Blog Post

The Sustainable Spec Language You Should Be Using

Selecting the greenest products doesn’t do any good unless strong specifications support your choices. Here’s some language you can use.

November 9, 2018

Editor’s note: Guest blogger Anne Hicks Harney, of Long Green Specs, is our partner in providing product vetting services. Harney offers guidance on writing green specs and on finding products for LEED v4, WELL, and beyond.

Green specs helped Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild & Commons meet its goals for materials.

Photo: WRNS
All of us in the design professions need to do a better job of prioritizing our product selections, but we also need to find a way to get our first-choice products into the actual building.

Architects are considered the go-to experts on material choices, or so says survey info from the AIA (The American Institute of Architects). The 2016 AIA “Client Insights” survey indicated that clients will make product preferences known when they have them but will defer to the architect’s selection more than 80% of the time. As experts, we need to clearly communicate our requirements for better material selections.

Architectural specifications

Architects document their product selections in specifications. There are generally accepted rules about where to place what in a specification, and language is available to cover many of our product concerns.

Architectural Specs are divided into spec sections based on the MasterFormat divisions. Divisions are the groups of materials of a certain type; these are the rules that tell us that Division 3 is Concrete, Division 9 is Finishes, etc.

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Within each division is a series of sections: this is how we know that 03 3000 is always Cast-in-Place Concrete and 09 6813 is always Carpet Tile. But within each section are parts: Part 1 is General, Part 2 is Products, and Part 3 is Execution. So if we are going to cover sustainability language, we are going to need to cover:

  •        general information (what submittals are required)
  •        product information (which performance requirements for products)
  •        any specifics about installation or using the product

Note that some examples below are taken from the Sustainability Tool in AIA MasterSpec and that MasterSpec is copyrighted by AIA.

Harmonized sustainability language

LEED, the Living Building Challenge and WELL all have very similar language for VOC requirements. LEED and WELL have very similar language for materials transparency disclosure. So the language that follows should work generally for these topics in most projects pursuing these goals.

But keep in mind that VOC regulations also exist in specific states (California, Ohio, Illinois, and others) and in regions (the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) covers Virginia to Maine). To some degree, just meeting these baseline standards should probably be the goal in all our projects—not only to assure that we comply with regulations but also to improve our built environment.

Start at square one

To cover these topics, you need some of the following language in Part 1 under your submittal heading, depending on specifically what types of products are included in the section. The list that follows can be used as a master with the relevant pieces inserted into sections:

A. Sustainable Design Submittal

  1. Building Product Disclosure Requirements: To encourage the use of building products that are working to minimize their environmental and health impacts, provide the following information when available:

        a.          Environmental Product Declarations:

        b.          Material Ingredients Documentation demonstrating the chemical inventory of the product to at least 0.1% (1000ppm).

If you have any wood in the section, you need this language to comply with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requirements:

  1. Chain-of-Custody Certificates: For certified wood products. Include statement of costs.
  2. Chain-of-Custody Qualification Data: For manufacturer and vendor.

If you have any wood in the section, you need this language to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Product Data: For composite wood products indicating compliance with Composite Wood Evaluation

 If you have any paints or coatings in the section, you need this language to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Product Data: For paints and coatings indicating compliance with General Emissions evaluation and VOC content requirements.

 If you have any adhesives or sealants in the section, you need this language to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Product Data: For adhesives and sealants indicating compliance with General Emissions evaluation and VOC content requirements.

 For flooring sections, you need one of the sentences below to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Product Data: For flooring products indicating compliance with General Emissions evaluation
  2. Product Data: For liquid-applied flooring components indicating compliance with General Emissions evaluation and VOC content requirements.

 Include this language for ceiling, wall and acoustic insulation. You need this language to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Product Data: For interior products indicating compliance with General Emissions evaluation.

Sonoma Academy's Janet Durgin Guild & Commons

Photo: WRNS
Next up: the products section

In Part 2 of each spec section, you can insert the following language under a “Performance Requirements” heading. The list that follows can again be used as a master with the relevant pieces inserted into sections, depending on what products are included in each of your specification sections:

This language can go in each section to encourage the use of transparency documents throughout a project. The language can be strengthened (by deleting the phrase “where available”) on projects that have adequately researched the availability of documentation.

