Finish schedules - the ultimate specifications format?

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC

Thirty or so years ago, when I graduated from architecture school, we had a couple of types of finish schedules. They were fairly simple tables, but, in conjunction with the specifications, they did a pretty good job of showing what finish materials were used where, and what colors of finish materials were required.


A common schedule started with a column on the left that listed every room. To the right, additional columns would show what show what materials were used in each room for the floor, base, wall, and ceiling, usually with a check or dot in the cell. Some were a little more complicated, showing specific colors for each material. The value of these tables to the designer was obvious; one could quickly get a good idea of what was used where, and have some idea of what the colors were. However, the specifications contained most of the information. For example, the specifications would state the required fire-resistant properties, the type of paint and what primer to use, what the carpet backing should be, the wood veneer species, matching requirements, performance characteristics, and so on.

There were a couple of problems, perhaps the worst being that a typical table was based on the assumption that a room had four sides, and that a single material or color would be used on a given wall or floor. Still, the basic form was widely used for a very long time, and usually worked.

About eighteen years ago, when I moved to my current firm, I discovered that the finish schedule we used contained more information than just the types and colors of materials. As the years went by, the finish schedule continued to expand, a little here and a little there. Believing in the official what-goes-where rules, my first reaction was to resist this growth, but before taking a stand, I decided to find out what other firms were doing. I asked several specifiers to send examples of their finish schedules, and I was surprised to find that all contained information that had once been in the specifications.

Since the time of my survey, my firm's finish schedule has continued to grow. I understand its value as a design tool, which helps the interior designers keep track of the many finishes used in a typical project, but I continue to believe that a specification section should contain as much information as possible about a given material. Why should the contractor continually have to keep jumping from one section to another? I experimented with a format that could easily be split into smaller, product-specific schedules just before issuing bidding documents. That would allow the interior designers to continue to use it as a tool, but then make it easier for the bidders, and later the contractor, to find all the information about each product. I wasn't able to put it into practice, though, and I eventually learned to embrace the expanding schedule. And why not? The more information that goes into the finish schedule, the less I need to put in the specs!

The logical conclusion, of course, is that the finish schedule, or something akin to it, will one day supplant specifications altogether. One schedule, albeit a lengthy one, will contain all information about every product. Paint won't be just a color anymore, but the entire work result, including primer, VOC content, and more. For a while I thought we might still need a project manual for Divisions 00 and 01, and that spec sections still would show at least submittal requirements, but why? We may as well put those in the finish schedule, too.

As I wrote that last paragraph, all suddenly became clear, and I finally realized the truth.

"We are the Borg. Your technical information will be added to our finish schedule. Resistance is futile."

© 2014, Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA, CSC
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