable sawcut depth 112 inch or 114 inch?
Slowly: As in: “Place concrete for columns slowly and in one operation between joints.” The word slowly gives no indication of the desired placing rate. A maximum placing rate in feet per unit of time is preferred.
Uniform: This word and its variants appear in many specifications, but it is not a measurable property. Consider the following: “Vibrate concrete to produce thorough compaction, complete embedment of reinforcement and concrete of uniform and maximum density without segregation of mix.”
Use of the word uniform isn’t the only problem here. We can also ask what constitutes “thorough compaction” and “maximum density.” For architectural concrete, the same specification instructs the contractor to build a mock-up and: “Treat the finished front surface of the mock-up to produce a uniform appearance similar in every respect to the approved sample area.” Adding the qualifying requirement that the mock-up appearance be similar in every respect to the approved sample area only adds to the contractor’s difficulty in understanding the owner’s expectations.
Two other examples from a different specification point out other problems: “Deliver concrete of uniform slump and proportions” and “Place concrete in uniform horizontal layers not more than 36 inches high for consolidation.” Specifying a slump range is much superior to requiring “uniform slump,” and the meaning of “uniform horizontal layers” is unclear.
Because uniformity is not a measurable property, contractors have no idea what degree of uniformity will be required on a given project. Decisions on specification compliance are subjective, making it difficult to estimate the cost of uniformity expectations.
When these words and phrases are found in specifications, it’s best to clarify their meanings prior to construction and preferably before bidding. But if disputes do arise later in the project cycle, contractors do have a weapon if their interpretations are reasonable. A judge, jury or arbitrator may rule that a contractor’s interpretation prevails. 1
When your project goes bad and enters into litigation, one of the most likely steps your lawyers will take is examine the specifications in a search for errors and inconsistencies they can claim mislead you and caused a loss. Very few specifications are totally free from such defects, and the party responsible for the losses is then the party who drafted the defective specifications. Such responsibility is a fundamental principle of law. 1
In today’s economic climate, few contractors can afford to lose dollars due to a loss that resulted from their interpreting the specifications reasonably. That’s why it’s wise to do a word search that detects dangerous words and clarify meanings as soon as possible in the construction cycle.