A. Building Product Disclosure Requirements: Provide Building Product Disclosure documentation for products used in this section where available.

  1. Environmental Product Declarations:
  2. Material Ingredients Documentation demonstrating the chemical inventory of the product to at least 0.1% (1000ppm).

Include this language in any section that contains products that have a requirement to meet General Emissions Evaluations. These product types are listed below:

B. Low-emitting requirements – General: For Paints and Coatings, Adhesives and Sealants, Flooring products, Ceiling finishes, Wall finishes, any insulation products internal to the weatherproofing envelope

  1. General Emissions Evaluation: Paints and Coatings must be tested and determined compliant in accordance with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method v1.1–2010, using the applicable exposure scenario.
  2. Show compliance with VOC limits as detailed in Section 01 8116 “VOC Limits”

Include this language as well in sections that include any paints and/or coatings to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. VOC Content Requirements for Wet Applied Products: All paints and coatings wet-applied on site must meet the applicable VOC limits of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2007, Suggested Control Measure (SCM) for Architectural Coatings, or the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Rule 1113, effective February 5, 2016.
  2. Methylene chloride and perchloroethylene shall not be intentionally added in paints, coatings, adhesives, or sealants.

Include this language as well in sections that include any adhesives and/or sealants to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. VOC Content Requirements for Wet Applied Products: All adhesives and sealants wet-applied on site must meet the applicable chemical content requirements of SCAQMD Rule 1168, amended October 26, 2017, Adhesive and Sealant Applications, as analyzed by the methods specified in Rule 1168. The provisions of SCAQMD Rule 1168 do not apply to adhesives and sealants subject to state or federal consumer product VOC regulations.
  2. Methylene chloride and perchloroethylene shall not be intentionally added in paints, coatings, adhesives, or sealants.
  3. Do not use adhesives that contain urea formaldehyde.

Include this language as well in sections that include carpeting. Almost all commercial carpeting will comply with CRI Green Label Plus; only some will comply with ANSI/NSF 140:

  1. Carpet and cushion shall comply with testing and product requirements of CRI's “Green Label Plus” testing program.
  2. Sustainable Product Certification: Gold level certification according to ANSI/NSF 140.

Include this language as well in sections that include any insulation internal to the weather barrier to comply with low-emitting requirements:

  1. Free of Formaldehyde: Insulation manufactured with 100 percent acrylic binders and no formaldehyde.

Include this language in sections that include any composite wood required to comply with low-emitting requirements:

C. Low-emitting requirements – Composite Wood:

  1. Composite Wood Evaluation - Composite wood, as defined by the California Air Resources Board, Airborne Toxic Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products Regulation, shall be documented to have low formaldehyde emissions which meet the California Air Resources Board ATCM for formaldehyde requirements for ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resins or no added formaldehyde resins.

For projects pursuing LEED for Schools or LEED for Healthcare, include this language in sections that include any of the listed products.

D. Low-emitting requirements – exterior applied products.

  1. Exterior applied adhesives, sealants, coatings, roofing, and waterproofing applied on site must meet the VOC limits of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2007 Suggested Control Measures (SCM) for Architectural Coatings, and South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Rule 1168, amended October 26, 2017.
  2. Submit a list of all exterior applied materials and products used on site.
  3. Show compliance with VOC limits as detailed in Section 01 8116 “VOC Limits”

How many times do I have to say it?

In general, spec writers believe that you want to say things once, in one place, not repeatedly in multiple sections. So all the performance language can live in your 01 8113 – Sustainable Requirements section and you can just put a sentence into each section that looks something like this:

A.          Low-emitting requirements: Comply with requirements indicated in Section 01 8113 – Sustainability Requirements.

That is a fine way to handle this, as long as you are confident that the subcontractors on the project have access to Division 1 and have actually looked at it. If you are not confident about that, put it in each section to be sure that it is covered.

Currently, I write this into each section. I think that both the Architecture and Construction businesses are struggling to understand all of this, and making sure that the subcontractors have a clear understanding of what is required in each section only helps spread the word.

Spec writing isn’t scary

And finally, you need a copy of 01 8116 – VOC Limits, which you can download here.

Basically, this section is the place to collect all the specific VOC requirements for the wet-applied products. It lists all the requirements from SCAQMD 1113 and 1168. The advantage to having this in Division 1 is that it is all in one place and much easier to keep up to date when these values change.

If you are going to use this section, then you need to delete VOC specifics from individual specification sections. But once that is done, you have only one document that needs to be kept up to date. But keep this up to date! it will take a limited amount of time and will assure that your projects comply with current standards.

Spec writing isn’t scary. It is about writing clear instructions to assure that your project is completed to meet the requirements that you designed it to meet. Sustainability requirements are no different than any other requirements; they just need adequate language available to assure that you can clearly state what you need. Hopefully this language helps you meet your project goals and allows us all to improve our built environment.

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Comments

December 10, 2018 - 12:16 pm

Reflecting on Paula Melton's reference - and DIALOG's original post.

We have taken the view that sustainable performance requirements are best identified in Part 2 of the specifications as described in the article, and then make reference to administrative requirements and submittals identified in Part 1, with expanded content on administrative procedures in Division 01. We have populated several sections to cover off LEED, LBC and BOMABest (and other rating systems as they come along and include:

01 33 29 - Sustainable Design Reporting (we include several sample forms to aid in the constructors inventory and reporting process)

01 35 65/65 - Sustainability Certification Project Requirements/Project Procedures (we combine these sections), and contains the bulk of the administrative requirements for the project such as any special meetings, coordination with technical specifications and such.

01 57 25 - Temporary Construction Activity Pollution Controls

01 74 19 - Construction Waste Management and Disposal

01 78 53 - Sustainable Design Closeout Documentation (deals mainly with operations and maintenance submittals)

01 81 13 - Sustainable Design Requirements (the 'beef' of the sustainable system we are referencing).

01 83 16 - Exterior Enclosure Performance Requirements

We also include Divisional requirements for Sustainable Approach to products and work results such as the following:

03 05 13 - Special Provisions for Sustainable Concrete

06 05 13 - Special Provisions for Sustainable Wood

The biggest mistake in specification content - is creating a shopping list approach to materials... that by listing materials the sustainable rating for the building will be achieved. To an extent, that worked for previous LEED versions... but LEED v4 is clearly aimed at Sustainable Design - the numbers of credits associated with products contained in the specification are a minority in the overall context of the rating system. They are more difficult to track and achieve (good things in my opinion), meaning that specifiers have to be more diligent about how they identify products in their specifications. The 'sustainable performance requirements' approach leaves the specification section in a neutral stance so far as LEED is concerned --- specification being performance based means that the information is easier to adapt for LEED (and any future updates), Living Building or GreenGlobes or other rating system... leave Division 01 to pick up the details of administration.

Sustainability weaves its way throughout the documentation - and needs to be fully coordinated to clearly communicate during the procurement process... there is no single document within the specifications that can capture the whole of the performance aspects associated with LEED v4 (or other rating systems).

December 10, 2018 - 11:25 am

Anne says that more detailed info on specific requirements would live in a Division 1 section – 01 8113 – Sustainable Design Requirements. Does that answer your question?

December 10, 2018 - 10:54 am

Great info.  Anyone have specs for sustainable landscapes? 

December 7, 2018 - 11:25 am

We had identified sustainable requirements as performance values during the LEED Challenge exercise prior to v4.0, and were satisfied that approach identified product performance values that could be tracked. This article confirmed our approach - and provided additional guidance on how to populate our project specifications with appropriate content. Thank you for the validation - and thank you for your continued inspiration.

December 6, 2018 - 12:22 pm

Love this - thank you!  Is the part under "Part two of each spec section: .....A. Building Product Disclosure Requirements...." a duplicate from the submittal section?  Should there be something else in its place?